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Marilyn Hacker and Adrienne Rich: Feminist Analysis

Info: 10286 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Dec 2019

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Tags: Literature

INTRODUCTION

A Shifting Feminist Poetics: Formalism, Nomadism, Transculturalism, and the Braid

 

 

. . . someone else I might have been

if memory braided with history.

—Marilyn Hacker, “Squares and Courtyards”, 2000

 

An Emerging Feminist Poetics

 

Over a period of forty years, Marilyn Hacker’s work has been central to the ongoing development of feminist poetics. Between her first book, Presentation Piece (1974), and her most recent new and selected volume, A Stranger’s Mirror (2015), Hacker has published fifteen books of poetry, seventeen translation collections and one novel/memoir from the French, in addition to numerous critical essays.[1] The diversity and range of her work is a testament to a constant and conscious process of self-discovery, formal discovery, and historical and political discovery. In particular, her poetry written between 1994 and 2015 overtly employs the metaphor of the braid to articulate a shift in her poetic dialogues, bringing to the fore the relationship of the body to female subjectivity as it is shaped by and sits in parallel with her increased commitment to literary translation from 1996 to 2017, and to her dedication from 2001 in engaging with Middle Eastern stories, voices, politics, and poetic forms.[2]

This thesis examines Marilyn Hacker’s work from 1994 to 2015, exploring how her commitment to an engagement with the historical and political dimension of contemporary women’s poetry develops in response to the work of Adrienne Rich. The thesis aims to demonstrate that Rich’s politics have had a strong influence on Hacker’s feminist poetics throughout her career, in what Hacker describes to Hayden Carruth as “a constant pull of influence / resistance / assimilation”.[3] These words show a personal and literary dialogue with Rich that formed an early paradigm for Hacker’s post-1980 poetry of “feeling and form” (FC 200). Rich’s “influence” shows in Hacker’s artistic connection with Rich as a politically and historically conscious woman writer, and Hacker identifies personally with Rich as a “woman of the Left, a feminist, a lesbian, a secular Jew, [and] an American” (UV 23). Hacker’s formalism was a type of “resistance” to Rich’s advocacy of open forms, which grew out of Rich’s feminist convictions that traditional prosody is historically patriarchal. As such, Hacker’s formalism was a source of tension in their literary relationship. Hacker sensed that Rich was “not particularly enthusiastic about [her] work”, “but that did not diminish [Hacker’s] admiration for [Rich’s] own [work], nor for what she represents”.[4] Realising that she could not consider Rich as a “best friend” or a “live mentor”, Hacker was reluctant to take Rich as a “Muse”,[5] frequently “assimilat[ing]” Rich’s themes and images into her own work, thinking “I’m going to sit down and try something like that” (“A Tribute” 1).

Nevertheless, Rich’s work is useful in framing Hacker’s feminist poetics and her practice of a politics of location, which was a concept originally proposed by Rich in 1984. Rosi Braidotti has referred to such a politics as a “cartographic method” that produces “politically informed maps of the present” (NE 7). This thesis approaches the politics of location through Braidotti’s nomadic model as it extends Rich’s notion by acknowledging the changing and potentially contradictory spatial and temporal locations in which one can find oneself. Braidotti also emphasises the importance of language to represent these cartographic figurations, which proves useful in understanding Hacker’s personal and political examinations via the metaphor of the braid.

Through readings of Hacker’s letters, including an early correspondence with Rich, this thesis examines the exact nature of Rich’s literary influence on Hacker. The examination of this relationship shows how Hacker attempts to build on and move beyond Rich’s first public attempt to define herself in terms of her Jewish heritage in her essay “Notes toward a Politics of Location” (1984). Here, Rich writes, “I need to understand how a place on the map is also a place in history within which as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist I am created and trying to create” (212). As Rich finds difficulty in representing this “history” on a “map”, Hacker imagines the female body as a cartography of Jewish identity and history in Winter Numbers (1994). Later in Squares and Courtyards (2000), the lines of this map extend into the metaphor of the braid to connect the multiple and diverse aspects of her embodied female experience to her embedded ethnic and historical location. The appeal of the braid is in the way it arises from the female body to powerfully evoke an imaginary personal and collective space, while at the same time producing an affirmative representation of the multiplicity and complexity of female subjectivity.

Although pre-feminist in its detachment from the female experience, Hacker’s award-winning debut collection, Presentation Piece (1974), enacts a feminist consciousness in subverting traditional poetic forms to engage with complex personal and emotional issues. Determined by her position at the margins of society as a woman, feminist, lesbian, and socialist, Hacker’s work enacts second-wave feminism’s tenet that ‘the personal is political’. However, she also adopts a post-feminist stance in acknowledging her position at the centre as an educated, European-American, refusing to view women as isolated or disenfranchised from or by poetic form as she reclaims a female formal tradition in her third collection Taking Notice (1980) to engage with women’s experiences and articulate lesbian love. The lines from the title poem of Taking Notice, “My tongue around / your hillocks shudders your pleasure” (293), show an embodied engagement with sexuality and desire that would run through her entire pre-1990 poetry.

Several years later, however, a traumatic crisis of the body engaged her with the crisis of the body politic and enabled her to relocate the body as a site of cultural and historical identification in Winter Numbers (1994). Her next collection, Squares and Courtyards (2000), marks the intersection between public and private spaces with personal memory and collective history, all of which characterise her post-1990 poetry. Arising from the lived experience of the female and ethnic body, the braid becomes a metaphor of an embodied and feminist subjectivity in a nomadic mode. Using the braid, Hacker takes a traditional metaphor of feminine activity and reconfigures it to engage in poetic dialogues and bridge linguistic, cultural and religious divides during an age of increasing challenges of multiculturalism. This current engagement with voices from other cultures and this political commitment to witnessing social injustice suggest her participation in a third-wave feminism that acknowledges differences while showing solidarity to create transcultural feminist links. Her work reflects a personally and politically engaged poet whose writing is necessary, particularly in the political context of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

By examining the connection between gender, writing, and the body in Hacker’s l994 to 2015 work, Rosi Braidotti’s work in nomadism, cartography, and posthumanism provides a metaphorical lens for understanding the relationship of between a shifting subjectivity and an embodied and embedded historical location. Signalling the relationship between the body politic, the female body, and poetic form, Hacker’s poetry employs the metaphor of the braid to radically reconceptualise relationships between language, cultural and political borders, and the embodiment of the female subject. The recurrence of the metaphor in various contexts over a period of twenty years serves as a key image in her struggle for a feminist redefinition of subjectivity and cross-cultural communication. I read the braid as an embodiment of Hacker’s nomadic subjectivity and her embedded ethnic and historical location as an expatriate American Jew in Paris. This study traces the usage of the braid in Hacker’s later poetry, examining each depiction’s engagement with constructs of the body, subjectivity, and poetic conversation.

