D. H. Lawrence Poems




“The Bride”



“Lui et Elle”



“The Mother of Sons”






“War Baby”



“Almond Blossom”





Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. 1963 Heinemann; 2005 Harper Perennial Classics. 

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket” (83).

She watches the Catholic mother-of-six Dodo Conway and notes, “children made me sick” (117).

When she goes “crazy,” she starts seeing words not as they are meant to appear but as they appear in Finnegan’s Wake (123).

Buddy’s baby in a jar haunts her; she sees the baby being born and Buddy explains how they chloroform her so she’ll forget the pain. Esther notes that seems like the kind of drug a man would invent.

She volunteers at a hospital, is put on the maternity ward, and gets it all wrong; the women are cranky and cruel rather than pink and beautiful mothers

In the hospital, as she’s beginning to get better and gaining weight, she notices that “I looked just as if I were going to have a baby” (192). This is for her a source of shame, and she is nervous to see her benefactress Mrs. Guinea because of it.

Giving birth to herself: but we know later she does have a real baby, because at the beginning she would give the Ladies Day plastic starfish “for the baby to play with” (3)

“What I hate is the thought of being under a man’s thumb… A man doesn’t have a worry in the world, while I’ve got a baby hanging over my head like a big stick, to keep me in line” (221). Dr. Nolan then offers her birth control, and that’s a way for her to free herself

“How easy having babies seemed to the women around me! Why was I so unmaternal and apart? Why couldn’t I dream of devoting myself to baby after fat puling baby like Dodo Conway? If I had to wait on a baby all day, I would go mad” (222).

“The baby’s mother smiled and smiled, holding that baby as if it were the first wonder of the world. I watched the mother and the baby for some clue to their mutual satisfaction, but before I had discovered anything, the doctor called me in” (223).

The birth control makes her “my own woman” (223).

Something goes wrong, though: when she has sex for the first time, she hemorrhages terribly and must go to the hospital. The loss of her virginity is less the “tribal rite” she imagines, though it is “part of a great tradition” (230-1), and is instead institutionalized. The doctor says “…it’s one in a million it happens to like this” (233).



David Perkins, History of Modern Poetry Vol 2

Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. 1987: Harvard University Press.

“the future development of poetry did not proceed from eliot, but both from and against him, and in both respects he was central” (3).

“Auden viewed Romanticism as leading to Fascism” (9).

“Eliot’s poetry never represented erotic attraction as happy. It was distasteful, or frustrated, or rejected through some failure of courage, or lost in the past, or was a temptation to be renounced. But when erotic feeling became a transfigured element in a religious experience or symbol, Eliot could rejoice in it without reserve…” (22).

Ezra Pound’s cantos are “concrete presentations” but are “almost always fragmentary” (224). Unlike for Eliot, for Pound, “the world is coherent – this was Pound’s faith – but our data are always incomplete. The event is a complex whole, but only aspects, snatches, bits come to our cognizance… we must intuit the living reality from the snippets we can know of it” (224).

“The units Pound works with may be images, single lines, groups of lines (‘ideograms’), continuous passages, whole Cantos, or clusters of Cantos. Larger ones are built by assembling many smaller. Juxtaposed, they make a system of relations. But each remains a discrete piece.

When two things are given together, the mind naturally strives to connect them. We respond to Pound’s discontinuities with an initial surprise and shock, and this gives way to heightened mental activity as we explore possible interrelationships among the separate units. The process may end in illumination as we discover implications in the juxtaposition” (226).

Pound’s ideogram “is visual and spatial…it is as far as possible from interior monologue. With the convention of interior monologue, we take the fragments as occurring one after the other, enacting the movement of consciousness. With the ideogram we take the component images as interacting simultaneously to present a complex of meaning. The interior monologue reflects or, more exactly, is somebody’s subjectivity. The ideogram is objective in the same sense as is a character in Chinese script” (229).

Pound’s ideograms are meant to avoid, in his own words, “monolinear syllogistic arrangement,” as he explains in Jefferson and/or Mussolini (qtd here 229).

Perkins admits that “in long stretches the Cantos are boring” (243).

“In the Prologue (1918) to Kora [William Carlos] Williams began his lifelong quarrel with Eliot and Pound. He objected to their preoccupation, as he saw it, with the literature of the past and of Europe” (249).

Williams and the “variable foot”

Heather Clark, The Grief of Influence

Clark, Heather. The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Oxford University Press: 2011.

In a BBC interview, Hughes claims that he and Plath have “a single, shared mind,” a “Telepathic union” that constitutes a “source of a great deal” in his poetry, “but then emphasizes that when they happen to write about the same subject, they always approach it differently” (1).

In Hughes letters, he admits that “Sylvia & I plundered each other merrily,” and claims to have “designed prototypes, which she put into full Germanic production” (qtd here 3).

Plath and Hughes fall right into Bloom’s anxiety of influence. “Plath’s ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather,’ for instance, might be termed an ‘inspired misreading’ of Hughes’s ‘The Hawk in the Rain,’ while ‘Lady Lazarus’ is a more willful, parodic revision of several Hughes poems. Hughes’s ‘View of a Pig’ is, by his own admission, a gentle critique of Plath’s ‘Sow,’ but his latter poems in Birthday  Letters challenge Plath’s inheritance” (10).

Critics have taken for granted that Hughes is in the “strong” poet in the Plath-Hughes dialectic

Hughes believed in Plath’s poetry, but feared becoming her: the domestic and its stifling confines terrified him (48)

The White Goddess became “talismanic” for Hughes, and he wrote in his letters that it was “the chief holy book of my poetic conscience… in particular, I suppose, what really interested me were those supernatural women. Especially the underworld women” (qtd here 59).

