February 6, 2010

This is What a Feminist [Poet] Looks Like Forum #2

To skip this intro and go directly to the forum, please scroll down to the next post!

Welcome to our second This is What a Feminist [Poet] Looks Like forum, where each day this week you will find new responses.

Monday February 1: Ching-In Chen, Jennifer Bartlett, & Kate Durbin
Tuesday February 2: Juliet Cook & Kate Schapira
Wednesday February 3: Kirsten Kaschock & Michele Battiste
Thursday February 4: Michelle Detorie & Stephanie Strickland
Friday February 5: T.A. Noonan & Theodora Danylevich
Saturday February 6: Amy King & Kirsten Kaschock 2
With more to come!

There are likely as many strains and modes of feminist poetics as there are of feminism, but in reviews, discussions, and even our own manifestos, we often fall into shorthand that fails to explore this valuable friction, our own variations. I'd longed for unpacking, and so issued this open-ended call:
This is What a Feminist [Poet] Looks Like: what branch of feminism, model of feminist poetics, feminist icon, or etc. informs your poetry? Or, from which of these does your poetry diverge? Are there particular feminist tactics you employ? Do you consider yourself a feminist in many ways, but don't particularly involve it in the poetry? Feel free to take liberties with the questions! Short, long, essay, manifesto, whatever appeals to you!

Our first forum was full of such provocative, funny, thoughtful, revealing, and kick-ass work, I thought we'd better run another. We hope you'll enjoy and join in the conversation. If you post on your own blog in response to this conversation, or if you're a poet identifying as a woman, and you'd like to add a post to this forum, please drop a note in the comments!

Curated by Danielle Pafunda

Amy King

Amy King is the author of I’m the Man Who Loves You, Antidotes for an Alibi, Slaves to Do these Things (forthcoming from BlazeVox), and I Want to Make You Safe (forthcoming from Litmus Press). She teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College, and co-curates The Stain reading series in Brooklyn, NY.

“My Barbaric Bitch of a Yawp”

She lost all her innocence

Gave it to an abscess

She lost all her innocence

She said, "I am not a feminist"

—Hole, “I Think That I Would Die”

I care but can’t go into specifics just now, no time. I’m busy making poems; you’ll find the details there. My visions in verse. So this’ll be a one-off rant-song to sing along with and jump-start your day to.

I get called a bitch, or a feminist-bitch, at least once a week and, likewise, I often name people to say something about what they’ve just done. “Asshole, just cut me off in traffic.” “Angel, just helped my grandmother cross the street!” So with such proliferation of naming going on, I really don’t get the fear of being identified as or, gasp, calling one’s self a feminist. We know a name doesn’t define our entirety; or as Audre Lorde so aptly put it, "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives." So they say it’s the history; they don’t want to come across as man-hating hairy dykes. Then they say they know the women’s movement was made up of a wide variety of women (as well as more than a few supportive uncles, fathers and brothers), that those women, who were so often our aunts, grandmothers and mothers, were not evil witches. They say they know that those women won a lot of rights and changed the structure of male-female relationships. But don’t ask them (the “I’m not a feminist but…” gals) what rights those women won, don’t ask them how relations between men and women have changed, don’t ask them how they benefited from the blood, sweat and tears of those unsung feminists…

I am a feminist because I recognize the label isn’t going away; it carries a brave history and it has a future. I love the efforts those feminists made, however misguided or right on they got it over the years. Feminism is a past and feminism is a future. It’s political. Though I’m no politician, I live in a world were my public persona carries real weight. Political implications. What I do defines the label I represent at that moment. What I say gives value to the movements I align myself with. It does not define me; I am defining it. I’m a lesbian, I say, because I need to defend other queer women, but I’ve fucked men. I’m an independent because I want people to have more governing power, but I’ve voted Democrat. I’m an American because I love so much the idealism we’ve advanced on, but I critique the atrocious acts my country commits. If I give up the feminist label to the straining voice against it, to those who insist that the name somehow distorts and pins me down, then I give up the parts of that history, and its power, that are so significant and worth my time and gratitude. And I would be forced to see the world through backwards blinders only. I would be giving up the privilege of working with people who fearlessly butt against the unequal, classist, homophobic, sexist, racist, religious, status-quo-for-the-masses mentality. I would be giving up the empowerment that community inspires.

“And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. … Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.”

—J.K. Rowling, Harvard Commencement Speech 2008

Any poet worth her salt knows that, generally speaking, you can do one of two things with language -- You can use your words to reflect what society surrounds us with. You can represent the insipid mainstream culture and repeat it however prettily or dolled up you like. You can distract with pseudo-epiphanies or masturbate to empty language games until you’re living in a vacuum of your own making. Or you can be a creator, you can write the poetry that is not popular because you are saying things that don’t just comfort people and tell them that the way they’re living now is perfect and lovely and oh-so-right. You can either reflect or you can create, at great risk, to improve things, reveal complexities, point out those brilliant chinks in the mainstream armor of duality and western rigidity. You create to show that there is more to perceive, that change is always afoot, that you want to have a hand in what that change should do, that you can visualize a keener, more interesting and diverse world where the roles and lines and tasks relegated to “woman” and “man” are thinning fronts that can no longer support humanity’s advancement. These “confusing” “crazy” creations are often unpopular because they shake us up; the status quo resists because people aren’t accustomed to seeing in radical and as-yet-unfathomed ways, they can’t visualize themselves in the odd pictures such poets are making. We are afraid to imagine other ways of being on a planet dominated by wars, environmental destruction, and the luxury of ignorance. We hope that if we stay very still, don’t move, and speak clearly, nothing will come undone—and we’ll be safe.

“… Race and class are rendered distinct analytically only to produce the realization that the analysis of the one cannot proceed without the other.”

—Judith Butler

So it is with feminism and poetry, which are movements, hand-in-hand progressions, the visualization of hope and the often-belittled notion of investing in improvement, even *gasp* looking for some moral imperative in context. Feminist poets do not invest substantial attention in that static image of a hairy angry bitch meant to shut us down and squelch our efforts and dry the ink of our pens; we are too busy moving and shaking shit up and asking people to become aware of and check the power structures we participate in and to give up certain power privileges so that we each might arrive at some semblance of equal footing with access to basic necessities and accesses and to share and to look at other aspects of our humanity that we have been told to repress because they’re too feminine. Feminist poets are putting pen to paper where and when it counts and challenging the very core notions of what it means to be human, literally, conceptually, and emotionally. If I blur and confound the line between one more “them versus us” modus operandi, then I’m doing my job and causing people to pause & reconsider the next actions they’ll take: to hit and kill and segregate, or to lean in, study, consider, smell, see, think and breathe shared air—and then act and react.

“I think … that we have not yet become human. Or, I might say, in a different way, that the category of the human is in the process of becoming. What constitutes the human is a site of contestation. There are clashing cultural interpretations about what the human ought to be, and that every time you assert human rights, you are also adding to the meaning of what the human is.”

—Judith Butler

Empathy, you suggest? But isn’t it better to give a good ass beating and take one’s seat higher on the scale? Fuck the hierarchy. It’s not the “natural” order of things, despite the desperate protests of those that sit atop their mountain of things and cling to a misanthropic power. Our current situation is a complex ideological structure designed with all manner of booby traps, many self-policing, to keep us in our places, sequestered in valleys and caves, in our lady and dude roles, scared to say that on the face of it, this scene isn’t right when, across the worldwide board and at its most basic, one gender is still supposed to cow tow to another. It’s even got us scared to say that there aren’t only two genders nor two scripted ways to act: feminine or masculine, for each of us. That’s why so many young people want to talk about fluidity: they’re tapping into how this hostile-yet-invisible way of seeing and being (invisible so that we can’t point the problems out) bars access, holds us in place, tells us if we don’t wear the “proper” dolly clothes or sport manly muscles and strictly maintain aggression as a male norm then we’re out of line and doomed to a life of miserable outcast status. It’s why some can’t even see that women could never just “act like men” to achieve equality (see Clay Shirky http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/comment-page-8/) – that kind of “way in” is bogus because the very structure of the way things are doesn’t permit such “feminine” considerations as empathy and mindfulness, in fact eliminates them, and this is why we don’t let mothers engage in ground combat. The social fabric as it stands would simply melt and implode.

