Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




A Symptomatic Sinthome:

Adrienne Rich's Floating Poem and the Problem of the Real of Love


My paper explores the relationships among language, literature, knowledge, and sexuality from a Lacanian/Zizekian perspective. Starting with the post-structuralist premises that all a subject can know is language, I then argue, through Lacan, that subjectivity and sexuality are wrought of language, or more specifically, the literature one internalizes. Thus, sexuality in the Lacanian perspective becomes symbolic and discursive, that is, becomes based upon literary conventions. With this backdrop, I argue that poets, who by nature are utterly romantic but at the same time enamored by the discourse, are conflicted by this love of discourse and the erasure of self it renders. However, female poets have even more ambivalence for their selves are doubly erased—not only by the act of reading literature itself, but by the fact that the canonical, conventional literature of the masters is patriarchal. Adrienne Rich in particular distinguishes between the compulsory heterosexuality installed by the master discourse and the possibility of a real love, a lesbian love, that exists beyond the bounds of the symbolic. I illustrate how her "Twenty-One Love Poems," though oriented outside of and even actively resisting the patriarchal and heterosexual mainstream, still perform the ideal of romantic or courtly love, explained by Lacan and Zizek as the pattern which covers up the absence of, the inability to, love within the patriarchal symbolic realm which is not love at all. However, "(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)," as its title and placement within/outside the poetic sequence suggests, achieves a real, as opposed to simply symbolic, love because it strives to be a sinthome, a fragment that resists making (male-centered) meaning, that resists being sutured into the dominant (phallocentric) discourse, that produces a feminine enjoyment, or jouissance, not inside but outside the symbolic. I argue 'strives to be a sinthome' because Rich, as poet well-trained by male predecessors, is still using language, still making meaning, still constructing sexuality. Consequently, ("The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)" advances a liminal paradox: it exists both inside and outside the symbolic, that is, the patriarchal conventions of literature. The poem renders a male-defined symbolic love at the same time it constitutes a real of love that exceeds masculine conceptualizations.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "A Symptomatic Sinthome: Adrienne Rich’s Floating Poem and the Problem of the Real of Love," Central New York Conference on Language and Literature, Cortland, NY, October 30, 2000.