Feminist Formalist

Formalism is the first significant characteristic of Hacker’s work. Hacker’s reputation as a formalist poet was established early in her career with Presentation Piece (1974), which ‘presented’ a young female poet’s metrical skill with complex stanzas and meters of the French and Italian literary traditions. In almost all of the poems, her choice of form is as much part of the poem’s success as the subject matter realised in that poetic form. She uses language to create, as she writes in “Feeling and Form” from Taking Notice (1980):

. . . I do like words,

which is why I make things out of words

and listen to their hints, resounding like

skipping-stones radiating circles, . . . (FC 200)

In these lines, Hacker summarises her formal technique. The desire (“like”) to create and communicate drives the work in an urgency that is as much an expression of desire as it is formal and precise. Language is central to the act of her creative practice, as suggested by the repetition and parallel lineation of “words”. Her use of the metaphor “skipping-stones radiating circles” creates an image of words, as flat “stones”, that are augmented (“radiating”) by their semantic and auditory nuances (“hints”), which in their different resonances create subtle patterns in water (“radiating circles”). The internal movement in meter and line is achieved by the continuous sense in “resounding”, “skipping”, and “radiating”. The nuances of words, the flowing patterns, and the line movement articulate a view of poetic form as both malleable and measured, both of which characterise her feminist poetics.

Hacker’s work is also informed by her poetic dialogues with earlier and contemporary poets and different literary traditions. She described this poetic engagement in an early essay as a “current of poetic colloquy” (MacRae). In using the term “colloquy”, Hacker conveys a complexity of meanings that have linguistic, religious, political, and literary connotations. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of colloquy derives from the Latin ‘’colloquium’’ to mean ‘’speaking together, conversation, conference’’ (“Colloquy”). In relation to the Christian Church, the OED defines colloquy as ‘’a church court composed of the pastors and representative elders of the churches of a district, with judicial and legislative functions over these churches’’ (“Colloquy”).

Drawing on these meanings, Hacker uses the word “colloquy” to describe her poetic vision of an ongoing, open-ended conversation with poets both contemporary and long-gone, spanning generations and transcending national boundaries. As such, Hacker’s poetry manifests as a multidimensional language used to communicate individual as well as shared emotions and experiences. As religious connotations pertain to her conversations, Hacker perceives writing in any structured form as a form of spiritual contemplation, which she terms as “meditating formally” (Finch, A Formal Feeling 87). In this sense, the poets she converses with congregate in poetry form to acknowledge the links between them, showing the ways in which one poet’s work can spring from and resonate with another’s. In this respect, this conversation in form or “writing within the boundaries” of traditional formal structure, as Annie Finch argues, has the paradoxical effect of dissolving borders and releasing contemporary women poets into “boundarylessness” (“Female Tradition” 93).

Given the debates about the gender politics of poetic form, Hacker’s strong relationship to metrical verse provides different ways of thinking about formalism in women’s poetry. In a 1996 interview with Hacker, Finch asked, “What do you think of the idea that free verse is more ‘accessible’ than formal verse?” (“An Interview”). Finch’s question generally alludes to the controversy over poetic formalism in contemporary American poetry that champions free verse over traditional forms and metres. The dominance of free verse in the first half of the twentieth century showed a social and intellectual break with conventional nineteenth-century verse, which American poets believed “relied on the beauty and melodiousness of its language rather than on the depth or complexity of its thought” (Beach 49). Later in the 1980s, poetic formalism made a historical and generational break with free verse. This revival of metered and rhymed poetry became more pronounced, when a movement described as New-Formalism, or Neo-Formalism, sought to “counter the tide of vapid free verse” through “the fairly traditional use of fixed forms to a more innovative use of formal techniques and structures” (151).

Although a wide variety of American poets turned to metrical verse in the 1980s and 1990s, Neo-Formalism has had a contested reputation since its inception. David Caplan notes that “recent scholarship concludes that literary and cultural history dooms this poetry to failure, irrelevance, or political and aesthetic conservatism” (Questions of Possibility 3). Antony Easthope asserts, “[T]he pentameter is a dead form,” and “its continued use . . . is in the strict sense reactionary” (76). Ira Sadoff echoes Easthope’s criticism by decrying Neo-Formalists for the “hierarchical privileging of meter over other decorations of poetry” as opposed to “poets who have traditionally used received forms as part of the poetic palate in the service of their art”; as Sadoff warns, “therein lies the danger of their aesthetic” (7). He argues that Neo-Formalists fail to “articulate form with vision”, and because of this, they are “diminishing the ambitions of the art” by “privileging surfaces”; in short, Sadoff views that “they opt for idealized beauty over a more complex, observed world” (7). Lynn Keller notes that Sadoff’s criticism parallels other critics’ concerns over the “increasing conservatism of American culture” (157). Diane Wakoski links traditional metrical verse with the growing conservatism in America. She argues that the wider political milieu of the 1980s Reagan administration marked people’s “need to return to old values”; generally speaking, she asserts that people “cannot deal with anxiety of any sort and thus want a secure set of formulas and rules, whether it be for verse forms or for how to cure the national deficit” (3).