Remember in “The Matrix” when Neo is asked if he senses that something is off? That reality isn’t sitting quite right? Well, we word workers are all friggin’ Neo. We’re each “the one” and “the one” and “the one” gathered into a sharp arrow point called feminism, guided and guiding together into every next moment and context. And it’s up to those of us with even an iota of awareness to daringly claim that label and continue to define it and redefine it and work together and add to it and impose on it and make that label act on our behalves—despite what mud is slung and fears are put upon us to slow us down and stop us. Because even the fallout changes and we can learn from that: feminists used to be scared of being relegated to lives of “old maids.” Now we’re just afraid of not being sexy. Just think if Emma Goldman caved and said, “Oh no, they’re forever calling me names, screw the vote. Screw the way I want to live, I’ll just marry and shut up and dutifully light the home fires now.” Like Emma G., poets should catch that mud and work it into the sculptures they want to see. We’re not here to smile and be pretty; we write the poems we want to see in the world, however difficult it is to birth them, however much we are berated, however many want to scare and break us. And to respond to this anger with the act of creation is love itself, that sentimental “feminine” essence, the firm basis from which feminists and poets have been acting together forever.

So goddamn right, this is what a feminist poet looks like – keep on looking and watch me work *or* slide on your typing shoes, join me beneath the disco lights, and sing your barbaric bitch of a yawp with feeling—

“Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which the publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs; not yourself. Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don't like the true texts of women - female-sexed texts. That kind scares them.”

—Hélène Cixous, 1976

Kirsten Kaschock 2

Kirsten Kaschock is the author ofUnfathoms (Slope Editions) and a beautiful name/for a girl (upcoming from Ahsahta Press). She holds a Ph.D. fromUniversity of Georgia in English and is currently a doctoral fellow in dance at Temple University. She lives and writes in Philadelphia.

Artist-as-Mother/Mother-as-Artist: A Metaphorical Resurrection

When we talk about art now, especially radical or experimental art, we talk about war. The artwork achieves, or fails to achieve. It is revolutionary and breaks through barriers, or it falls flat. Postmodern art (of all genres) is valued for its ability to move us forward—to shock, to produce awe. Our zeitgeist is blitzkrieg. Notably, the term avant garde is a military one, and it is precisely this term that makes it difficult to imagine communication with the artist. Either you position yourself behind the vanguard, reaping the benefits of their sacrifice, or you stand opposing them, attempting to cut them down as they hurl their weapons into your culture. The soldiers (the artists) in these metaphors are necessarily silent—and their purpose violent.

Walter Benjamin, in his essay, “The Task of the Translator,” writes:

The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. Particularly when translating from a language very remote from his own he must go back to the primal elements of language itself and penetrate to the point where work, image, and tone converge. He must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language. It is not generally realized to what extent this is possible… (Benjamin 81)

Disregarding Benjamin’s rhetoric of force and penetration, what he is asking for is that languages listen and respond to one another through the translator—an expansion of thought during the act rather than a narrow fidelity to some impossible idea of exact translation.

Metaphors are singular acts of translation. Using the passage above as a template, I would like to suggest that when a metaphor is engaged it has the potential to enlarge either side of the term (as 20th and 21st century war has been aestheticized partially through the use of metaphorical language surrounding both art and war), and that—as a result—both of the concepts artist and mother could grow when conceived in terms of one another. I would argue that Benjamin, in the quoted passage, is joining in “the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallologocentrism” (Haraway 176). I, too, would like to join in the epistemological radicalism both Benjamin and Donna Haraway espouse in their different ways from their different times, but I would do so without embracing all they embrace, and I would do so by retaining something he never considers and that she does not choose to retain: motherhood.

In her 1987 essay, “Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Difference in Literary Discourse,” Susan Stanford Friedman provides the rationale for re-examining a metaphor that has been used extensively and possibly overdetermined. She writes: “The context of the childbirth metaphor is the institution of motherhood in the culture at large” (Friedman 51). I would suggest that, thanks to ever-progressing fertility technologies, expanded practices of adoption and surrogacy, the prevalence of both older and teenage parenting, man-identified mothers, the very real possibility of human cloning, non-traditional family structures, and an epidemic of AIDS orphans on the continent of Africa and beyond, the cultural notion of motherhood has been altered greatly in the past thirty years and is ripe right now for a reimagining through art. Yet despite its evolving forms—motherhood, as a term, carries with it a weighty history some feminists might like, on occasion, to be rid of.

Near the end of Donna Haraway’s glorious essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” a model for the way imagination can affect theory, she questions whether the metaphor of reproduction can ever be used as a way forward, out of the binary-positions feminists and others find themselves in:

...organisms and organismic, holistic politics depend on metaphors of rebirth and invariably call on the resources of reproductive sex. I would suggest that cyborgs have more to do with regeneration and are suspicious of the reproductive matrix and of most birthing... We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender. (Haraway 181)

Her answer, then, is no.

But I disagree. What I mean to say is that she can imagine what she wants, and reading what she imagines has made me larger in the best ways, but I do not believe that one arrives at either a “common language” (which she claims not to want) nor a “powerful infidel heteroglossia” (which she does) by throwing out the birth-process with the baby. We have very few tools for transformation; we cannot afford to rid ourselves of one of the most powerful of them—motherhood—even metaphorically, only to replace it with technologies that have proved so alienating to so many and are as-yet available to so few. This is not a good recycling practice. (Biological motherhood, however—one type of motherhood—can be an excellent recycling practice—a new human body produced directly from the materials of the old.)

In Of Woman Born, her 1977 meditation on and investigation of motherhood, Adrienne Rich points out another one of the difficulties of thinking mother:

...the vast majority of literary and visual images of motherhood comes to us filtered through a collective or individual male consciousness... We need to know what, out of all that welter of image-making and thought-spinning, is worth salvaging, if only to understand better an idea so crucial in history, a condition which has been wrested from the mothers themselves to buttress the power of the fathers. (Rich 62)

Rich, unlike Haraway, despite the issues involved is not willing to rid herself of mothers, perhaps because—and this is crucial—she is one. She is physically and emotionally aware of the ambiguities of motherhood, and although she is acutely cognizant that it has functioned as both plague and tool of enslavement for women since the dawn of mythical time—and still does in many places—it has also provided for many of them a reason to continue living in those conditions.

I admit it: I, too, want out of gender and all the exclusions that go with it. Sometimes. But the heterogeneity Haraway calls for in “A Cyborg Manifesto” relies on division (otherwise it would be read as homogeneity). Divisions tend to be hierarchized. Without the primary division between gender(s), another division (race, religion, class—already present in Haraway’s essay in nascent form as an assumed access to technology) would emerge as the primary separator: this I believe. Motherhood, however (once it is pried out from beneath its boulder—its history as a tool of patriarchy), provides a location where division itself can be seen as positive, where division creates heterogeneity without necessarily creating opposition. Why, then, must Haraway negate the mother? The answer may lie here:

An origin story in the ‘Western’, humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism... The cyborg skips the step of original unity, of identification with nature in the Western sense. (Haraway 151)

It is true that motherhood has been drawn by psychoanalysis too large, as a seductive stagnation that must be escaped, the motherwomb—a bodied Eden we cannot choose to remain within. Haraway accepts this formulation and rejects the suffocating embrace of the originary mother in order to hold hands with the machine. I understand this desire; yet, I see in her erasure of that “unity” the same rejection of the mother in the process of individuation that she bemoans. I would argue we can and should take motherhood with us—that we should not allow the mother to remain with those who would draw him/her as landscape rather than agent. In fact, by leaving motherhood behind—we lose a fantastic imaginative possibility for community.