“Plath was destined to become, for Hughes, the human embodiment of the White Goddess – a role she was happy to play for some time, but which she eventually saw as both reductive and repressive” (61).

“Hughes’s nature poems are really war poems in disguise; we might also think of his war poems as marriage poems in disguise” (65).

His Letters show that he was aware of Graves’s warning “that one cannot serve Goddess and wife at the same time” (qtd here 65)

Clark argues that Ariel constitutes “a caricature of Hughes’s poetic femme fatales,” which is, necessarily, a caricature of the Goddess. “She looked to his poems now to mock, to impersonate, to emasculate, to argue, and to flaunt a parodic version of her obedient self” (131).

We should be careful reading this as a liberatory move, however; “her dangerous, predatory women are not voices of self-assertion, but self-annihilation” (134).

Hughes’s Crow “is often engaged in a battle to break free from the great mother, or what D.H. Lawrence termed the ‘Mater Magna’ in Women in  Love” (193).



Mary Daly, Pure Lust

Daly, Mary. Pure Lust. Beacon Press: 1984.

“Phallic lust is seen as a fusion of obsession and aggression. As obsession it specializes in genital fixation and fetishism, causing broken consciousness, broken heartedness, broken connections among women and between women and the elements. As aggression it rapes, dismembers, and kills women and all living things within its reach. Phallic lust begets phallocratic society, that is sadosociety, which is, in fact, pseudosociety” (1).

Daly associates the word “lust” with its ancient root in the words “vigor, fertlity,” “craving,” “eagerness, enthusiasm,” and from the Latin lascivus, “meaning wanton, playful, double-edged” (2-3).

“Elemental female lust” is, for Daly, “intense longing/craving for the cosmic concrescence that is creation… This Lusting is divining: foreseeing, foretelling, forecasting” (3).

This elemental potency is, for Daly, “Asleep in our ancestral memory,” and requires a reconfiguration of language in order to be used (7). It is a return to beginnings, but it is the opposite of Biblical “Transcendence” (8). This language is a “metaphoric language,” which “conjures memories of Archaic integrity that have been broken by phallic religion and philosophy” (11).

Feminine lust is related to myths: “we are,” Daly writes, “augurs, brewsters, dikes, dragons, dryads, fates, phoenixes, gorgons, maenads, muses…. […..]” (12).

Sarah Kofman, The Enigma of Woman

Kofman, Sarah. The Enigma of Woman. Éditions Galilée, 1980; Cornell University Press, 1985. 

“Freud gives several disparate reasons for the fact that psychoanalysis has been slow to penetrate women. Not only is female sexuality more complex than that of the male (it has to solve two supplementary problems, changing both the woman’s erogenous zone and her object cathexis), it also offers greater ‘resistance’ to violation by science. It is less accessible to research…” (39). This is in part because “society makes modesty or ‘shame’ woman’s fundamental virtue” (39).

Freud compare’s woman’s speech to “an unnavigable river whose stream is at one moment choked by masses of rock and at another divided and lost among shallows and sandbanks” (Freud, “Fragments,” here qtd 43).

Woman can only, for Freud, “love someone other than herself on condition that that being represent a part of her own ego or what she herself has formerly been… a part of [her] own body” (57-8).

Freud’s “Femininity” is framed “by a double appeal to poetry that warrants examination” (101). Freud first cites the poet Heinrich Heine as a witness, and at the end of the text “the reader is referred back to poetry as if to a potential complement intended to make up for the deficiencies of the psychoanalytic investigation” (101). Kofman, however, is suspicious of any admission of deficiency on Freud’s part. This appeal is, she argues, part of a “strategy: Freud is openly declaring the limits of psychoanalysis so as to gain the upper hand over the agencies that until then have claimed to hold the solution to the feminine enigma…. what the text does show, on the contrary, the insufficiencies of personal experience, of poetry, and of biology.The text reveals that poetry is basically a decoy force that ‘operates for knowledge’ as long as it is reappropriated by psychoanalysis and subordinated to its truth” (103).

“Bisexuality is the norm, and it is also the condition of women’s predisposition to neuroses. Men for their part are less exposed to hysteria, for their bisexuality is less pronounced than that of women, precisely because from childhood on they keep the same erogenous zone and thus do not have to solve the difficult problem of the transfer from one zone to another” (126).

It is important to Freud “to show not that woman’s intellectual inferiority is indelible because it is natural and original, as the philosophers claim, but that it is a consequence of the girl’s sexual development” (132).

Freud claims that a girl’s love for her mother “was directed to her phallic mother; with the discovery that her mother is castrated it becomes possible to drop her as an object” (Freud, “Femininity,” qtd here 184). Her love was directd to the power component of the mother function, not the mother)


Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim

Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim. Columbia University Press, 2000.

“It seemed to me that Antigone might work as a counterfigure to the trend championed by recent feminists to seek the backing and authority of the state to implement feminist policy aims” (1).

Hegel makes Antigone “stand for the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal rule, but also for the principle of kinship” (1). Antigone signifies for Irigaray the transition from maternity-oriented law to law oriented around paternity and the name of the Father; not kinship blood but the shedding of blood

“…as a figure for politics, she points somewhere else, not to politics as a question of representation but to that political possibility that emerges when the limits to representation and representability are exposed” (2).

She represents a “prepolitical opposition to politics, representing kinship as the sphere that conditions the possibility of politics without ever entering into it” (2).

Antigone must save her brother because he, unlike husbands she could take or children she could have, is “not reproducible” (10).

Kinship and citizenship are in tension, and yet citizenship relies on kinship to produce citizens (12)

“Antigone is one for whom symbolic positions have become incoherent, confounding as she does brother and father, emerging as she does not as a mother but… in the place of the mother. Her name is also construed as ‘anti-generation.'” (22).

We rarely note when we discuss the Oedipus complex what happens to him and his descendants: violent death and anti-statism…….

