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Title:"A house of difference": Constructions of the lesbian poet in Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Paula Gunn Allen
Author(s):Dhairyam, Sagari
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Women's Studies
Literature, American
Abstract:In my negotiations with the genre of poetry and in particular with lesbian poets, I propose that the genre offers a house for lesbian identity which constructs itself through materials both literary and extra-literary--materials peculiar to lesbians yet variously available in the cultural imagination; poetry is indeed a space both utopic and real. Inasmuch as the label of 'poet' performs a loaded function in the literate high culture of literary discourse, it is also a curiously slippery designation which often undermines its own privileged status. Lesbian poets are at once women who perform lyric identity to grass-roots audiences, and writers whose signatures need institutional recognition. They play to both an audience's need for affective identification and the academic reader's call for textual complexity. But, though deeply invested in their overlapping roles as activists and lesbians, the poets I read--Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Paula Gunn Allen--are accorded very different literary status. In examining the processes, literary and cultural, that place them as poets, my dissertation contends that literary recognition, whether from feminist critics or others, necessarily foregrounds literary criteria over the poets' activist agendas. In acceding to norms of literary worth, recuperations of alterative poets paradoxically perpetuate and justify the disciplinary constraints of the literary as a system.
Framing the three chapters that examine the poets, two theoretical chapters contend that the histories which construct the literary genre of poetry suggestively counterpoint recent theoretical debates that pose social constructionist, materialist analyses as antidotes to essentialist proclamations of identity. Concerned to celebrate lesbian identity in the context of post-structuralist thought, I argue that poetry's performative manifestations empower a perspective which situates affirmations of alternative identity in a 'catachresis' of essence: where essence suggests the momentary present of affective belief that allows identity, construct indicates the necessary manoeuvres of discourse and context that position those moments. In their various evocations of lesbian identity, a black Lorde, a white Rich, and a red Allen remark on identity itself as a performative act for which poetry offers evocative space.
Issue Date:1993
Rights Information:Copyright 1993 Dhairyam, Sagari
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9329012
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9329012

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