In Christine Battersby’s feminist defense of metaphysics, she attempts to construct and normalize a female (not feminine) subject and then walks her reader through the ramifications of viewing the possibilities of female reproduction as central to the subject:

Rather than treating women as somehow exceptional, I start from the question of what would have to change were we to take seriously the notion that a ‘person’ could normally, at least always potentially, become two. What would happen if we thought identity in terms that did not make it always spatially and temporally oppositional to other entitities? Could we retain a notion of self-identity if we did not privilege what is self-contained and self-directed? (Battersby 2)

Instead of an individual always in the process of differentiating him/herself from the community and the world (the motherbody), Battersby posits an individual who can potentially and occasionally engage in the process of literally creating out of him/herself community, and this community—although genetically similar to the mother—necessarily differs from the individual mother in age and possibly in gender. Motherhood, therefore, produces—unoppositionally—diversity.

As her non-mothering metaphor for producing community, Haraway suggests the “network” for her cyborgs, their couplings multiplying the “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” (Haraway 150). But pain is lost here during the contestation for “for other forms of power and pleasure”(150), the pain of individuation and motivated loss (of releasing control), pain that the metaphor of motherhood—biological or otherwise—would retain. Why keep pain? Adrienne Rich explains Simone Weil’s insistence that not all pain need be purely negative: “But where it is unavoidable, pain can be transformed into something usable, something which takes us beyond the limits of the experience itself into a further grasp of the essentials of life and the possibilities within us” (Rich 158). By losing the pain of childbirth, of potential child-death, the productive grief of teaching independence and sending children forth into the world, Haraway’s cyborgs may gain a nebulous jouissance; however, I do not think the trade of deep, profound and affecting ambiguities (dependence/independence, pain/pleasure, love/anger) for a circuitous utopian orgy is a good trade. In losing the mother, Haraway’s cyborgs lose a source of art.

Rich explains how this potent ambiguity has been coded into the female body, “the terrain on which patriarchy is erected” (Rich 55):

The woman’s body, with its potential for gestating, bringing forth and nourishing new life, has been through the ages a field of contradictions: a space invested with power, and an acute vulnerability; a numinous figure and the incarnation of evil; a hoard of ambivalences, most of which have worked to disqualify women from the collective act of defining culture. (Rich 105)

The conflicted reading of the female body’s relationship to power is the very thing that has made childbirth, in the past, a metaphor for the artistic process while cordoning women off from art with the rhetoric of mutual exclusion: if babies—no books, no paintings, no dance. However, these renderings often have focused on gestation and birth only (Friedman 51-4). In doing so, their metaphorical use has misconstrued motherhood as merely a biological act. This leads to a difficulty in reading differently gendered presentations of the metaphor. As Susan Friedman notes in her essay on the childbirth metaphor for writing, “female and male metaphors mean differently and mean something different, indeed something opposite” (Friedman 75). Might I suggest that expanding the metaphor from artist-as-birther to artist-as-mother would avoid much of the difficulty of the earlier rhetorical model.

An artist painted as mother would be enlarged. The art process would be seen as an endlessly collaborative act, from inception through production. Children are not produced in a vacuum, and although both mothers and artists can toil in isolation, by linking artistic process to motherhood—this would no longer be viewed as the normative or preferable model for artistic production. By linking these culturally feminized acts (art is not coded in the West as a masculine pursuit though it may be male-dominated), it might become more apparent just how undervalued both processes are. By insisting on a motherhood rather than childbirth model, the responsibility of the artist would extend beyond the moment of artistic completion. As Rich notes, “Woman did not simply give birth; she made it possible for the child to go on living” (101). The artist would begin to view him/herself as more accountable for and to the work produced. This is not to argue for a policing or even a self-policing of artistic creation, but simply a new sense of artistic place within the community. It is heresy, I know, to speak against the privileged standpoint of the outlaw—and I am not; I am arguing that the outlaw/artist already has an oft-denied relationship with both his/her artwork and the community that artwork is released into—and that those relationships, like all relationships, grow fuller with tending.

Mother, viewed as artist, would also flower. Motherhood could move beyond a “becom[ing of] our bodies—blindly, slavishly, in obedience to male theories about us” (Rich 102), and become expressively creative. Instead of procreative destiny, motherhood could view itself as a conscious manifestation of continued choosing. I recognize that most women in the world do not have the luxury of equating motherhood with choice, and that is precisely why I think it imperative that a metaphor that fronts that possibility be in use. The label artist would also allow motherhood to rethink its boundaries. If it is possible to be a mother without having ovulated (as in surrogacy), without having birthed a child (as in adoption), after menopause (plenty of these foster and grandmother-mothers), and without a partner (and these), then perhaps it is time to imagine a motherhood beyond the uterus. North American gender roles within the home have been glacially slow to change; motherhood-as-an-act-of-self-expression might help push that change forward.

Is there a problem with the child-as-artwork that follows? Undoubtedly. Yet, this formulation is infinitely preferable to child-as-accessory, child-as-property, child-as-surrogate-self, and child-as-doll—all of which have real currency in our world. It is a discussion for a later time, but suffice it to say that neither art nor children are completely within the control of their creators and that I see the celebration of this fact as crucial to healthy models of both.

In her rethinking our ways of being in the world in this era, Haraway writes:

Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other... The tools are often stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities. In retelling origin stories, cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of western culture. (Haraway 175)

In reinvesting in motherhood, I do not want to reimagine originary wholeness; I want to imagine division and creation with a difference. Motherhood has marked me as other, and I would use it to mark the world. Motherhood is power. Rich partially explains: “The one aspect in which most women have felt their own power—in the patriarchal sense—authority and control over another—has been motherhood...” (Rich 67). Yet, she does not go on to show how mothers relinquish this power, many happily, upon the growth of the child: this element places motherhood in a different relationship to the power s/he wields than the patriarchal model Rich mentions. The origin myths I want to subvert by retelling are of the twin creators—Mother and Artist. By placing them inside one another, like Russian dolls, I hope to expand the potentialities of both.

When Benjamin describes the task of the translator, he describes the task of both mother and artist—to be profoundly altered and enlarged by what they take inside of them. I agree with his reflection upon the transformative aspect of translation: “It is not generally realized to what extent this is possible…” (Benjamin 81) I would like to start exploring the extent.

We need to imagine a world in which every woman is the presiding genius of her own body. In such a world women will truly create new life, bringing forth not only children (if and as we choose) but the visions, and the thinking, necessary to sustain, console, and alter human existence... (Rich 285-6)

Works Cited

Battersby, Christine. The Phenomenal Woman: Feminist Metaphysics and the Pattern of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Benjamin, Walter, and Hannah Arendt. Illuminations. Pimlico ed. London: Pimlico, 1999.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. "Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Difference in Literary Discourse." Feminist Studies 13.1 (1987): 49-82.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women : The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Rich, Adrienne Cecile. Of Woman Born : Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Bantam Books, 1977.

February 5, 2010

T.A. Noonan

T.A. Noonan's first collection, The Bone Folders, won the Heartland Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Cracked Slab Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in No Tell Motel, Everyday Genius, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. II:Mississippi, Phoebe, RHINO, Specs, Harpur Palate, and many others. Currently, she lives, writes, and teaches on Florida's First Coast. "Gloss: Two Interviews" is from her latest manuscript, Petticoat Government.

Gloss: Two Interviews

“What is the proper response of a woman looking at Playboy?” —Denise Duhamel, “House-Sitting”


(from a series of emails between the author and Jaime Malanowski, Playboy’s former managing editor.)

TN: Playboy has a history of publishing risky—some might say innovative—fiction. Would you say that this tradition continues today?

JM: Sure. Just in the last couple of years, along with master storytellers like John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley and Stephen King, we happily published established-but-edgy writers like Chuck Palahniuk and T.C. Boyle, as well as exciting new voices like Sam Lipsyte, Tony D’Souza, Michelle Richmond, and Jess Walter.

TN: Do you have a preferred aesthetic?

JM: For our fiction, we look for plot-driven stories. We want a certain drama in our short stories, and we want vivid protagonists. We want events to take place in these stories, or even action. We don’t want stories to be about a person’s interior life.

TN: Do you think the rise of nonfiction has contributed to the decline in the amount of fiction published in Playboy, or are there other factors at work behind the scenes?