Finch’s question to Hacker about formal verse touches upon issues surrounding formalism not only in American poetry in general, but also in women’s poetry specifically. “What has passion got to do with choosing an art form? Everything. There is nothing else which determines form” (Ghiselin 170), Gertrude Stein asserted. Her emphasis was on the primacy of form in delivering the writer’s feeling and passion. Stein’s words prove that although Stein was a modernist, as Finch explains in A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (2007), “the lineage of women poets in English is largely a formal one”, yet ‘’since the modernist period, many have had reason to be ambivalent about form” (1). Finch’s comment refers to women poets who have moved away from form, and who Finch names in the same 1996 interview with Hacker when she asks: “When Gwendolyn Brooks was changing her style, when Adrienne Rich was changing her style, why didn’t you?” (“An Interview”). Finch’s question highlights an important transition in American formalist poetry: poets were either challenging formalist movements or relinquishing formalism for open forms. Hacker clarifies this aesthetic move:

Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich, James Wright, Robert Lowell, are all prosodic virtuosi who, in the 1960s, moved decisively, if not permanently, toward open forms, in part as a challenge to the socio-aesthetic climate which had variously formed them, which was in itself a reaction to the earlier explosion of modernism. For a woman who was seventeen in 1960, modernism, re-inflected through Black Mountain and the Beats, was so much in the forefront– and in such a masculine version–that adherence to its tenets felt as much like conformity as rebellion. (“An Interview”)

Hacker’s justification touches on the socio-political aspects of the time – the Vietnam War, poverty, minority experiences, and social injustice – as factors that shifted the foundations of these writers’ styles to rebel against the conservative movement that produced them.[6] Feminist critics have argued, Beach notes, that “the invention of modernist form by male authors was in part an attempt to ‘rescue’ literary writing from what they saw as the ‘effeminacy’ of late-nineteenth-century literature” (72). However, of these poets, Rich’s transition touched Hacker the most as she considers Rich a literary foremother. Hacker explains as follows:

Adrienne Rich’s love-hate relation with fixed forms touches me more directly. I’m a writer who’s a woman, Jewish, lesbian, feminist, urban, as she is herself: there’s no way I could not have felt implicated by her decision, in the early 1970s, not only to reject traditional prosody, but to state that she was doing so out of feminist convictions, out of her relationship, as a woman, with the language and the canon. (Finch, “An Interview”)

Rich, who was a “member of a generation who in the 1960s came to see regular metrical verse as emotionally or politically repressive, as incapable of capturing authentic experience or individual speech” (Keller 158), abandoned the techniques and formal methods of New Criticism in the early 1970s for open forms as an act of feminist politics. A Change of World (1951), Trudi Witonsky points out, explicitly links Rich’s exploration of the limitations of gender forms with the limitations of New Critical formalism (45). Rich’s ultimate relinquishing of formal aesthetics, Witonsky concludes, results from her examination of the restrictions of social narratives and modes for women to express their experiences (40). In “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” (1972), Rich looks back and openly detracts her use of formal verse in writing “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, which was written when she was a student. Rich considers the formalism of the poem as “distan[cing]” and impersonal as she explains that “in those years formalism was part of the strategy—like asbestos gloves, it allowed me to handle materials I couldn’t pick up barehanded” (22). Critics and researches cite this essay, as well as her collection Diving into the Wreck (1973), as a critique of formalism as a legacy of patriarchy (Werner 1988; Witonsky 2002; Kostić 2006). Rich’s relinquishment of formal poetics illustrates how literary and cultural politics have affected women’s use of poetic form.

Rich’s work had a strong influence on Hacker’s feminist poetics. However, as Chapter One discusses, Hacker felt neither compelled nor obligated to adhere to Rich’s appeal for her, as a woman and a feminist, in her personal letter in 1976 prompting Hacker to abandon metrical verse. Instead of treating metrical forms and female poetic expression as mutually exclusive, Hacker recognises their interdependence and disagrees with the “idea of contemporaneity in form as a stricture”.[7] Compatible with progressive and feminist political engagement, Hacker writes in traditionally powerful poetic forms in order to redefine them and reclaim some of their strength in innovative ways. For Hacker, formalism is not antithetical to women’s expression of their experiences through language:

Traditional forms . . . aren’t in any way inimical to women’s poetry, feminist poetry, or contemporary poetry. It is important for women writers to reclaim the tradition, to rediscover and redefine our place in it and lay claim to our considerable contributions, innovations, and inventions. Traditional narrative and lyric forms have been used by women for centuries – even if our professors of Western literature never mentioned Marie de France or Christine de Pisan. The language that we use was as much created and invented by women as by men . . . We’ve got to reclaim the language, demand acknowledgement of our part in it, and proceed from there. (Hammond 22)

However, this unwavering dedication to form cemented her reputation as a “radical formalist” (Barrington 28) first and foremost, and overshadowed her role in the feminist movement. Readers identified Hacker more with Bishop’s expatriate cosmopolitanism than with Edna Vincent Millay’s political efforts for women’s suffrage. Later in the 1980s, her feminism was defined by her lesbian relationships and erotic poetry in her famous novel-in-sonnet-form, Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (1986). This impression was perhaps due to her distance from women’s issues in the 1960s, when she was trying to establish herself as a writer in the male tradition that formed her as a poet, and also for the years she spent in London during the 1970s working as an antiquarian bookseller. As such, she was not included in many of the books on women poets of the 1970s, except to highlight her “subversive formalism” (Honor Moore xvii). She began to be included in 2001 in specialised women’s anthologies such as The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women. Recently, critics have come to recognise her role in the women’s movement due to her continuous efforts to celebrate women writers through her work, and they place her alongside other notable feminist writers, as Lisa Moore notes:

Hacker, currently Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, was also a rank-and-file member of the women’s movement — facilitating dialogues about antiracism, publishing in feminist journals with small press runs, and helping to “midwife” (as one no doubt would have said back in the day) the feminist theory texts my students and I are still studying. Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Hacker: three important American poets, three important contributors to the canon of feminist theory.