“At the close of The Elementary Structures of Kinship, the exchange of women is considered as the trafficking of a sign, the linguistic currency that facilitates a symbolic and communicative bond among men. The exchange of women is likened to the exchange of words, and this particular linguistic circuitry becomes the basis for rethinking kinship on the basis of linguistic structures, the totality of which is called the symbolic” (41).


Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering

Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. University of California Press: 1978.

This book “analyzes the reproduction of mothering as a central and constituting element in the social organization and reproduction of gender” (7).

“Women, as mothers, produce daughters with mothering capacities and the desire to mother. These capacities and needs are built into and grow out of the mother-daughter relationship itself. By contrast, women as mothers (and men as non-mothers) produce sons whose nurturant capacities and needs have been systematically curtailed and repressed” (7).

“All sex-gender systems organize sex, gender, and babies. A sexual division of labor in which women mother organizes babies and separates domestic and public spheres. Heterosexual marriage, which usually gives men rights in women’s sexual and reproductive capacities and formal rights in children, organizes sex. Both together organize and reproduce gender as an unequal social relation” (10).

We can ask why women mother, but more interesting is the question, “why are mothers women?” (11). Most social critics do not take the equation of mothering and womanhood as something “in need of explanation” (13).

Young girls “identify” with their own mother, and “this identification produces the girl as a mother” (31). Margaret Polatnick brutely reminds us that “Men don’t rear children because they dont want to rear children. (This implies, of course, that they’re in a position to enforce their preferences.)” (31). People in our society who have power choose not to parent. 

The infant’s goal is to “be loved and satisfied without being under any obligation to give anything in return” (65). This is indeed a desirable state.

“There does not seem to be evidence to demonstrate that exclusive mothering is necessarily better for infants. However, such mothering is ‘good for society'” (75).

“A mother identifies with her own mother (or with the mother she wishes she had) and tries to provide nurturant care for the child. At the same time, she reexperiences herself as a cared-for child, thus sharing with her child the possession of a good mother” (90).

“Freud’s assumption that women’s function is to have babies becomes subsumed under his view that femininity has to do only with sexual orientation and mode and the wish to be masculine. He seems to fear that in spite of his endeavors it might be possible to think of women independently from men if one focused on childbearing and motherhood too much” (147).

“Masculine identification […] os predominantly a gender role identification. By contrast, feminine identification is primarily parental” (176). In other words, while male children tend to identify with an archetypal masculine role, female children tend to identify more with the concrete reality of their mothers. Fem = particular ; masc = universal . Boy becomes a Man, girl becomes a Mother

“Women mother daughters who, when they become women, mother” (209). Final prognosis

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born

Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born. New York: Norton, 1975, 1995.

“There is much to suggest that the male mind has always been haunted by the force of the idea of dependence on a woman for life itself, the son’s constant effort to assimilate, compensate for, or deny the fact that he is ‘of woman born'” (11).

“To ‘father’ a child suggests above all to beget, to provide the sperm which fertilizes the ovum. To ‘mother’ a child implies a continuing presence, lasting at least nine months, more often for years. Motherhood is earned…” (12). In some ways, female writers desire to father rather than mother a child. It’s easier, and less painstaking.

Rich wants to distinguish between “two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other: the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control” (13). Within the “maternal function,” in other words, Rich differentiates two subcategories.

Rich disagrees with CPG about universal childcare, arguing that the only reasons mass childcare would be instated are to introduce large numbers of women into a capitalist labor force and to indoctrinate future citizens. State- rather than woman-oriented, in other words (14)

The maternal function is “to love the other person at every moment,” but real women, obviously, do not work that way (23).

“I felt I was bending to some ancient form, too ancient to question. This is what women have always done” (24). Doing that makes her feel for the first time “not guilty” (25).

“I had been trying to give birth to myself; and in some grim, dim way I was determined to use even pregnancy and parturition in that process” (29). We should question the metaphor.

“There has always been, and there remains, intense fear of the suggestion that women shall have the final say as to how our bodies are to be used. It is as if the suffering of the mother, the primary identification of woman as the mother – were so necessary to the emotional grounding of human society that the mitigation, or removal, of that suffering, that identification, must be fought at every level, including the level of refusing to question it at all” (30). The maternal function = suffering

“For me, poetry was where I lived as no-one’s mother, where I existed as myself” (30).

“For generations of women have asserted their courage on behalf of their own children and men, then on behalf of strangers, and finally for themselves” (42).

Patriarchy could not survive without institutional motherhood (43)

“Mother-love is supposed to be continuous, unconditional. Love and anger cannot coexist. Female anger threatens the institution of motherhood” (40).

Pregnancy problematizes the simple primal Freudian in/out. The child is in one’s body but also a foreign body

Jane Harrison in Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion ” The attitude of man to woman, and, though perhaps in a lesser degree, of woman to man, is still today essentially magical” (84).

“I think that for women a critical exploration backward in time can be profoundly radicalizing. But we need to be critically aware of the limitations of our sources” (86).

birth as magic power 114

There are two modes in which man has related to woman-as-mother: the practical and the magical” (125). As myth function and as reality

“Metaphors of midwifery and childbirth recur in the literature of the contemporary women’s movement…. But for most women actual childbirth has involved no choice whatever, and very little consciousness” (156).

“The majority of women, literate or illiterate, come to childbirth as a charged, discrete happening: mysterious, sometimes polluted, often magical, as torture rack or as ‘peak experience.’ Rarely has it been viewed as one way of knowing and co ming to terms with our bodies, of discovering our physical and psychic resources” (157).

for a long time men denied women anesthesia in childbirth because it’s how they compensated for Eve’s sin (168)

Rich read’s Freud’s invocation of the poets at the end of “On Femininity” as “an edgy yet candid acknowledgement of his own limitations” v  Kofman’s suspicion (204)

Margaret Fuller wrote in an undated fragment: “I have no child and the woman in me has so craved this experience, that it seems the want of it must paralyze me. But now as I look on these lovely children of a human birth, what slow and neutralizing cares they bring with time to the mother! The children of the muse come quicker, with less pain and disgust, rest more lightly on the bosom” (250).