JM: Has there been a decline in the amount of fiction published in Playboy? I don’t perceive one, but there has been a decline in the culture of short fiction. Look to the 1950s and 1960s—there were lots of general interest magazines and lots of writers trying to make a living writing for them. Lots of those magazines—Holiday, Look, The Saturday Evening Post—closed. With fewer places to publish, fewer writers tried to fill the remaining spots. Fewer writers, less quality, less innovation. Short story success depends on an ecosystem of readers, writers and publishers. That system has shrunk—and not so many people miss it.

TN: Your answer also touches on a question that has been brought up by my fiction-writing colleagues—namely, where can short stories find an audience willing to invest the time and attention required. The literary magazines have pretty much cornered that market, but my impression is that glossy magazines are still considered the “mint-maker” for a literary career in prose. That is, once you get your work in a place like Playboy or The Atlantic, you’re pretty much set. Would you agree with this?

JM: It’s an absurd, naïve idea. Very few writers are ever set, by which I mean that their force of reputation is pretty much enough to get them published. Most writers, even ones with long records of achievement and success, are only as good as their next idea. And a person who has been published once in The Atlantic or Playboy? Very good. Congratulations. What else can you show me?

TN: Regarding the amount of fiction that Playboy publishes, my understanding—based on my research—is that Playboy used to publish as many as three stories per issue.

JM: You are correct. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Playboy published three or four stories an issue. It is true that many of these pieces were very short and were slight humor pieces. But as recently as 1988 we published twenty stories a year. Even now, in our big December and January holiday issues, we may publish more than one story.

Another reason that there’s less space for fiction is that magazines do lots more service journalism—telling people what to buy, how to dress, where to travel, etc. Also, what people think of as funny has changed. In the past, Playboy might run a funny two-page story, 1,500-2,000 words long, something you’d sit down and read. Today we’re more apt to use those two pages for an article on “How to Have the Perfect Clambake,” or to do something funny that is a lot more visual. Something you’d be more apt to “look at’’ than “read.”

TN: Playboy can—and does—publish some of contemporary fiction’s biggest names. Why, then, does the magazine continue to offer its annual College Fiction Award?

JM: Why do you think? It’s enormously popular. It helps establish a connection between the magazine and students. And it gives us an early look at young talent.

TN: I know that you cannot speak to Redbook’s specific editorial practices because you do not work there. However, I have noticed that while Playboy, a men’s magazine, continues to publish top-notch fiction, Redbook and other women’s magazines have deemphasized their previous commitment to fiction. Do you think this is merely an editorial move to sell issues, or does it has something to do with a change in women’s reading practices and/or the fiction market at large?

JM: Sorry, I have no insight in Redbook’s editorial practices. Based on what I know of women’s reading habits, I’d say women are reading a lot of novels of all genres. And while they also read a lot of magazines, they do not read magazines for fiction. They are looking for a quicker, breezier read, and for service features.

But it’s not just women’s magazines that are deemphasizing fiction. The Atlantic all but dropped fiction a year or so ago. Here’s a thought—call the American Society of Magazine Editors (try to speak to Marlene Kahan) and ask how many total submissions for this year’s National Magazine Awards they received in the categories of Reporting, Feature Writing, Essay, Service Feature, and Fiction. I’ll bet they got thirty or fewer nominations for fiction, and two to three times that in the other categories.

TN: I did contact Marlene Kahan as you suggested, and she said that you are absolutely right. There are far fewer nominations for Fiction in the National Magazine Awards than for other categories, and this has been the case for many years.

Thank you very much for your time and attention; your assistance is much appreciated. Who knows—maybe there’s a bit of nonfiction in this for me.


(from a series of emails between the author and Stacy Morrison, Redbook’s editor-in-chief.)

TN: Redbook once published fiction by Dashiell Hammett, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis. Has the rise of nonfiction contributed to the decline in the amount of fiction being published in Redbook, or are there other factors at work?


TN: What is your preferred aesthetic in regards to the fiction that Redbook publishes?


TN: Certainly you cannot speak to the editorial practices of other magazines, but I have noticed that while Playboy, a men’s magazine, continues to publish top-notch fiction alongside its nudes, Redbook and other women’s magazines have deemphasized their previous commitment to fiction. Do you think this represents a change in women’s reading practices?


TN: Who are some of your favorite authors to appear in Redbook?


TN: Does Redbook receive many unsolicited fiction submissions?


TN: Are the pieces that you do accept mainly by solicitation or query?


TN: How often would you say that you publish unsolicited manuscripts?


TN: Does Redbook still offer its annual Fiction Award? If not, why was the award discontinued?


TN: Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Note: “Gloss: Two Interviews” culls material from a series of emails exchanged in February 2008 between the author and Playboy’s former managing editor, Jaime Malanowski—as well as an unanswered email to Redbook’s editor-in-chief, Stacy Morrison. “Gloss” is not intended, and does not attempt, to reproduce the author and Mr. Malanowski’s complete correspondence. Most changes to the language are cosmetic, grammatical, and/or organizational in nature; omissions are for abridgment purposes only. The author would like to extend her profound thanks to both editors for their insights.

Theodora Danylevich

Theodora (Dora) Danylevich is a graduate student in English at George Washington University. She holds an MA in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University and a BA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her poetry has appeared in/on DCPoetry.com, Vanitas, Boog, and is forthcoming in Phoebe and Prefix. Dora's academic work has been published in Tits: a 24-hour journal of poetry and poetics and is forthcoming in Prefix.

I have long had a fraught relationship to feminism. While I have always been a feminist I struggle with the crabbiness that can come with any kind of identity politics, and I have also always been a radical anti-essentialist when it comes to gender. For these reasons I distanced myself from feminism for a while. I had a realization in the shower one day (2 or 3 years ago now), however, as I was struggling to describe my then-nascent MA thesis (this paper is an excerpt), that feminism was actually critical to my work and I couldn’t exactly go forward with my proposal without reckoning with the feminist component. I have begun to see myself as a participant in feminism mainly through my love of woman writers, and of women in general.

Postmodernism, Feminism and the Monstrous Play of Dialogic Discourse in Lisa Robertson’s The Men and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl

Discursive Surfaces
Starting from language as a material surface, this paper explores the implications of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogic discourse for postmodern and feminist poetics through the lens of Lisa Robertson’s The Men and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. This paper draws a parallel between the political condition of the woman marginalized by patriarchal discourse, and that of Frederic Jameson’s postmodern subject as described in Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Dialogic discourse is positioned as an arsenal of discursive tactics that allow the rhetorically marginalized subject to nevertheless “speak” in a way that is communicable through and in spite of a given hegemonic discourse.

In the context of feminism, Virginia Woolf observes that woman is “the most discussed animal in the universe” (28). Lyn Hejinian points to the power that lies in discursive description, showing the impact of being “the most discussed animal in the universe” to be not altogether different from the description of Jameson’s ontologically bereft postmodern subject:

Being an object of description without the authority to describe, a woman may feel herself to be bounded by her own appearance, a representation of her apparent person, not certain whether she is she or only a quotation. She may feel herself to have been defined from without while remaining indefinite in or as herself.

Hejinian’s account describes a flattening of woman’s identity, as it is reduced to external surfaces: “bounded by her own appearance,” “defined from without,” or to textual surfaces: “not certain whether she is she or only a quotation.” We might remember here that Jameson describes the postmodern subject as rhetorically and spatially overwhelmed, and thus crowded out of the ability to take the “critical distance” necessary for viable political articulation [1]. The hegemonic discourse in this context would then be one of spatiality and “depthless” surfaces. In this view, both female and postmodern subjects find themselves in the midst of a language (patriarchal discourse, mute surfaces) that surrounds them on all sides, and perhaps even describes them, but is not configured for their use.