(“Sister Arts”)

Given that Hacker continues to write in metrical verse, it is clear that formalism continues to be an important part of her creative work. It is vital to understand how the fluidity of her poetic dialogues work with and within the fixity of poetic forms not only in traditional European forms, but also in forms from different cultures and countries, as well as invented forms.[8] Within this discussion of poetic form, a question arises: are the transformative ethics of nomadic subjectivity, which I identify in the metaphor of the braid, at odds with the fixity of poetic form? Close inspection of Hacker’s use of European, and increased use of eastern, forms proves that her formal conversations are neither restricted nor limited; rather, the aesthetic constraints of form provide Hacker with the opportunity to converse freely with past, current, and future practitioners of these forms by sharing the creative experience of expression through them. To Hacker, poetic forms invite “close engagement” and often become “a kind of dialogue with its past and present uses and connotations” (Finch and Varnes 5). Writing with these forms provides her with the opportunity for politically and culturally progressive engagement with both western and eastern cultures.

Braidotti’s Feminist Nomadic Subject

The feminist model of nomadism that Braidotti proposes offers a useful framework for addressing the complex tension between a nomadic subjectivity on the one hand and embodied and embedded locations and power relations on the other in Hacker’s work. Braidotti begins by defining a ‘new’ female subjectivity in Patterns of Dissonance: A Study of Women in Contemporary Philosophy (1991). “Feminism”, as Braidotti describes, “has become a form of resistance to the One, against the vision of subjectivity that posits rationality as the dominant mode, in favour of the multiple, the plurality and multiplicity of women’s discourse” (278). Here Braidotti is proposing a “set of interrelated ‘situated knowledges’’’ (278), as opposed to a hegemonic or dominant model of thought in philosophical discourse that has its origins in phallogocentric structures. Nomadism has its roots in contemporary masculine, Eurocentric philosophy, mainly associated with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theoretical model. In his translation of A Thousand Plateaus (1987), Brian Massumi explains that nomadic thought “does not immure itself in the edifice of an ordered interiority; it moves freely in an element of exteriority. It does not repose on identity; it rides difference. It . . . is immersed in a changing state of things” (xii). Braidotti proposes her version of nomadic subjectivity via Deleuze’s model of the nomad:

The nomad . . . is rather a figuration for the kind of subject who has relinquished all idea, desire, or nostalgia for fixity. It expresses the desire for an identity made of transitions, successive shifts, and coordinated changes without an essential unity. The nomadic subject, however, is not altogether devoid of unity: his mode is one of definite, seasonal patterns of movement through rather fixed routes. It is a cohesion engendered by repetitious, cyclical moves, rhythmic displacements. In this respect, I shall take the nomad as the prototype of the “man or woman of ideas” (Spender 1982); as Deleuze put it, the point of being an intellectual nomad is about crossing boundaries, about the act of going, regardless of the destination. (NS 52)

Braidotti explains that a ‘’figuration’’ is not a metaphor, but rather “a living map” (10), a “materialistic mapping” of the self in its “situated, i.e. embedded and embodied, social positions” (4). Braidotti seeks to configure a parallel, feminist figuration of nomadism in her theoretical trilogy: Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (2011); Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2002); and Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (2006). She posits herself as an example of this figuration: “My project of feminist nomadism traces more than an intellectual itinerary; it also reflects the existential situation as a multicultural individual, a migrant who turned nomad” (NS 21). As such, nomadism is not only a theoretical engagement for Braidotti, but also an existential situation that translates into a way “of negotiating with [her] many languages, acoustic resonances, and cultural affiliations” (Blaagaard and van der Tuin 235).

Braidotti traces nomadic subjectivity back to a mode of thinking that rejects the fixity of social norms that limit and dictate behaviour. She calls this “nomadic consciousness”, as it implies a “form of political resistance to hegemonic, fixed, unitary, and exclusionary views of subjectivity” (NS 52). This subversive mode of thinking is not necessarily bound by travel, as “[n]ot all nomads are world travelers; some of the greatest trips can take place without physically moving from one’s habitat” (28). This is a fundamental aspect of Braidotti’s model that can be readily identified in Hacker’s early writing when she argues against the hegemony of free verse as a popular form in women’s writing, which I examine further in Chapter One. Hacker resists the argument that open-form poetry accompanies progressive politics, while fixed forms imply a reactionary feminist stance, as articulated in Adrienne Rich’s 1976 letter to Hacker regarding her first two poetry collections. I read this resistance as a post-feminist stance that critically engages with the Anglo-American influences so powerful in the conceptualisation of second-wave feminist discourse. Thinking and writing, for Hacker, is an exercise in negotiating the tension between a woman-centred subject matter and fixed-form, a tension which she finds conducive to her best work.

Braidotti posits nomadic thinking as a critical consciousness that does not take any form of identity as stable, but makes choices based on what the nomad deems necessary. In this respect, Hacker’s polyglot hybridity – moving seamlessly in and out of English and French, and more recently Arabic – illustrates a nomadic consciousness in that her choice of language is meant to serve a specific poetic expression. As a person in between languages and cultures, Braidotti considers the polyglot as “a linguistic nomad” who understands the inconsistent, precarious nature of languages that “come and go, pursuing preset semantic trails, leaving behind acoustic, graphic, or unconscious traces” (NS 30). A nomad, therefore, is as much a multilingual individual as a multi-cultural one.

To imagine her figuration of a feminist nomadic subject, Braidotti structures her critical vision around a number of key concepts that this thesis explores in tandem with the different stages of Hacker’s later literary output. Braidotti’s first key notion is cartographic accuracy. “A cartography”, according to Braidotti, “is a theoretically based and politically informed reading of the process of power relations. It fulfils the function of providing both exegetical tools and creative theoretical alternatives” (NT 4). Braidotti finds it useful because it addresses two essential factors of her work: “to account for one’s locations in terms both of space (the geopolitical, social, and ecophilosophical dimension) and time (the historical and genealogical dimension)” (NS 4).

Braidotti also emphasises the need to find suitable representations for the mapping of these locations. Foucault’s ideas about the body, power, and subjectivity inform her cartographic project in the way that locations are both “restrictive” and “empowering” (NS 11). Margaret McLaren argues that the “social, relational, embodied subject embedded in specific cultural” and historical practices is useful for the goals of feminism (15). This philosophical mapping is helpful to understand how the postmastectomy body becomes an embodiment of one’s historical and cultural being, such as when Hacker herself transforms the scar into a sign of presence, bearing the mark of her breast cancer experience as well as the marks inscribed on Holocaust victims. The metaphor of the body as map solidifies the connection between a female subjectivity and the body’s racial-ethnic status in the way Braidotti defines subjectivity as a “socially mediated process . . . ‘external’ to the self while it also mobilizes the self’s in-depth and singular structures” (NS 21).