George Orwell, 1984

Orwell, George. 1984. Harcourt Brace 1949; Penguin 2003.

We start on “a bright cold day in April” – what is it about April being the cruellest month? (Eliot: flowers, fertility)

The Party works by harnessing the “primal rage” of its constituents. This primal rage is related to women, and is the state opposite sex: “Winston succeeded in transferring his hatred from the face on the screen to the dark-haired girl behind him… He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastien. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was that he hated her. He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweep supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity” (15). … “The Hate rose to its climax” (16). Hate is a substitute for sex, but it draws its power from it.

Children are dangerous because they participate the most valiantly in the hate: “It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children” (25).

Winston dreams of his mother, and he knows that “in some way the lives of his mother and his sister had been sacrificed to his own… His mother’s memory tore at his heart because she had died loving him, when he was too young and selfish to love her in return, and because somehow, he did not remember how, she had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable” (30-1). The maternal function is to sacrifice herself to her son.

From his mother, in the same paragraph, he begins to think about Julia sexually (32)

The Party has the power to do the opposite of birth: to make someone an “unperson” (47) “It struck him as curious that you could create dead men but not living ones” (49)

“The aim of the Party was not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control. Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy… The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party” (67).

“There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy” (136).

Winston asks if Julia would like or keep a child they had, and she responds: “I’m not interested in the next generation, dear. I’m interested in us” (159). This is maternal heresy; she entirely rejects the maternal function

The Party’s final control of Winston, what awaits him in Room 101, is a harnessing of the child’s primal selfish sacrifice of the woman’s body. This is all the more horrifying to Winston as he knows he has done this before, to his mother instead of Julia, but in the face of physical pain, he does it. “For an instant he was insane, a screaming animal…. There was one and only one way to save himself. He must interpose another human being, the body of another human being, between himself and the rats” (296).

Kristeva, Tales of Love

Kristeva, Julia. Tales of Love. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

“The language of love is impossible, inadequate, immediately allusive when one would like it to be most straightforward; it is a flight of metaphors…. I accept it only in the first person” (2).

“The ordeal of love puts the univocity of language and its referential and communicative power to the test” (2).

“We have lost the relative strength and security that the old moral codes guaranteed our loves either by forbidding them or determining their limits” (5). (??????????)

“I am, in love, at the zenith of subjectivity” (5). (Even in “old moral codes”? Is this parody?)

“The experience of love indissolubly ties together the symbolic (that which is forbidden, distinguishable, thinkable), the imaginary (what the Self imagines in order to sustain and expand itself), and the real (that impossible domain where affects aspire to everything and where there is no one to take into account the fact that am only a part)” (7).

“Neither denying the ideal, nor forgetting its cost” (17).

Freud treats the symptom as a metaphor

Metaphor should be understood as a movement toward the discernible, a journey toward the visible. Anaphora, gesture, indication, would probably be more adequate terms for this sundered unity, in the process of being set up… The object of love is a metaphor for the subject–its constitutive metaphor, its ‘unary feature,’ which, by having it choose an adored part of the loved one, already locates it within the symbolic code of which this feature is a part” (30).

“Metonymic object of desire. Metaphorical object of love. The former controls the phantasmatic narrative. The latter outlines the crystallization of fantasy and rules the poeticalness of the discourse of love…” (30). Not that love is “poetic” generically but that it is subject to poetic laws

“The loving mother, different from the caring and clinging mother, is someone who has an object of desire; beyond that, she has an Other with relation to whom the child will serve as a go-between. She will love her child with respect to that Other…” (34).

“That Ideal is nevertheless a blinding, nonrepresentable power–sun or ghost. Romeo says, ‘Juliet is the sun,’ and that loving metaphor transfers onto Juliet the glare Romeo experiences in the state of love, dedicating his body to death in order to become immortal within the symbolic community of others restored by his love…” (36). (Even if the Ideal is silly, it’s real (Real?).)

“Here the term metaphor should not bring to mind the classic rhetorical trope (figurative vs. plain) but, instead, on the one hand, the modern theories of metaphor that decipher within it an indefinite jamming of semantic features one into the other, a meaning being acted out…” (37).

“Freud’s famous ‘What does a woman want?’ is perhaps only an echo of the more fundamental ‘What does a mother want?’ It runs up against the same impossibility, bordered on the one side by the imaginary father, on the other by a ‘not I’…” (41).

Freud says there is one libido, the male. “If, on the other hand, there were a female libido, could one imagine an erotics of the purely feminine? To the extent that she has a loving soul, a woman is drawn into the same dialectic involving confrontation with the Phallus, with the whole accompaniment of ideal images and domination-submission tests that it implies” (81).

Kristeva notes that Biblical “love” is most often signified by the Hebrew root ‘ahav, “to accept, to adopt, to recognize” (83). (Lacan’s analogue is love.)

“…love assimilates, tames, shelters, thus including a maternal or even a uterine connotation; but it also allies itself with, recognizes, legalizes – with a paternal connotation

There is also, though, a “nonrepresentable love” that, although “attributable as it might be to a legislating god, is nonetheless accessible to someone who, like David, utters a loving discourse that is only gesture and voice – sound, cry, mysic, afloat on primal repression, incantation of primary narcissism,” and is related to Plato’s “chora” (84). This seems related to Irigaray’s mystic-hysteric who utters a sound so vague it is only sort of a song

[in the Ideal couple, e.g. Song of songs] The lover states the metaphor // The beloved is the metaphor

“Let us call metaphor, in the general sense of a conveyance of meaning, the economy that modifies language when subject and object of the utterance act muddle their borders” (268).

