Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adrienne Rich tells it like it is

I have often heard of that in order for women to be seen as the equal of men, they have to work twice as hard just to be noticed. I think the poem's I looked at by Adrienne Rich fit squarely into this double-standard that has so far dictated a lot of our American society.

I Am In Danger--Sir:

"you, woman, masculine/in single-mindedness/for whom the word was more/than a symptom"

Adrienne Rich could or could not be writing about Emily Dickinson, because she never mentions a name. The footnotes in the Norton Anthology refer to Rich's poem in terms of the life of Emily Dickinson, in which she replies to Higginson, a correspondent and critic, as a playful but fierce undercutting of his criticism: "I am in Danger--Sir"! This is Rich's homage to Dickinson, who is described as masculine, perhaps because she matched the intellectual blow Higginson dealt and neutralized it. If he is saying "Oh you're crazy!", then she is saying, "Oh thanks, I'm crazy, what else is new?" This is the same thing as a man that says "You play [base]ball like a girl!", To which I would reply, "Thanks, (girls play ball just as great as guys) what else is new?!".

But I digress: Rich refers to Dickinson as masculine. Why? Is it her doubly-phallic-sounding last name? Is it her ability to matching wits with Higginson (and to beat him)? Or is it in her "single-mindedness", that she was able to focus on a single thing and be great at it, without being bogged down by trying to please others, by assimilating to the greater mainstream societal requirements?

I particularly like what Rich says about Dickinson's use of language being more than symptomatic of society--it relates closely to something James Baldwin wrote about a great writer: That one's language should be both a symptom and an examination of one's culture. Dickinson was removed from her surroundings, which allowed her to examine her state of being. She was acutely observant and she strikingly diagnosed her society. Perhaps this led to her going a little nuts, but she "chose to have it out at last/on [her] own premises". Much respect from Rich to Dickinson.

Regarding Marie Curie, Rich writes that "She died a famous woman denying/her wounds/denying/her wounds came from the same source as her power" (2658). Referring to my beginning statement, that women must work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals, Rich's piece explores it. Marie Curie essentially died for her art, and she did it without appearing weak. The stereotype of women is that they are weaker than men. Whether this is the truth or whether it is not, the most common mindset is that men are stronger. Rich is explaining that for a woman, to hide her suffering is to be equal to a man. She must deny her wounds. For a man to show his wounds would mean a loss of power.

What does "Her wounds came from the same source as her power" mean? That she gains her power from her denial of pain? Her power comes from the radiation, which also causes her pain? The source of power is the acceptance into the male tradition, and so her wounds come from the tradition of men? I think all interpretations qualify!

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