Following from cartographic accuracy, Braidotti’s second key notion in her project of nomadic subjectivity is a bodily materialism of the embodied and sexually differentiated subject. The methodology for this embodied subjectivity is the politics of location. Thus, bodies and locations are the two starting points for the epistemological project of nomadism. Stemming from the social movements of the late twentieth century, this bodily materialism paved the way for a shift away from the classical notion of the ‘Human’ towards a critical view of the diversity among women within the category of sexual difference, as first articulated by Adrienne Rich’s politics of location. Rich originally developed her concept to articulate her awareness of power differences “among women within the category of sexual difference” (NT 216). She is conscious that “as marginal as white, Western women appear to be in relation to the real movers and shakers in this world – white men – there are others made marginal by white, Western women themselves” (Kaplan, “The Politics of Location” 140). Braidotti’s nomadic appropriation of Rich’s politics of location is extended into a cartographic:

method as well as a political tactic that aims at accounting for the diversity and complexity within any given category— like women, feminists, lesbians, gays— while avoiding cognitive and moral relativism and thus safeguarding political and ethical agency. The politics of locations combines epistemological with political accountability by concentrating its methodological efforts on the analysis of the multiple power locations one inevitably inhabits as the site of one’s subjectivity. (NS 19)

Braidotti’s model of a politics of location emerges as central to Hacker’s later work as Hacker negotiates her diverse and intersecting identity formations: “a woman of the Left, a feminist, a lesbian, a secular Jew, an American, and a poet”, as explored in Chapter Three (UV 23). Chapter Four examines in more detail how the diversity of her identities allows Hacker to move in-between centre and marginal subject positions, accounting for her ‘’multiple power locations’’ (NS 19). Braidotti considers this self-critical reflection as “the first methodological move toward a vision of subjectivity as ethically accountable and politically empowering” (NT 216).

In its temporal variable, accounting for and unravelling power differentials for one’s embedded and embodied locations is connected to nomadic memory. According to Braidotti:

A location is an embedded and embodied memory: it is a set of countermemories, which are activated by the resisting thinker against the grain of the dominant representations of subjectivity. A location is a materialist temporal and spatial site of co-production of the subject, and thus anything but an instance of relativism. Locations provide the ground for accountability.

(NE 29)

For Braidotti, a sense of temporal location proposes a corporeal materialism endowed with memory in a mode of “countermemory”, which she adopts from Foucault as politically activated “discourses of resistance” for those who “forget to forget injustice and symbolic poverty” (NS 54). For Braidotti, countermemories allow for the creation of a “historical memory of oppression” through women’s genealogies: ‘’[a] crucial element in this process is the sense of women’s genealogies, which I read with Foucault as politically activated countermemories’’ (NS 89).

Echoing Braidotti’s countermemory is Marianne Hirsch’s theory of “postmemory”, which “characterizes the experience of those who grow up dominated by narratives that preceded their birth, whose own belated stories are evacuated by the stories of the previous generation shaped by traumatic events that can be neither understood nor recreated” (22). Hirsch maintains that postmemory is an effective and specific kind of memory because “its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation” (22). Although Hirsch’s analysis is primarily concerned with the children of Holocaust survivors, she also expands it to second-generation memories of cultural or collective trauma. Along with countermemories, Hirsch’s postmemory is useful to Hacker’s exercise in memory because it is an intergenerational act of identification that is closely connected through familial or group relation, here specifically with Hacker’s Jewish European grandmother, Gísela, acting as her connection to Jewish history. Chapter Three examines how both forms of memory – Braidotti’s and Hirsch’s – provide opportunities for preserving memories of trauma not through recollection, but through imaginative recreation from a deep and personal connection.

In addition to the politics of location, re-examining the embodiment of subjectivity is the other basis for the epistemological nomadic project. This proposition starts with a redefinition of a feminine subjectivity in terms of a new, relational mode of thought. Braidotti draws on T. de Lauretis’s redefinition of the female feminist subject to support her project:

What is emerging in feminist writings is . . . the concept of a multiple, shifting, and often self-contradictory identity, a subject that is not divided in, but rather at odds with language; an identity made up of heterogeneous and heteronomous representations of gender, race and class, and often indeed across languages and cultures; an identity that one decides to reclaim from a history of multiple assimilations, and one that insists on as strategy. (12)

Braidotti’s view of the multiplicity of the female subject draws on French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s view of the feminine as “a complex and mulitlayered location and not an immutable and given essence” (NS 91). Irigaray, as Tina Chanter notes, “brings the body back into play, not as the rock of feminism, but as a mobile set of differences” (qtd. in NS 87). Braidotti acknowledges Irigaray’s contribution to a feminist version of nomadism in “combining issues of embodiment with an acute awareness of complexity and multiplicity and defend[ing] a nonunitary vision of the subject in general and of the feminine in particular” (92).[9] Chapter One examines how Hacker reimagines the body as a multiplicity of pleasures that maps desire and sexuality onto the female body. As such, this new feminine subjectivity revalorises embodiment as the lived experience of the female subject and “gives a positive value to the embodied self as a material-symbolic agent of change” (PD 282). As such, Braidotti’s reconceptualisation of nomadism stresses the bodily roots of subjectivity: ‘’I stress the issue of embodiment so as to make a plea for different ways of thinking about the body. The body refers to the materialist but also vitalist groundings of human subjectivity’’ (NS 27).

By returning to the neglected problem of female embodiment and emphasising the sexually differentiated nature of the subject, there is potential for a feminist nomadic project, as Braidotti argues. “Braidotti’s feminist appropriation of the Deleuzian model”, according to Małgorzata Myk, “emerges as nomadism with a (sexual) difference that aims at acknowledging an alternative form of a hybrid and adaptable subjectivity while accounting for women’s lived embodied existence” (94). Braidotti’s feminist nomadic subject is an empowering figuration that, through the articulation of sexual differences, can serve the process of reclaiming a political subjectivity for women, and as such helps make clear the different dimensions and phases of Hacker’s feminist project.