Aristotle and analogy (170)

“We are all subjects of the metaphor” (279). (not objects? who is we – men and women or just women?)

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. Copyright 1966, Norton, 1982. 

When asked by her future husband why she didn’t wish to marry him, Antoinette responded, ‘I’m afraid of what may happen'” (78). Marriage and family life is what makes the women in her family go crazy; she knows it already

The craziness is passed matrilineally

His infidelity is the thing that sparks off the crazy (146)

He doesn’t like being a pawn on the marriage market: he is enraged that “They bought me, me with your paltry money” (170) and punishes Antoinette for that

She burns the house because it’s what was done to her family (remnant of Gothic; repetition compulsion trauma returns in a dream)

Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class

Davis, Angela. Women, Race & Class. New York: Random House, 1981; Vintage Books, 1983. Print.

“The slave system defined Black people as chattel. Since women, no less than men, were viewed as profitable labor-units, they might as well have been genderless as far as the slaveholders were concerned. in the words of one scholar, ‘the slave woman was first a full-time worker for her owner, and only incidentally a wife, mother, and homemaker.’ … Black women were practically anomalies” (5).

“Expediency governed the slave-holders’ posture toward female slaves: when it was profitable to exploit them as if they were men, they were regarded, in effect, as genderless, but when they could be exploited, punished, and repressed in ways suited only for women, they were locked into their exclusively female roles” (6).

They became animalesque “breeders” (7).

partus sequitur ventrem – the child follows the condition of the mother” (12).

Davis argues that the ideology of femininity is a byproduct of industrialization (12).

Davis argus that “domestic labor,” or feminine labor, “was the only meaningful labor for the slave community as a whole… Precisely through performing the drudgery which has long been a central expression of the socially conditioned inferiority of women, the Black woman in chains could help to lay the foundation for some degree of autonomy, both for herself and her men” (17).

When Black women resisted, the sexual assault of their masters would “remind the women of their essential and inalterable femaleness” (24)

Davis reminds us that “the mythical rapist implies the mythical whore” (191).

“Black women have been aborting themselves since the earliest days of slavery. Many slave women refused to bring children into a world of interminable forced labor, where chains and floggings and sexual abuse for women were the everyday conditions of life. A doctor practicing in Georgia around the middle of the last century noticed that abortions and miscarriages were far more common among his slave patients than among the white women he treated” (204).

Later, it became “Assumed within birth control circles that poor women, Black and immigrant alike, had a ‘moral obligation to restrict the size of their families.’ What was demanded as a ‘right’ for the privileged came to be interpreted as a ‘duty’ for the poor” (210).

“The domestic population policy of the U.S. government has an undeniably racist edge. Native American, Chicana, Pureto Rican and Black women continue to be sterilized in disproportionate numbers” (219).


Emily Dickinson, Letters

Dickinson, Emily. Selected Letters. Knopf, 2011.

1848, to Austin Dickinson 

My Dear Austin,

I suppose you have written a few and received a quantity of valentines this week. Every night have I looked, and yet in vain, for one of Cupid’s messengers. Many of the girls have received very beautiful ones; and I have not quite done hoping for one… (31).

1854, to Austin

“There is to be a party at Professor Haven’s tomorrow night, for married people merely. Celibacy excludes me. Father and more are invited. Mother will go…” (43).

1855, to Mrs. Holland

“They say that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings.” (45).

1863, to Louise and Frances Norcross

“I got down before father this morning, and spent a few moments profitably with the South Sea rose. Father detecting me, advised wiser employment, and read at devotions the chapter of the gentleman with one talent. I think he thought my conscience would adjust the gender” (52).

1865? to Mrs. J. G. Holland

“It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sundowns sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year” (53). (AD: note that last sentence is iambic)

1854, to Austin

“…Father was very severe to me; he thought I’d been trifling with you, so he gave me quite a trimming about ‘Uncle Tom’ and ‘Charles Dickens’ and ‘these modern literati’ who, he says, are nothing, compared to past generations who flourished when he was a boy” (72).

1975, to Louise and Frances Norcross

“The birds that father rescued are trifling in his trees. How flippant are the saved! They were even frolicking at his grave, when Vinnie went there yesterday. Nature must be too young to feel, or many years too old” (75).

1881, to the Norcross sisters

“When we think of the lone effort to live, and its bleak reward, the mind turns to the myth ‘for His mercy endureth forever,’ with confiding revulsion” (78).

1882, to Norcross sisters, after her mother’s death

“We don’t know where she is, though so many tell us.

I believe we shall in some manner be cherished by our Maker–that the one who gave us this remarkable earth has the power still farther to surprise that which He has caused. Beyond that all is silence…

Mother was very beautiful when she had died. Seraphs are solemn artists. The illumination that comes but once paused upon her features, and it seemed like hiding a picture to lay her in the grave; but the grass that received my father will suffice his guest, the one he asked at the altar to visit him all his life.

I cannot tell how Eternity seems. It sweeps around me like a sea… Thank you for remembering me. Remembrance – mighty word” (80).

1882, to James D. Clark

“Her dying feels to me like many kinds of cold – at times electric, at times benumbing, –then a trackless waste love has never trod…” (83).


“To have had a mother – how mighty!” (86).

“God was penurious with me, which makes me shrewd with him” (87).