Taking écriture féminine as a heuristic, my analysis will explore tactics through which Robertson and Jackson render themselves (as women) and their texts (as feminine writing) viable in spite of the patriarchal underpinnings of language [2]. I will primarily examine their writing strategies through the lens of dialogic discourse as set forth by Mikhail Bakhtin, which I argue to be fruitfully developed in Julia Kristeva and Gilles Deleuze/Felix Guattari’s works. Judith Butler’s principles of disidentificatory repetition and performativity and Donna Haraway’s heuristic of cyborg embodiment make appearances in my analysis as useful agents of textual practices explicitly aligned with postmodernity, and which also are fundamentally dialogic (Butler Bodies, Butler Gender, Haraway). I place the conceptual contexts of postmodernism and feminism alongside each other not only because feminist theory has long engaged the problem of the discursively occluded subject, an issue that reappears in Jameson’s postmodern subject: I intend to show how the tactics at work in the feminist texts that I explore are not in fact reducible to gender, but rather betray a significant sensitivity to (and appropriation of) surfaces, taking language in particular as a material surface in this inquiry [3].

Before I get to the meat of my analysis, I begin by outlining some relevant aspects of dialogic discourse, and then I briefly introduce the texts in their material specificity. The conceit of monstrous style emerges in this paper to convey the embodied, unmistakable visibility that the texts achieve [4].

Dialogic Discourse/Intertextuality/Becoming: From Bakhtin to Kristeva to Deleuze

…discourse lives, as it were, beyond itself,
in a living impulse toward the object (Emerson/Morson 141) [5].
-Mikhail Bakhtin

Dialogue, as an event that occurs between people is a relative, contextual force that is defined as being-outside-of, in-between, external. Dialogue directs existence outside of the self into a relational interdependency. By virtue of dialogue, Bakhtin argues that “neither individuals nor any other social entities are locked within their boundaries. They are extraterritorial, partially ‘located outside’ themselves” (50). This becoming-beside or -outside is the zone of dialogic discourse, which Bakhtin describes as “a living impulse” (141). Bakhtin’s theory of dialogic discourse can be read here as deftly de-centering the Enlightenment ideal of the autonomous rational subject; becoming a theory of dialogic and ludic heterarchy, rather than of rational and monologic hierarchy.

Additional key attributes of Bakhtinian dialogic discourse that will be relevant to my analysis are as follows: (1) addressivity, (2) an interdependent relationship to context[6], (3) unfinalizability, and (4) unrepeatability. These traits of dialogism are particularly important because of the utter contingency of meaning that they describe, which opens up a potential space for a politically subversive style. To begin with, the addressive aspect of a given unit of dialogic discourse (or “dialogic utterance”), which could be a word, a phrase, or an entire work, imbues the utterance with an object and a purpose, “beyond itself” (141). This notion is indissoluble both from the potential for a political agenda, and from the critical role of context for the ontology of meaning in the utterance. Context here is taken to include actual cognizing subjects in conversation, as well as the dialogic utterance’s surrounding rhetoric or prior meanings. Underscoring the interdependent, dynamically determining relationship between discrete dialogic utterances, Bakhtin writes: “[dialogism] involves the constant redefinition of its participants” (52). Since addressee, context and meaning are always dynamic, the dialogic utterance is thus also necessarily both irreversible and unrepeatable; and the latter aspect becomes especially complicated when I discuss the trope of repetition in The Men. From this dynamism follows the unfinalizability that Bakhtin describes: “the final word has not yet been spoken and never will be spoken” (Ibid). Fixity of meaning is refused, and closure is categorically rejected (Hejinian 40), in favor of contingency.

Close on the heels of the contingency of meaning, we find multiplicity of meanings and voices as a fundamental discursive condition of dialogism, which Bakhtin calls “heteroglossia.” Dialogized heteroglossia is the fullest state of dialogic discourse: Bakhtin most notably theorizes an internally dialogized multi-voiced-ness with the examples of literary style or tone, discussing irony and satire as styles where internal dialogue is at a heightened level, bearing “countless varieties, infinite shadings and gradations, and enormously complex interactions” (132).

Julia Kristeva’s understanding of Bakhtinian dialogic discourse and her development of the concept of intertextuality help here to bring dialogism into closer conversation with feminist politics and the postmodern trope of spatial surfaces. Kristeva contends that Bakhtin’s work portrays “the ‘literary word’ as an intersection of textual surfaces” (65). Further, she writes, “Bakhtinian dialogism … identifies writing as both subjectivity and communication, or better, as intertextuality,” here introducing her own term of “intertextuality,” and underscoring the interpolation of a subjective agency into discourse (“communication”), via dialogism (68). Through her discussion of intertextuality, Kristeva mobilizes dialogic discourse to more explicitly political ends, describing intertextuality as “the establishment and countervailing of a sign system within a social framework,” which causes “the subject [to] undergo an unsettling, questionable process” (18). The concept of countervailing sign systems becomes central to my analysis, as I cast the appropriation and redeployment of patriarchal discourse in Robertson and Jackson’s texts in terms of such a process.

The dynamic concept of “becoming” as set forth by Deleuze and Guattari in Mille Plateaux, serves to further materialize dialogism and intertextuality in a way that foregrounds the dynamism of context [7]. In Plateaux, becoming is described as a concrete and spatial process, with the example of the wasp and the orchid coming together as a “becoming,” and with repeated descriptions of the process-concept of becoming via through spatial rhetoric such as “line of flight,” “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization,” and so forth (Deleuze/Guattari). As I understand it, the “territory” in de- and re-territorialization is analogous to the dynamic and interactive “context” of Bakhtinian dialogism.

Deleuze’s further theorizing of style as ultimately “contained in a life and expressed in a style” (Deleuze/Parnet 3) is especially fruitful. His notion of style as the expression of becoming usefully distills into a single concept the process of becoming as living dialogic discourse. Deleuze particularizes his understanding of style in a way that recalls heteroglossia, and speaks to the purposes of my project:

We must be bilingual in a single language, we must have our minor language inside our own language, we must create a minor use of our own language … a style is managing to stammer in one’s own language … being like a foreigner in one’s own language.
(emphasis added, Deleuze/Parnet 4)

The notion of bilingualism and a minor language within a single language suggests the heteroglossic state of multiplicity of voices and meanings, and the emphasis on minor use of a language, and the status of being a foreigner in one’s own language is quite applicable to the heuristic of écriture féminine that I adopt for my analysis. Finally, the visceral allusion to “stammer[ing] in one’s own language” aligns itself with the image of the dotted line that emerges from my analysis. Further, Deleuze writes,

…style gives writing an external end – which goes beyond what is written.
(Deleuze/Parnet 6)

Here the addressivity of the dialogical utterance, and its inherent political potentiality are again conveyed. The “external end” could be an addressee or a political agenda, and at the same time refers to the monstrous and unusual text that can also emerge as a consequence of dialogic becoming.

Matter of the Texts: Language Poetry and Hypertext
In keeping with this paper’s structuring notion of language as a material surface, I will take a moment here to introduce the texts in their material aspects. The Men is a short volume of poetry that I characterize as language poetry. A primary convention of such poetry is non-normative use of language and grammar, which brings the material aspects of language and sound to supercede the hegemonic teleology of meaning [8]. The linguistic medium is always before the reader of language poetry, and engenders a slower and less linear reading style. In Robertson’s work, I locate dialogic activity at the level of the grammatically disruptive work her text performs, as language poetry. I propose that Robertson’s text challenges the hierarchical division between the human subject and text inasmuch as the reader becomes compelled to participate in the creation of meaning/s. Further, the text’s repeated recontextualization of the phrase “the men” casts The Men as operating from within the patriarchal discourse that is inseparable from language itself [9].

Patchwork Girl is a formally experimental hybrid work that I interpret as part novel, part poetry that is written (and read) in hypertext. Patchwork Girl performs a similar disruption to Robertson’s text, but operates on a larger scale; on the level of pieces of text, rather than words and parts of speech, and is thus especially intertextual and heteroglossic in its form. It is filled with threads that would form a linear narrative, but instead appear as an unpredictably encountered array of voices, both plagiarized and original, arranged in hypertext boxes that lead in several potential directions at once. Sources and voices quoted throughout include excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Frank L. Baum’s Patchwork Girl, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, a handbook for the hypertext program in which the text is composed; and loosely attributed voices of different body parts, of the former “owners” of these parts, the monster (also the text itself, since these are both referred to as Patchwork Girl), Mary Shelley (in a fictional diary), and finally the writer’s own voice, reflecting on and describing the writing process.