As Chapter Three shows, Hacker’s braid arises from the overlap between the physical, symbolic, and the sociological that Braidotti’s notion of embodiment proposes. “A nomadic vision of the body”, as Braidotti argues, “defines it as multi-functional and complex, as a transformer of flows and energies, affects, desires and imaginings” (NS 27). Similarly, the braid is an embodied, multi-layered, and complex structure that moves across boundaries of time and space, connecting the female body to the social, historical, and political. Braidotti draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s figuration of the rhizome to signify nomadic consciousness and the movement of the feminist nomadic subject.

It is important to understand what the rhizome is in order to understand how it is useful to Braidotti. The rhizome is a root-like stem that grows sideways, underground. Deleuze and Guattari describe the rhizome as a “subterranean stem [that] is absolutely different from roots” (6). They contrast the rhizome with the hierarchical and vertical root-tree diagram that has dominated humanist thinking about sociality and subjectivity (de Freitas 592). Deleuze and Guattari adopt the rhizome because of the stems’ movement in a nonphallogocentric way, against gravity and the organisational structure of the root-tree system. By extension, it expresses a subversive form of thinking that is “secret, lateral spreading as opposed to the visible, vertical ramifications of Western trees of knowledge” (NS 52). As Braidotti explains, Deleuze is challenging the “dominant paradigm of linguistic mediation” in a move towards a “nonunitary, radically materialist and dynamic structure of subjectivity” (“Affirming the Affirmative”). In Braidotti’s adaptation of the rhizome, the “rhizome stands for a nomadic political ontology that . . . provides relational foundations for a posthumanist view of subjectivity” (NS 52). Nomadic consciousness, like the rhizome, works against dominant premises.

Braidotti’s figuration of the nomadic subject, however, is different from the rhizome. Like the rhizome, the figuration of the nomadic subject is characterised by connection. However, the rhizome according to Deleuze and Guattari plots “no points” or fixed “positions”; “there are only lines” (8), creating the image of an open system. In other words, it has no central point, or rather, every point is central, as “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other” (7). This means that the rhizome is an “anti-genealogy” (11). Deleuze and Guattari contrast a genealogy with the metaphor of the map. To them a map is “detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (2). This stands in contrast to Braidotti’s cartographic method of accounting for multiple differences that is conducive to tracing “female embodied-genealogies” (NS 51). For Braidotti, “[g]enealogies constitute a cumulative scale of female embodied and embedded experience that, for [her], are a symbolic legacy” (89). Braidotti also cites Irigaray’s attention to “the maternal roots of genealogies in order to locate them in feminist political practice, the starting point for which is the enfleshed location of the body” (89). Consequently, the rhizome is “a map and not a tracing” (Deleuze and Guattari 2), while figurations “express materially embedded cartographies of different nomadic subjects” (NS 11).

Braidotti’s work on nomadism and nomadic subjects as a way to understand the human condition amidst the transmutations of the capitalist present and especially its massive production of disposable forms of life led her to the concept of the posthuman. She explains that the posthuman condition

clearly displays inhumane features in that it introduces ruthless

power relations. Globalisation encompasses many dire aspects, such as increase in poverty, especially among women, the disparity in access to the new technologies, world migration and massive human mobility . . . there are also renewed forms of vulnerability for the human body. For example, epidemics have returned in the form of Ebola, TB, and HIV . . . Wars and the uprooting of millions of people who turn into stateless asylum seekers are constant features of our social landscape.

(‘’The Posthuman Predicament’’ 74-75)

The posthuman turn in critical theory, according to Braidotti, conflates two bodies of theory. The first is poststructuralist anti-humanism, which focuses “on the critique of the humanist ideal of ‘Man’ as the universal representative of the human”; the second is anti-anthropocentrism, which “criticizes species hierarchy and advances ecological justice” (“Posthuman Feminist Theory” 673-4). In her work, Braidotti defines the posthuman subject:

within an eco-philosophy of multiple belongings, as a relational subject constituted in and by multiplicity, that is to say a subject that works across differences and is also internally differentiated, but still grounded and accountable. Posthuman subjectivity expresses an embodied and embedded and hence partial form of accountability, based on a strong sense of collectivity, relationality and hence community building. (PH 49)

Braidotti explains that the radical critiques of humanism from feminist, post-colonial, and critical race theory have shown how certain kinds of bodies have been excluded from the category of ‘’Human’’. These other modes of embodiment that are cast out of the subject position are the ‘’non-white, non-masculine, non-normal, non-young, nonhealthy, disabled, malformed or enhanced peoples” (PH 677). Braidotti calls this marginalisation of other forms of embodiment a “dialectics of negative difference” and criticises it as being “inherently anthropocentric, gendered and racialized in that it upholds aesthetic and moral ideals based on white, masculine, heterosexual European civilization” (68). The posthuman body is, as Judith Halberstarn and Ira Livingstone explain, “a technology, a screen, a projected image; it is a body under the sign of AIDS, a contaminated body, a deadly body, a techno-body” (3).

In this respect, Hacker’s aging, postmastectomy and scarred body can be viewed as a posthuman body that is no longer part of the family of “Human”, but of the “posthumanities” (3). Her posthuman condition shows her evoking her breast cancer experience to connect with other victims of history and illnesses, which I will highlight throughout this thesis. According to Stephen Katz and Barbara Marshall, “the defining characteristic of the posthuman body is its connectedness, not only to reproductive technologies, intelligent machines, and prosthetic extensions, but also to changing informational patterns” (6). However, posthuman bodies cannot show signs of age and aging if they are to be connected. If biotechnology creates posthuman bodies that are never really born and cannot die, then they are likewise not bound by time. However, theorists of age/aging find potential in conversations with posthuman studies. Cynthia Port argues, “[i]n a scholarly context that is increasingly turning to the posthuman . . . explorations of the embodied experience of age and its cultural resonances offer crucial insights into the uniquely human awareness of the experience of living through time” (2014).