1851, to Austin

“If I hadn’t been afraid that you would poke fun at my feelings, I had written a sincere letter, but since ‘the world is hollow, and dollie’s stuffed with sawdust,’ I really do not think we had better expose our feelings…” (90)

1860, to the Norcross sisters when their mother died

“Blessed Aunt L–now; all the world goes out, and I see nothing but her room, and angels bearing her into those great countries in the blue sky of which we don’t know anything…

How she loved the summer! The birds keep singing just the same. Oh! The thoughtless birds!” (101).

1874, to the Norcross sisters

“What do I think of Middlemarch? What do I think of glory–except that in a few instances this ‘mortal has already put on immortality.’

George Eliot is one. The mysteries of human nature surpass the ‘mysteries of redemption,’ for the infinite we only suppose, while we see the finite… I launch Vinnie on Wednesday; it will require the combined efforts of Maggie, Providence, and myself…” (104).


“Footlights cannot improve the grave, only immortality” (106).

1853, to Abiah Root

“You asked me to come and see you…but I don’t go from home, unless emergency leads me by the hand, and then I do it obstinately, and draw back if I can. Should I ever leave home, which is improbable, I will, with much delight, accept your invitation” (116).

1854, to Susie Gilbert Dickinson

“Sermons on unbelief ever did attract me” (122).

1857 to Mrs. J. G. Holland

“Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel. A circus passed the house – still I feel the red in my mind though the drums are out” (126).



Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness

Felman, Shoshana. Writing and Madness. 1985: Cornell University Press.

“Madness usually occupies a position of exclusion; it is outside of a culture. But madness that is common place occupies a position of inclusion and becomes the inside of a culture” (13).

A madness that is commonplace can “no longer be thought of as a simple topos inside our era; it is rather our entire era that has become subsumed within the space of madness. No discourse about madness can now know whether it is inside or outside of the madness it discusses” (14).

This text is not meant to function as a “new meaning to confer upon the text, but as a new way of being affected by the text” (22).

“Reason and madness are thereby inextricably linked; madness is essentially a phenomenon of thought, of thought which claims to denounce, in another’s thought, the Other of thought: that which thought is not. Madness can only occur within a world in conflict, within a conflict of thoughts…that turns the essence of thought, precisely, into a question” (36).

In literature, at least, “the role of madness is eminently philosophical” (37).

“Is such a discourse possible? Precisely how can one formulate a ‘language which sticks in the throat, collapsing before having attained any formulation’? How can one utter a ‘language that speaks by itself, uttered by no one and answered by no one’? How can madness as such break through the universe of discourse?” (42, quoting Foucault)

In contrast with Foucault, Derrida positions the status of language as that of a break with madness, ” a protective strategy, of a difference by which means madness is deferred, put off” (44).

“It is somewhere between their affirmation and their denial of madness that these texts about madness act, and that they act themselves out as madness, i.e., as unrepresentable“(252).

A mad text is defined by how it “resists interpretation” (254)

Steinbeck, To a God Unknown

Steinbeck, John. To a God Unknown. 1935, Penguin. New York.

The title page cites a Veda that begins “He is the giver of breath, and strength is his gift…” The god is masculine here.

“There was a curious femaleness about the interlacing boughs and twigs, about the long green cavern cut by the river through the trees and the brilliant underbrush” (4).

Joseph sees a boar murdering a pig, the mother of his piglets, and refuses to stop the event: “Why he’s the father of fifty pigs and he may be the source of fifty more” (6). Fatherhood is enough to exculpate the boar of his crimes; motherhood was not enough to save the pig from death by the father.

“As he looked into the valley, Joseph felt his body flushing with a hot fluid of love. ‘This is mine,’ he said simply…” (8). He feels a weird sexual need for the land and then determines “I need a wife” (8).

“Joseph’s passion for fertility grew strong” (22).

Elizabeth is terrified to go through “the valley”on the way to their home because she knows that the vaginal canyon will change her entirely (51)

Joseph says explicitly: “This is our marriage – through the pass – entering the passage like sperm and egg that have become a single unit of pregnancy. This is a symbol of the undistorted real” (52).

Rama is the Mrs. Dalloway mother figure – Rama / Marah (bitter)

“...the child is precious, but not so precious as the bearing of it. That is as real as a mountain. That is a tie to the earth” (92).

Elizabeth fears that the subversiveness in her blood will transfer through her pregnancy into the child (100)

Joseph says that pregnant women “must know things no one else knows. And they must feel a joy beyond any other joy. In some way they take up the nerve-ends of the earth in their hands” (102).

we have a wildly inaccurate representation of labor

Joseph sacrifices the child to the land by deciding to stay and give the child to Rama (155)

Joseph realizes “I am the rain” (179) and sacrifices himself for the land (male Jesus sacrificing himself for female land/Church.)

Primal fear that giving sperm exhausts the man’s vitality


Kofman, Rue Ordener, Rue Labat

Kofman, Sarah. Rue Ordener, Rue Labat. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1994. Lincoln: Univeristy of Nebraska Press., 1994.

She begins with her father: his pen “failed me before I could give myself to give it up” (3).

When they come to take her father, her mother says, “You can’t, I have a babe in arms who isn’t two yet!…I’m expecting another baby!” (6). The narrative function of the child here is to save the family unit from destruction. Invoking pity to save the father. Child saves the father; child replaces father.

“Right under my mother’s nose, she’d managed to detach me from her. And also from Judaism” (47).

“My mother hit me and shouted at me in Yiddish, ‘I am your mother! I am your mother! I don’t care what the court decided, you belong to me!'” (61).

The narrative ends with Mémé’s grave: “I was unable to attend her funeral. But I know that at her grave the priest recalled how she had saved a little Jewish girl during the war” (85).


Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Plath, Sylvia. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.


Esther is eight months pregnant, and she joins a ladies luncheon. She feels entirely out of place, and meets another “out of place” mother with whom she can both smoke and create an alternative maternal universe. She feels uncomfortable with the fact of her pregnancy itself, as evidenced by the narrator’s note that she “adjusted the folds of her cashmere coat loosely so that she might, to the casual eye, seem simply tall, stately and fat, rather than eight months pregnant” (10).