As a hypertext in storyboard software, the work is concretized and spatialized into an array of surfaces. It is compressed into cybernetic code, and then displayed on the flat surface of the reader’s computer screen, and then each hypertextual storyboard text-box is an additional virtual surface of its own, contributing to the cumulative effect of a postmodern hegemony of surfaces. There are distinct spatial regions of the text that could be analogous to distinct chapters or books, but the text boxes connect to each other across and between these regions in unpredictable ways. The “home” page of the story shows twelve windows, arranged in a map-like web. Aside from an introduction, “her,” and a title page, “title page,” the map divides the narration into five main section/subsections: (1) hercut/crazy quilt, (2) hercut2/journal, (3) hercut3/story, (4) hercut4/graveyard, and (5) phrenology/body of text. The sections respectively lead to (1) an associative “quilt” of quotations that both comment on and narrate the story, (2) the imagined diary of Mary Shelley, (3) the “main” quasi-linear narrative section (4) the voices, origins and stories of the body parts/organs and the people whose body parts/organs make up the patchwork girl, and finally (5) a meta-discussion on the writing, reading, and being of the hypertext.

N. Katherine Hayles’s analysis of Jackson’s text centers itself around her choice and use of the hypertext storyboard medium. Hayles points out that the hypertext medium requires interaction with an intelligent computer to be experienced: “when we read electronic hypertexts, we do so in environments that include the computer as an active cognizer performing sophisticated acts of interpretation and representation” (12). Hayles’ attribution of cognition to the computer in this context parallels the implicit animation of language as an agent in the reading process of language poetry, as well as Bakhtin’s above-cited animation of dialogic discourse as “a living impulse.” This uncanny coming-to-life of and through the medium also occurs with the verbal medium in The Men. This uncanny textual animism is all-important to the disruptive politics of what I call Robertson and Jackson’s “monstrous style.”

Dialogic Becoming and Monstrous Style
Patchwork Girl performs and describes the creation and life of a monster, while The Men performatively makes a monster of its text, through the subversion of grammatical rules and conventions. Both works dialogize patriarchal discourse in an ultimately performative and embodied fashion, by generating unprecedented junctures in language and text, which reveal patriarchal discourse as unnatural through repetitions and appropriations, and make it literally monstrous to itself (cf. Butler Bodies, Gender) [10]. This disidentificatory stylistic engages gender, language, and patriarchal discourse as material surfaces that can be rearranged and thereby made to “speak” differently, monstrously. As a text box in Patchwork Girl puts it, “We have guidelines as to which arrangements are acceptable, are valid words, legible sentences, and which are typographical or grammatical errors: ‘monsters’” (Bodies Too). This, I argue, is what Robertson’s text refers to as “sweet new style” (9, 16) [11].

The Men: HowMen/Human?

Men are enjambed.
-Lisa Robertson

Above all, Lisa Robertson’s text, The Men, is a performance of appropriation, and expresses a somewhat combative style with respect to patriarchal discourse, taking it head-on, multiplying and subverting it. The title itself, The Men, appropriates the very phrase that epitomizes patriarchy and all of its exclusive privilege. The most striking aspect of Robertson’s text is the persistent, parodic, crisis-inducing extent to which “men” itself is repeated throughout. The ultimately dialogic and heteroglossic use of “the men” through such repetition yields a stylistic of “minor use,” as advocated by Deleuze, and of “unsettling” intertextuality, as described by Kristeva. All of this is subtended by the paradoxical role of “the men”: The speaking voice strives to situate itself in language through and in spite of “men,” thus treating it both as an appropriated agent for its articulation, and as a persistent obstacle that it must constantly negotiate with and work around in order to speak.

Peppered with “men,” the complete opening stanza of the book reads like a pregnant diagram of the book’s project [12]:

Men deft men mental men of loving men all men
Vile men virtuous men same men from which men
Sweet and men of mercy men such making men said
Has each man that sees it
Cry as men to the men sensate
Conceptual recognition the men
Is about timeliness men is about
Previous palpability from which
The problematic politics adorable
And humble especially
Young men of sheepish privilege becoming
Sweet new style
(emphasis added, 9)

In twelve lines, the word “men” appears seventeen times, and “man” appears once. The impact of this repetition leaves one first with the sense of a great crowd gathering, and, after a while, with the distinct impression of having just embarked on an inquiry into the status of humanism as well as a challenge to the status quo of humanism, and the gender hierarchy in particular. In this opening stanza, the paradoxical impact of repetition comes into view: While “men” is perpetually recontextualized, its meaning shifts at its every iteration, and becomes inevitably abstracted; at the same time, the very word-ness of “men” shows itself as ever more persistently material. The persisting remainder of repeatability rests in the word’s very haptic materiality as an audio-visual phenomenon, or a humming refrain, a clearing of one’s throat, a twitch. “The men” is conceptually beyond itself, yet exceeds itself materially. This paradoxical tension brings the word “men” into the realm of the animate, dynamic dialogic discourse: “The men” becomes a “living impulse” that increasingly locates itself in the interstitial spaces of this work. This interstitial aspect is first evident in the opening lines, where “men” appears visibly in between every other word. Toward the end of this stanza, I would suggest that in a dialogic capacity, “men” is still there, in the spaces between words, just not visibly so. As if to elucidate the pervasiveness of “men” even when not as a visible vocable, Robertson writes:

What we refer to as men is any
Communication we begin to perpetrate

Here, “men” is aligned with the hegemony of patriarchal discourse, as “any” implies potentially every act of communication. A challenge to “men” as hegemonic discourse arises from word “perpetrate,” which marks the use of “any communication” by “we” (which I take to be a complicity of the reader with the speaker) with a criminality. “Men” is thus here cast in a very ambivalent position with respect to agency: while it marks potentially all acts of communication, “we” comes in and makes criminal use of it. This remarks on the appropriative and subversive impulse of Robertson’s text as a praxis of transgression. “Begin” is also a significant word in this regard, as it speaks to the unfinalizable aspect of dialogic discourse in its political potential, making an opening for readers to potentially develop further.

Returning now to the book’s opening passage, with the transgressive and unfinalizable dialogism of “men” in mind, the first three lines seem to perpetrate a purposeful disorientation of men, perhaps the better to loosen it from its normative valence, launching it in several contexts at once:

Men deft men mental men of loving men all men
Vile men virtuous men same men from which men
Sweet and men of mercy men such making men said
(emphasis added, 9)

In the lines that follow, the pace slows down a bit, and “man/men” seems to come to life, less surrounded by adjectives, gaining some agency through verbs (has, sees):

Has each man that sees it
Cry as men to the men sensate
Conceptual recognition the men
Is about timeliness men is about

After this brief shift, “men” becomes less frequent, and, after “men is about” appears twice, nearly disappears altogether in the remainder of the opening passage, below:

Previous palpability from which
The problematic politics adorable
And humble especially
Young men of sheepish privilege becoming
Sweet new style

“Men” here begins to vanish into the gaps between the words, and the word thus becomes the interstitial zone of dialogic discourse, like an invisible dialogic engine that nonetheless persists. These last few lines seem to put forward a criticism of patriarchal and hierarchal humanism, via the phrase “problematic politics.” Yet the incursion of “adorable,” appearing on the other side of “politics” creates a dialogic tension. The conventional meanings of these words within patriarchal discourse are such that it is unnatural to string them together and, as a result the cumulative meaning becomes uncertain and open-ended. This recurs with “sheepish privilege,” an unexpected phrase that might cause the reader to puzzle over tone and meaning. The tone that ultimately seems to prevail, wrought by the tense interplay of incommensurate meanings and helped along by “and humble especially,” is one of irony (Bakhtin’s example of dialogized heteroglossia). The last two lines, “Young men of sheepish privilege becoming / Sweet new style” rhetorically outline the project of this work, which is to subvert the hegemony of patriarchal discourse – indicated by “young men of sheepish privilege” – into what Robertson here calls “sweet new style.” In light of the connection between becoming and style as theorized by Deleuze, it is significant that “becoming” here prefaces “sweet new style.”