To understand the posthuman condition, Braidotti argues for a ‘’new materialism and nomadic subjectivity that [she] revisits with the feminist politics of locations’’ (‘’Posthuman, all too human’’ 2017). Hacker engages with the posthuman predicament through her political concerns which have taken her through the course of her oeuvre from New York to Paris, and recently to a poetic engagement with the political conflicts in the Middle East. She illustrates a feminist politics of location through accounting for her country’s injustices towards the rest of the world; this concept is explored in Chapter Four. Moving beyond the perceived problems of the posthuman predicament, Braidotti finds potential in the posthuman condition. She draws on Baruch Spinoza’s concept of monism as a basis for an affirmative ethical, political project of sexual difference, which she refers to as “the affirmation of the positivity of difference” (PH 11).

The posthuman, for Braidotti, is a way of reconfiguring the human that is conceptualised in different ways. For some it is a “return to some form of neo-humanism coupled with human enhancement – another mode of participation in the posthuman turn. For others, it’s about a downsizing of human arrogance coupled with acknowledgement of solidarity with multiple others” (“Posthuman, all too human”). She explains that we are subjects in the process of becoming other than the Renaissance Man of Humanism and the “anthropos” of anthropocentricism. Ultimately, Braidotti describes her posthuman subject as “We-are-in-this-together-but-we-are-not-One kind of subject”, articulating a complex, non-binary view of subjectivity (“Posthuman, all too human”). Braidotti argues that the crises of the modern subject produces individualism and “reactive melancholia” (NT 21) within man’s philosophical thought, which we need to move away from to produce a posthuman ethics of affirmation.

In Braidotti’s article ‘’Becoming-World’’ from After Cosmopolitanism (2013), she proposes a ‘’radical mutation’’ of ‘’cosmopolitanism’’ by renouncing the unitary vision of the subject and embracing diversity to account for the political and social reality of our world (9). Her proposal encapsulates my argument of Hacker’s affirmative engagement with history and politics as an accountable, nonunitary, and relational nomadic subject. Braidotti writes:

Beyond unitary visions of the self and teleological renditions of the processes of subject-formation, a nomadic cosmopolitan philosophy can sustain the contemporary subjects in the efforts to relate more actively to the changing world in which they try to make a positive difference. Against the established tradition of methodological nationalism, a different image of thought can be activated that rejects Euro-universalism and trusts instead the powers of diversity. It also enlists affectivity, memory and the imagination to the crucial task of inventing new figurations and new ways of representing the complex subjects we have become. The key method is an ethics of respect for diversity that produces mutually interdependent nomadic subjects and thus constitutes communities across multiple locations and generations. This humble project of being worthy of the present world while also resisting it aims at constructing together social horizons of hope and sustainability. It expresses an evolutionary talent, that is to say a commonly shared commitment to social infrastructures of generosity, which might enable ‘us’ to be affirmatively in this together. (24-25)

Hacker as a Transcultural Writer

To understand the transcultural engagement in Hacker’s later work, it is important to differentiate between these two phenomena: transculturalism and nomadism. Transculturalism, according to Arianna Dagnino, is “the cultural dimension and orientation (a mode of cultural identity) and the imaginary or literary horizon that characterizes nomadism” (Transcultural Writers 104). Dagnino notes that it is a way/tool of identity formation that mainly stems from a highly mobile physical and cultural life-experience. In her essay, “Tran­scul­tu­ra­lism and Tran­scul­tu­ral Li­te­ra­tu­re in the 21st Cen­tury”(2012), Dagnino summarises the main tenets of transculturalism to include

a re­fu­sal to think of cul­tu­res as pu­re and ho­li­stic es­sen­ces: cul­tu­res are not seen as fi­xed (sta­ble), au­to­no­mo­us and in­su­lar (se­pa­ra­te) en­ti­ti­es lo­ca­ted ex­clu­si­vely or ma­inly in the con­text of et­hni­ci­ti­es or na­ti­ons but as hybrid for­ma­ti­ons cha­rac­te­ri­zed by in­ter­con­nec­ted­ness, per­me­a­tion and on­go­ing tran­sfor­ming di­a­lo­gu­es bet­we­en/among them . . . the fo­cus on hu­man agency, “with an af­fir­ma­ti­ve po­si­tion by the in­di­vi­dual” (Ba­na­uch 2009: 188) and the right of per­so­nal cul­tu­ral cho­i­ces, al­le­gi­an­ces, plu­ral af­fi­li­a­ti­ons and mul­ti­ple, mul­ti-layered iden­ti­ti­es . . . a co­smo­po­li­tan ap­pr­o­ach which do­es not deny the re­le­van­ce of one’s primary cul­tu­ral and na­ti­o­nal ori­gins but do­es not ac­cept the op­po­si­ti­o­nal dyna­mics of fi­xed, self-en­clo­sed cul­tu­ral, et­hnic and na­ti­o­nal iden­ti­ti­es/ al­le­gi­an­ces. (36-37)

Dagnino argues that the nomadic, or “neonomadic”, as she terms it, way of life, thought, and consciousness is conducive to a transcultural orientation and imagination. Although Hacker has lived between New York and Paris most of her life, it is not sufficient, according to Dagnino, “to have lived in many countries to acquire a (neo)nomadic penchant; it all depends on one’s disposition towards a certain errant status, a certain way of interacting with other people, other cultures, other mental geographies” (“Contemporary Transcultural” 97). Hacker’s refrain of “another Jewish lesbian in France” articulates a conceptual, emotional and psychological rootlessness that runs through her earlier poetry and that has echoes of the metaphor of the Jew’s exile in literature.

The nomad, however, is not always in a state of movement: they need temporary periods of stability and chances for retrospective thinking to grasp their nomadic subjectivity. Braidotti explains that she was only able to contemplate nomadism through the stability of a permanent job and a happy marriage. Similarly, Hacker was not able to think through the flows and interconnections in her life until she started living permanently in Paris in 1989 and tried to reconnect to her Jewish roots there. As she explains, “it’s almost making imaginary roots for myself in Europe, where my people came from” (Gardinier 1). This sense of belonging transfers Hacker from a state voluntary exile to voluntary nomad, or “hypernomad”, as Jacques Attali terms it, namely “a constitutionally peripatetic class of creative individuals whose discoveries and art works influence their sedentary counterparts” (Dagnino, “Contemporary Transcultural” 97).