Motherhood means belonging to something “primeval,” like the chants and the cold church floor (15).

“Day of Success”

Charts a wife’s worry as her husband finds success in a novel. She is a maternal bumpkin with a baby, and worries over the husband meeting with a “career woman” who is chic and fashionable. It turns out the husband much prefers his homely maternal wife, and wants to continue living in the country, catering to her dream of being a “country wife.” This seems painfully optimistic, considering Ted & Assia.


Weigle, Creation & Procreation

Marta Weigle, Creation and Procreation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

“Cosmogonies, especially those resembling Judeo-Christian creation myths, are accorded elevated status in mythology. Often considered the measure of a culture’s theological and philosophical speculation,…” (3).

“…’female’ procreation has been given far less consideration than Gaia’s coming into being out of the nothingness of the male Chaos” (5).

Weigle marks four different kinds of creation:

  1. ex nihilo
  2. “earth diver”
  3. dividing a primordial unity in two
  4. dismemberment of a primordial being (6)


“These predominantly masculine examples cannot be matched with an equivalent set using words like project, penetrate, erect, and ejaculate to form a predominantly feminine, ‘general metaphor’ CREATION IS PROJECTION. Women, it would seem, do not have ‘projects’ in the way men have ‘babies,’ unless, perhaps, they cannot or do not have children” (8).

Discussion of Roland Barthes 1957 Mythologies:

Says Barthes: “The woman of letters… a remarkable zoological species: she brings forth, pell-mell, novels and children” (Barthes 1972 qtd here 42).

Also: “Women, be therefore courageous, free; play at being men, write like them; but never get far from them; live under their gaze, compensate for your books by your children; enjoy a free rein for a while, but quickly come back to your condition. One novel, one child, a little feminism, a little connubiality. Let us tie the adventure of art to the strong pillars of the home: both will profit a great deal from this combination: where myths are concerned, mutual help is always fruitful” (Barthes 1972, qtd here 43).

Jung notes that “the former image of matter” was “the Great mother” (qtd here 53).

Weigle notes that in Platonic philosophy “logoi” are “generating gods,” which are coded male (77). v. Logos

in Aristotle, the male literally planted the baby inside the woman. Woman serves as an “incubator” for the male. By herself she cannot beget.

When William Harvey discovered the ovum in 1628, there was a general professional outcry among physicians, and he was in fact professionally shamed. General masculine revulsion against recognizing female creative force and potential in reproduction

Woman carries the man’s “fruit.” Fruithood is the child-function. Fruit is not a person.

“In most mythology, the world is valued primarily as the product, expression, or epiphany of a creator, not as the midwifery of gossips and procreation… As a rule, creation, not procreation, provides the valued mythological paradigm” (175). Perhaps the focus on pregnancy emphasizes the process (female) rather than the product (traditionally male, through fatherhood) of procreation



F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Beautiful and Damned. 1946, Princeton University Press; 2002, Random House. Print.

“…irony, the Holy Ghost of this later day, had, theoretically at least, descended on him” (3).

Irony is defined as “a man who was aware that there could be no honor and yet had honor, who knew the sophistry of courage and yet was brave” (4).

He is motherless young, at five years old (5).

“one of those men devoid of the symmetry of feature essential to the Aryan ideal, he was yet, here and there, considered handsome–moreover, he was very clean, in appearance and in reality, with that especial cleanness borrowed from beauty” (8).

In a David and Bathsheba scene, he sees a girl in a red negligé “drying her hair by the still hot sun of late afternoon” (16). “He felt persistently that the girl was beautiful, then, of a sudden, he understood: it was her distance… The woman was standing up now; she had tossed her hair back and he had a full view of her. She was fat, full thirty-five, utterly undistinguished” (16). She is beautiful because of her distance, the presence of children, and the potential for order that she represents.

DICK: Going to the theatre?

MAURY: We intend to spend the evening doing some deep thinking over of life’s problems. The thing is tersely called ‘The Woman.’ I presume that she will ‘pay.” (19). Woman = problem (Irigaray’s invocation of Freud)

In the middle of Anthony Patch’s chapter is “A Flash Back in Paradise” section – by whom? for whom?

“beauty, who was born anew every hundred years, sat in a sort of outdoor waiting room through which blew gusts of white wind and occasionally a breathless hurried star…. It became known to her, at length, that she was to be born again” (23). One of the characteristics of the terrible world into which beauty comes is that “ugly women control strong men” (23). Beauty is aghast.

“You will be disguised during your fifteen years as what is called a ‘susciety gurl'” (24). Beauty only lasts 15 years. (Diderot in Rich: you should all die at 15…)

Beauty will be “paid” in “love” (24).

He feels “empty as an old bottle,” and Gloria arrives to fill him up (47).

Beauty’s job is to “render thoughtless” – both men and the women it inhabits (49).

Gloria knows that “the biography of every woman begins with the first kiss that counts, and ends when her last child is laid in her arms” (53). She determines that she “[doesn’t] want to have responsibility and a lot of children to take care of” (53).

gloria knows she has in her a “streak of what you’d call cheapness” that relates her to the “giggling, over-gestured, pathetically pretentious women, who grow fat […] bear too many babies, and float helpless and uncontent in a colorless sea of drudgery and broken hopes” (58-9). Beauty’s lifework is to combat this.