In line with the concept of becoming-style as developed in Deleuze, a concrete distillation of dialogic style and “minor use” emerges through the conflation of body and text, in the following lines, where Robertson’s speaker reflects on the ontology of this “sweet new style”:

[…] this
Immaculate equal
Grows as I speak

This is where I speak from the juicy mouth of a man

your name is a syllable on my face and I speak it from your own juice

Through these lines, Robertson’s style becomes all of a sudden intertextual in a radical way, moving from body to text and back again. This is along the lines of what Kristeva described as “the establishment and countervailing of a sign system within a social framework,” which causes the subject to “undergo an unsettling, questionable process” (18). The initial slippage of context, or countervailing of sign systems, occurs at the level of reflexivity (and this is not the first such instance in the text by any means): the moves to speaking of that which she/it is in the midst of writing/performing, causing the discourses (or, as Kristeva might say, “sign systems”) of commentary and creativity collide in a dialogized heteroglossic intertextuality of criticism and poetics. In the progression of these three examples, the body increasingly encroaches onto the paradigm of the textual space creating the dramatic countervailing of sign systems between body and discourse.

In the first example, the implication is that the speaker’s discourse is an “immaculate equal” to that of patriarchy of “the men.” The turn of phrase to “grows as I speak” addresses and concretizes the metaphor of a “body of text” with a body that seems to have emerged simultaneously with the text (“grows as I speak”). In light of the above-described persistent haptic materiality of the word “men,” it logically follows that, to properly compete with patriarchal discourse, The Men, as a text needs a body, too. The two subsequent excerpts, “This is where I speak from the juicy mouth of a man,” and “your name is a syllable on my face and I speak it from your own juice” serve to crystallize the intertextual, countervailing incursion of the body into the text. Both portray the speaker as appropriating and usurping patriarchal discourse in order to speak by concretely conflating discourse and the physical surfaces of the body. In the first one, she is “speaking from the juicy mouth of a man.” As a synecdoche for “the men,” which itself serves as a signifier of patriarchal discourse, “juicy mouth of a man” here comes to represent patriarchal discourse – ripe, and full of potential taste, as “juicy” would imply. In the second example, material words and body parts are transgressively collided, becoming more monstrous: “your name is a syllable on my face.” With the context of the preceding line, “your name” signifies the entity and the word “man.” In the materiality of the words, “man” is indeed a syllable on the “face” of the word “woman” [13], which the speaker of the poem conflates with her own physical and embodied face. Bringing her stylistic practice to the level of the body, the subversive appropriation of patriarchal discourse is materially rendered as a syllable on her face, subordinating man to woman in defining “man” as a mere semiotic mark. This in turn stands to be a viable way of explaining the entirety of The Men’s project.

Further, the movement from speaking “from the juicy mouth of a man” to speaking from man’s “own juice” exhibits an insidious appropriative incursion, where the speaker’s voice gets more intimately enmeshed with patriarchal discourse. The casting of “juice” as a bodily excretion (“juicy mouth”), and moreover one that is, by definition, of “men,” imbues these lines with a layer of sexy subversion, wherein the speaker has availed herself of some sperm, and appropriated it. This stands in interesting contrast with the preceding choice of “immaculate equal” to describe the body of text, where “immaculate” dialogically interpellates Mary’s “immaculate conception” of Jesus, which is revered for being a divine act of reproduction, without sperm. As such, “immaculate” here gains a shade of righteous irony, especially in light of the above discussion of the ubiquitous mark of transgression in any act of speaking in the context of this text (“any communication we begin to perpetrate”). It is this “immaculate equal” that proceeds to encroach into the bodily space of “men,” appropriating the syllable into her face, the spermish juice into her mouth, and speaking the name of man from it. The delightfully transgressive and embodied visibility of this speaking comes to distill a monstrous style of becoming that is dynamic and haptically contingent. The semiotic imbrication of male and female bodies in this instance helps one to figure gender in terms of the postmodern rhetoric of surfaces at the same time as it confuses the paradigms of encounter with the radically altering and monstrously irreversible process of becoming.

Patchwork Girl: Suturistic Futurism

…a dotted line demonstrates: even what is
discontinuous and in pieces can blaze a trail.
(Dotted Line)
-Shelley Jackson

While The Men arrives at a monstrous representation through its dialogic practice, Patchwork Girl begins from the embodied figure of the monster. As indicated by the title, the primary heuristic and metaphor that literally stitches Jackson’s creative inquiry together is that of patchwork. Patchwork Girl’s subversive dialogism occurs on the level of text, where Jackson performs her inquiry into the question of the situation of woman in patriarchal discourse by a patchwork of plagiarisms drawn from multiple texts, culminating in a concretized intertextuality.

Whereas we left off from Robertson’s text with an image of countervailing intertextuality and imbricated male and female bodies, one of the possible opening passages of Patchwork Girl gives us just that, from the first-person, dialogic voice of the monster [14]:

I am tall, and broad-shouldered enough that many take me for a man, others think me a transsexual (another feat of cut and stitch) and examine my jaw and hands for outsized bones, my throat for the tell-tale Adam’s Apple. My black hair falls down my back but does not make me girlish. Women and men alike mistake my gender and both are drawn to me…
They may be sure that I will lead them for a chase. I am never settled.
(I am)

Jackson’s monster is a living (female) creature composed of patchworked pieces of different bodies. She is a concrete embodiment of the intertextual becoming-style of dialogic discourse; a living figure of “countervailing” sign systems that have “the subject undergo an unsettling, questionable process” (Kristeva 18). In this passage, the monster is speaking about how others perceive and react to her. That is to say, she offers a relational, dialogic self-description that is always-already in conversation with how she is perceived. In light of Woolf and Hejinian’s above-cited discussions of woman as “the most described animal,” this passage performs a compelling dialogic move, wherein this status as “most described” is in turn appropriated and described. As it happens, patriarchal discourse does not have a sanctioned category for the patchwork girl, and those who perceive her project meanings onto her as they fit into their paradigms, particularly with respect to gender: “many take me for a man, others think me a transsexual.” The monster’s gender identity is unfinalizable (“I am never settled”), and occurs as a result of heteroglossia in her body that is composed of multiple dialogic units (of flesh), interacting and living. This focus on how she does not fit in to the normative paradigm of gender binaries suggests in our context that the woman who challenges or subverts patriarchal discourse or normative textuality can no longer be pinned down or adequately described by it [15].

Similar to the becoming-interstitial dialogic engine of the “living impulse” of “the men” in Robertson’s text, Jackson’s monster is the interstitially-identified dialogic voice of Patchwork Girl: “My real skeleton is made of scars […] I am most myself in the gaps between my parts” (Dispersed). The patchwork girl’s subjective skeleton as scars and gaps casts the site of dialogic creativity as also the place of identity-creation. This suturistic skeleton reflects the situation of one working in a language that is not her own, and speaks directly to the situation of the woman operating in patriarchal discourse.

Like the site of the word “men,” in Robertson’s text, the scars that compose Jackson’s monster embody an ambivalent site of agency and negotiation that is the interstitial dialogic site of becoming. Notably, the scars are the single zone of the monster’s body that is exclusively personal to her; without a prior history: “Scar tissue is new growth” (emphasis added, Cut). The ahistoricity of the scar is instructive toward the project of addressing Jameson’s postmodern subject, which is purportedly crippled without historicity, or “critical distance.” The promise of the scar suggests a way in which engagement with surfaces can engender a politically potent becoming.

Suture as patchwork appears in the text as a metaphor for the writing process: “I had made her writing deep into the night by candlelight, until the tiny black letters blurred into stitches and I began to feel that I was sewing a great quilt” (Written). Thus, suture is manifest as (1) intertextual writing practice, (2) actual patchwork sewing, and (3) the embodied remainder of these practices in the monster’s scars. Jackson converges these various modes of suture into a single visual conceit that serves as the operating diagram for Patchwork Girl’s project: the typographic image of the dotted line.