As Dagnino notes, in the field of literary studies the traditional notion of ‘’‘migrant writers’ is giving way to a new category of mobile, postnational transcultural writers” (99). Jahan Ramazani indicates that “cross-national migration and modernity’s geospatial stretch have been affected and reimagined by modern and contemporary poets” (xi). “Modern Western culture”, according to Edward Said, “is in large part the work of exiles, émigrés, and refugees” (qtd. in Ramazani 24), which may include contemporaries like John Ashbery and Hacker as well. These exiles and émigrés, Ramazani explains, “translated their frequent geographic displacement and transcultural alienation into a poetics of dissonance and defamiliarization, and this hybrid and strange-making art also defies the national literary genealogies into which it is often pressed” (25). Dagnino describes these writers as

imaginative writers who, by choice or by life circumstances, experience cultural dislocation, live transnational experiences, cultivate bilingual/pluri-lingual proficiency, physically immerse themselves in multiple cultures/geographies/territories, expose themselves to diversity and nurture plural, flexible identities. (Transcultural Writers 1)

It is at this point in Hacker’s oeuvre that much of her work begins to take on a transcultural orientation as it shaped and informed by her translations of French and Francophone poetry. I read Hacker as a transcultural writer in that she promotes and engages with a wider multicultural literary landscape, initially through her translations and later through her use of eastern forms and poetic collaborations. Broadly understood as an “interlingual, literary, and transcultural practice”, Ignacio Infante notes that translation is “closely related to the transatlantic circulation of modern poetics” (1). As such, Hacker’s translations are primary and essential for an understanding of her personal and poetic cross-cultural exchanges, which engage her with other literary traditions, different languages, and cultures.

Feminist history and literature have been increasingly engaged in investigating transnational and transcultural connections across national, geographical, and cultural borders, as well as exploring women’s materialistic experiences in many different geographical and historical settings. However, Caren Kaplan argues that epistemological borders have not been challenged in this process of feminist knowledge production. The process exists as a cross-cultural effort that attempts to account for the racialized and gendered forms of oppression, yet it does not engage with voices and narratives beyond these borders. Accounting for power inequalities based on race, ethnicity, and faith is more effective when it aims to show resistance to hegemonic narratives of suffering and estrangement. Kaplan warns of hegemonic formations that persist in the field of transnational dialogues:

We should be suspicious of any use of the term to naturalize boundaries and margins under the guise of celebration, nostalgia, or inappropriate assumptions of intimacy. A politics of location is also problematic when it is deployed as an agent of appropriation, constructing similarity through equalizations when material histories indicate otherwise. Only when we utilize the notion of location to destabilize unexamined or stereotypical images that are vestiges of colonial discourse and other manifestations of modernity’s structural inequalities can we recognize and work through the complex relationships between women in different parts of the world. (139)

Therefore, in analysing and theorising “difference” in the context of feminist cross-cultural work, what kind of feminist practice acknowledges the diversity of feminisms within a framework of transnational social/cultural/economic movements? Most transnational theorists discuss this definitional issue by excluding homogenising terms such as “global feminism” and “international feminism”, which they argue have “elided the diversity of women’s agency in favour of a universalized Western model of women’s liberation that celebrates individuality” (Grewal and Kaplan 17). Manisha Desai notes that academic feminism has become increasingly transnational as a result of global feminist movements (333). She explains that more authors prefer the new articulation “transnational” to “global” because “it does not claim the presence of all nations”; rather, it describes “the presence of activists, organizations, and issues from more than one country” (334). Ramazani explains that his use of “transnational” is meant to “highlight flows and affiliations not among static national identities, as sometimes suggested by ‘international,’ but across the borders of nation-states, regions, and cultures” (181)


[1] This is the latest list of Hacker’s works that Hacker provided me with on 15 Aug. 2017.

[2] In 2001, Hacker translated Lebanese poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s poetry collection, Here there was once a Country from the French. This publication marks Hacker’s first engagement with Middle Eastern narratives through translation.

[3] Hacker, Marilyn. Letter to Hayden Carruth. 22 Feb. 1994. Box 73, Folder 32. Hayden Carruth Papers, Bailey/Howe Library, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library, Burlington, Vermont. (Hereafter cited as HCP).

[4] Ibid, 24 Dec. 1994.

[5] Ibid, 3 Sept. 1998. Box 73, Folder 31.

[6] In her introduction to A Formal Feeling Comes, Annie Finch believes there is a return to formal poetics in contemporary women’s poetry and has cited Hacker’s formalism as one of the most conspicuous influences on the younger poets included in the volume. “The poets in this anthology are reclaiming a formal inheritance more openly than women have done in many decades, and their work demonstrates that the long tradition of women’s formal poetry is evolving once again”, writes Finch (3).

[7] Hacker, Marilyn. Letter to Joanna Russ. 12 Oct. 1996. Box 5, Folder 37. Joanna Russ Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Oregon University Library, Eugene, Oregon. (Hereafter cited as JRP).

[8] Hacker frequently uses Hayden Carruth’s ‘Paragraph Form’ and her own invented forms, such as the one she uses for “Against Elegies” in Winter Numbers (1994).

[9] Braidotti cites other feminist theorists who have also contributed to diverse representations of feminine subjectivity: “The array of terms available to describe this new female subjectivity is telling: Monique Wittig (1991) chooses to represent it through the figuration of the ‘lesbian,’ echoed by Judith Butler with her ‘queer parodic politics of masquerade’ (1991); others, quoting Nancy Miller (Miller 1986b) prefer to describe the process as ‘becoming women,’ in the sense of the female feminist subjects of another story. De Lauretis calls it the ‘eccentric’ subject (1990a:115– 150); alternative feminist subjectivities have also been described as ‘fellow-commuters’ in an in-transit state (Boscaglia 1991:122– 135) or as ‘inappropriated others’ (Minh-ha 1989) or as ‘postcolonial’ (Mohanty 1984:333– 358; subjects” (NS 26).

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