“What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages! Marriage was created not to be a background but to need one. Mine is going to be outstanding…I refuse to dedicate my life to posterity. Surely one owes as much to the current generation as to one’s unwanted children. What a fate – to grow rotund and unseemly, to lose my self-love, to think in terms of milk, oatmeal, nurse, diapers… Dear dream children, howe much more beautiful you are, dazzling little creatures who flutter (all dream children flutter) on golden, golden wings – Such children, however, poor dear babies, have little in common with the wedded state” (125). She rejects real children. Part of the maternal function is to leave the feathered babies to the father’s idealization.

She writes FINIS in her journal the night before her marriage. It’s the end for her. 125.

Anthony is horrified by the animality of sex, and neither of them really want to be tied to the “business of life” (127).

Gloria realizes that her body is her only extra-marital currency, and fears that giving birth will take that away from her. It violates her rule to “never give a damn” (171). Motherhood is the necessity of giving a damn. Motherhood would be an “indignity” (171).

lots of cats in here

While Anthony is at war having his affair with Dot, Gloria “bought a doll and dressed it…” (312). What would a child have done to her and them? That absence haunts the novel. The novel is in some ways structured around Gloria’s resistance to fertility and the narrative absence of a marriage-codifying child

“She knew that in her breast she had never wanted children. The realty, the earthiness, the intolerable sentiment of child-bearing, the menace to her beauty – had appalled her. She wanted to exist only as a conscious flower, prolonging and preserving itself. Her sentimentality could cling fiercely to her own illusions, but her ironic soul whispered that motherhood was also the privilege of the female baboon. So her dreams were of ghostly children only – the early, the perfect symbols of her early and perfect love for Anthony” (330).  She recognizes that children are symbols and rejects the job of tending the symbolic flame. She knows that motherhood comes at the expense of self-preservation and refuses it

This book has a disappointing moral ending, vs. its equivalent Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. We are happy for Gloria, kind of, but she (and especially Anthony) should have been punished ($ will feed alcoholism and buy fur rather than charity.) Inertia wins in the end: sometimes inertia goes in your favor. We have to recognize our own moralism, despite our own ironic temperament. The ending is brilliant.

Hélène Cixous, Gare d’Osnabrück à Jerusalem

Cixous, Hélène. Gare d’Osnabrück à Jerusalem. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2016.

“À Osnabrück prend sa source Éve ma mère, cette Homère qui ne faisait pas exprès d’oser” (14). Even linguistically, you can’t have Homere without “mere,” you can’t have the epic poet without a mother, perhaps offering her umbilical memory

Sometimes the journey is “moi en moi” and sometimes “maman en moi” (18)

“Je me rappelle ces incidents par la mémoire de ma mère, comme si c’était hier” (19).

“Explique-toi, dit mon fils” (21). Between mere and fille there is umbilical memory processing – not between mere and fils; she must explain herself

Ulysse, Freud and Eve equivalized (21)

“je riais de la manie de ma mère, la femme la plus généreuse du monde…” (22). Mania, generosity generativity maternity

Her own children enter and exit the narrative at random, usually to interrupt or contradict her

“…en vérité il y avait des moments délixieux où je devenais Ève” (29). Amniotic desire to morph back into mother (memory is the agent)

The visionary memory umbilical cord still in tact between her and her mother but not between her and her children (desire to have but not to be a mother)

“Alors nous finirons par y aller,


Rime avec irons, dit ma mère

En francais” (33). Ève loves to invoke metaphorical congruence or association by rhyme – tangential logogriph-ish approach to meaning vs Lacanian analogue

“Tu as toujours eu de l’imagination, dit ma mère. Tu m’as inventée. Tu écris et tu prends tes inventions pour la réalité…. je ne suis pas une fiction” (42). Real mother eclipsed by daughter’s projected or imagined mother. How accurate is umbilical memory? Mothers are always a fiction when re-told (perhaps as long as they are maternal function they are always a fiction. Umbilical memory in fact fails the mother’s reality. Umbilical memory a function of the mother function not the mother)

“Ce n’est pas que Cordelia est devenue Regan, a pensé Onkel André, c’est qu’elle l’a toujours été” (63). Cordelia was always Regan: the “good daughter” was always already a traitor to the parent. This is an uncle (male) thinking through Cixous: perhaps Cixous thinking this herself really”

“Tout le monde l’enterrerait sous les décombres de la mémoire” (68). Ruined site reminiscent of female abject womb/tomb. Womb is décombré after a birth

“Ève Klein, qui bientôt sera ma mère” (71).

In some ways Cixous’s narrative framed around the narrative of Job. She explains to her daughter: “Tu te rappelles qu’on lui a arraché toutes les prunelles de ses yeux d’un coup, tous ses enfants, tous ses enfants, on ne lui a pas laissé le plus petit bébé, on lui a seulement laissé le mot enfant comme un pieu enflammé dans son oeil, dis-je à ma fille” (78). All that was left to him was the paternal function rather than the fruit. Job is a bad parent… hey kid, I could do the same. The “word child” means there is a child function as well. This is in part what the child owes the parent, the taking on of the burden of memory

Job is, as the narrator notes, “content de ses nouveux enfants” (79). Function = symbol = myth; reality = flesh; memory lies somewhere in between

There are some things about which she finds she cannot speak, including the decision of some wealthier family members to refuse financial assistance to her grandmother. “Et j’ajoute mon silence à celui de ma mère et de ma grand-mère… le silence dit la vérité faite par Ève et Omi” (109).

“Ma mère m’empêche de tout dire, il y a pire, il y a pire. Elle ne veut pas que l’on sache le pire, et pourtant c’est elle qui m’a ranconté le pire, elle n’a pas réussi à ne pas le ranconter, elle” (126).

“Et en tant que poète j’ai lu dans les rues et sur les trottoirs ce que ma mère et Omi ne pouvaient pas me dire avec leurs propres bouches, car elles sont assermentées à la famille et au peuple et elles n’osent pas rompre le serment” (147).

“Ne touchons pas au Silence” (160).