Jackson writes, “The dotted line is the best line” (Dotted Line). The dotted line arrives as a juicy potential visual cue to each of the above image-practices of suture: the scar, stitches, and even writing, if one squints. The dotted line is also apt as a visual representation of dialogic discourse: As a rhetorical style, the dotted line is a collection of discrete dialogical utterances standing in contiguity (neither joined nor separate) and contextualizing each other all while leaving a space of potentiality and unfinalizability in between each other for the potential trajectory of “becoming-style.” Incidentally, the figure of “stammer[ing] in one’s own language,” from Deleuze’s discussion of style is easily boiled down to an image of the dotted line (Deleuze/Parnet 4). As we saw in our analyses of Robertson and Jackson’s works, both dialogic texts place emphasis on the interstitial zone, and thus their dialogic practices are also readily gathered up into the visual of the dotted line.

Beyond serving to visually unify the various suturistic and dialogic practices, Jackson’s dotted line yields a futurist orientation:

… it is a potential line, an indication of the way out of two dimensions.
(emphasis added, Dotted Line)

The “two dimensions” here signify not only the plane of the paper (which becomes three-dimensional when “folded along the dotted line”) but also the segregated categories of subject and object, or abstract rationality and embodiment, inherent in heteronormative patriarchal discourse. Incidentally, the dotted line is a sort of a binary code itself [16], with only presence and absence of the black mark as its coding, but neither the presences nor the absences are determined (as they are in binary code, as unambiguous on/off, yes/no functions), and thus allow this visual to serve as an apt one for the complex potentialities of dialogic discourse. I view this as a future-oriented attribute because these potentials form an unknowable horizon [17]. What seems for Jackson to be an ultimate advantage of the dotted line is indeed distinguished by futurity:

…a dotted line demonstrates: even what is discontinuous and in pieces can blaze a trail.

To “blaze a trail” is to make a path where there has never been one before, and thus speaks more explicitly to the futuristic politics inherent in dialogic discourse. The radical newness of a “blazed trail” in turn speaks also to the countervailing, intertextual becoming-mutations of mind and body that both texts exhibit, and which Jameson suggests are necessary in order to fashion agency amid a hegemonic discourse [18].

The Future Matter of Monstrous Style

If we are imprisoned by language, then escape from that prison- house requires language poets, a kind of cultural restriction enzyme to cut the code; cyborg heteroglossia is one form of radical cultural politics.
–Donna J. Haraway[19]

Concluding somehow doesn’t seem appropriate in light of the unfinalizable, futuristic politics that I’ve just outlined. Nevertheless, I will move toward a manner of closure by first nodding to Haraway’s nod to language poetry as a potentially liberatory cyborg practice [20]. From the foregoing analysis of dialogic discourse becoming monstrous style in both texts, Robertson’s text leaves us with an intertextual and countervailing attunement to materiality as a site through which the marginal voice makes itself ultimately known. In Jackson, countervailing materiality as the starting point is particularized into the elusive matter of the interstitial zone. The dotted line as the emblem of this zone is offered as a portable arsenal/diagram for becoming-monstrous-style for the potential use of any hegemonically marginalized subject. Based on the convergence of Robertson and Jackson’s discursive tactics, it shouldn’t appear too great a leap to provisionally place Jackson’s text into the camp of language poetry.

The cyborg heuristic as developed by Haraway is consistent with the politically potent “monstrous style” that I have theorized insofar as the cyborg is a metaphorical term that embodies the transgressive countervailing of material and abstract categories upon each other. To use Haraway’s term, language poetry is always-already cyborg in its reflexive awareness of the linguistic medium as a material entity, and in the disjunctive hybrids that it produces from language. The distinctly postmodern (and feminist) figure of the cyborg facilitates the movement of my heuristic of monstrous style from écriture féminine to the ontologically bereft postmodern subject as described by Jameson particularly because the term “cyborg” describes a combination of living and non-living (cybernetic-organic), which might better suit the material conditions of the postmodern subject. “Monstrous style,” on the other hand, is about the contagion of life and agency that is potential within the recursive and recombinatory practices of the texts I have analyzed. Monstrous stands to make the cybernetic and organic equally alive, as a slightly different tactic toward the redistribution of power.

1 Jameson begins Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism with this sentence: “It is safest to grasp the concept of the postmodern as an attempt to think historically in an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place” (ix). The apparent “breakdown of temporality” leads to a subjectivity engulfed in an overwhelming spatial present: Jameson compares the postmodern subject to an overwhelmed and overstimulated schizophrenic patient for whom experience boils down to “the gloss and smooth ness of material things” (27). He argues that as a result “our now postmodern bodies are bereft of spatial coordinates and practically (let alone theoretically) incapable of distantiation” (48). Distantiation, or “critical distance,” is a primary requisite element for subjective and political articulation, per Jameson (which have argued elsewhere to be a vestige of modernism and the modernist world view).

2 I rely on
écriture féminine as an open question that my analysis will explore. My project is not so much concerned with feminism as with discursive tactics deployed by feminist texts.

3 And this in turn places gender in the category of surfaces, which is a useful and perhaps more accurate way to understand gender.

4 By using the word “monstrous,” I mean to allow for the root of “monstrare” (meaning “to show”) to come through.

5 My citations of Bakhtin in this paper all come from the incredibly comprehensive
Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics by Caryl Emerson and Gary Saul Morson.

6 As aptly put in “along comes something – launched in context” from Hejinian’s “Happily” (386).

7 Incidentally, in
Dialogues II, Deleuze points to the connection between dialogue and becoming in the following comment on conversation: “this could be what a conversation is – simply the outline of a becoming” (2).

8 I recognize that there are likely other ways of defining language poetry, and this discussion is more interpretive than meant to be definitive.

9 See discussion of text below.

10 Here I am thinking of what Butler writes in
Bodies That Matter about performativity and performative gender as assuming an “understanding of performativity not as the act by which a subject brings into being what she/he names, but, rather, as that reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains” (2). I locate here the seed of the disidentificatory power that stands to be generated by the gestural repetition of such a performativity.

11 Since there are no page numbers in Jackson’s text, I cite my quotations based on the title of the text-box that I pull them from.

12 I use “diagram” here according to the way that Deleuze does in
Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, which offers a very productive vocabulary for a treatment of poiesis.

13 I am working off of the assumption that Robertson’s speaker is meant to be female.

14 Because of the way Jackson’s text is set up as a hypertext, there are several possible places to start the narrative.

15 This is like the independently successful woman who ceases to be “feminine enough,” a common insult leveled at powerful women.

16 …and at this moment I can hear an ironic voice in my head saying, “This, my friends, is a binary to leave all binaries behind!”

17 Here I borrow the rhetoric of futurism as a horizon of possibility from Jose Muñoz’s new book,
Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.

18 This is my interpretation of his comment: “The newer architecture… stands as something like an imperative to grow new organs, to expand our sensorium and our body to some new, yet unimaginable, perhaps ultimately impossible, dimensions” (39).

19 This text is found in footnote 4 to “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.”

20 Which, I have to say I came across
after having initiated this inquiry, but before having incorporated her ideas into it.



Butler, Judith.
Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “sex.” New York: Routledge. 1993.

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. 1990, 1999.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari.
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2002

----, and Claire Parnet.
Dialogues II. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia University Press. 2002.

Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2005.

Emerson, Caryl, and Gary Saul Morson.
Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1990.

Haraway, Donna.
Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. 1991.

Hejinian, Lyn.
The Language of Inquiry. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2000.

Jackson, Shelley.
Patchwork Girl. Watertown: Eastgate Systems. 1995.

Jameson, Frederic.
Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 1992.

Kristeva, Julia.
Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 1980.

Muñoz, Jose Esteban.
Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press. 2009.

Robertson, Lisa.
The Men. Toronto: BookThug. 2006

Woolf, Virginia.
A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1981.