Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




"Diving into the Wreck":

Adrienne Rich and the Language of Death"


Adrienne Rich's predominant struggles are sociopolitical, her primary causes gender equality and freedom of sexual orientation. Her medium is language—poetry and prose, oral and written. At the level of content, she argues against the psychological debilitating constraints imposed by the sexist and heterosexist patriarchal culture. At the level of language, she breaks out of conventional language, the language of her other, the patriarchal order, that seeks to slay her subjectivity and all it stands for. Patriarchal language and conventional usage mean repression of her sexuality, suppression of her femininity, and oppression of her creativity—in a single phrase, the limitation, the death, of her psyche. As poet, Rich endlessly wrestles with the rhetorical angel of death that is language, striving to transform, if not wholly transcend, the language of the patriarchal order which has traditionally silenced her gender at worst or coopted its creativity at best. The poem "Diving into the Wreck" represents Rich's descent into the psychological ruin that a lifetime of conventional language usage has razed. The poet confronts her own mortality in the form of the external other—the language of the other—and she seeks to salvage a real of subjectivity that stands apart from the symbolic order's assimilation. Conventional language—in Rich's case, specifically patriarchal language—is not only a dead language but also a language that brings death by first invading then murdering the soul with habituation of gender roles and regulation of desire; only poetic language offers the possibility of reviving the psyche and allowing the psyche to find its own subject position as well as pursue the object of its own desires. Any poem constitutes a deadly dance with the language of the other; the feminist poem in particular confronts the death dealt daily by patriarchal society's language. Women must write death in order to write through death, beyond death.


This abstract summarizes my upcoming presentation, "'Diving into the Wreck': Adrienne Rich and the Language of Death," Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association, Wilmington, DE, November 8, 2003. Conference Program