Breaking Through the "Logic of Limits": Adrienne Rich and Radi¬ cal Complexity
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Focusing on questions of identity, particularly lesbian identity, during the late seventies and early eighties, this essay explores the sequence “Twenty-One Love Poems” and notes the tension articulated within the poetry between a dying identity politics, and the urgencies of an incoming politics of diversity. I seek to track, within these poems and others of the period, the movement from consensus, in which Rich pursues a politics of commonality, towards a much more inclusive politics of radical complexity, in which she undertakes a wide-ranging enquiry into the political construction and regulation of identity itself. Rich is, at this period, concerned to counter the erasures of lesbian existence, and to combat homophobic depictions of lesbian existence. She is also concerned to celebrate transgressive erotic and sexual desires that work to unfix the economies and conventions of heterosexual logic. Rich’s notion of a lesbian continuum gives way under pressure, to a longing to embrace difference and diversity. She creates an inclusive politics capable of forging alliances between diverse groups of women, but, as the poetry testifies, the contradictory other within the self must also be acknowledged and explored. This is the task of poem “XX”, in which Rich seems to ask: how can the category “lesbian” ever be representative of any sort of unity. How can the lesbian “I” be predictable, stable, totalisable if there is always already substantial internal division? The developing politics of radical complexity must recognise also that “we come from many pasts: out of the left, out of the Ghetto, out of the Holocaust, out of the churches, out of marriages, out of the “gay” movement, out of the closet, out of the darker closet of long-term suf-focation of our love of women”. A poem that explores this radical complexity in detail is “Yom Kippur, 1984”. In this poem Rich begins to reconceptualise what constitutes “identity”. In a sense, “Yom Kippur, 1984” points to a kind of necessary vigilance for the producer of art, to be aware of what Diana Fuss has identified as “the difficult but urgent textual work” of calling into question “the philosophical opposition between ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ (which) like so many other conventional binaries has always been constructed on the foundations of another related opposition: the couple ‘inside’ and ‘outside’”. In this poem, Rich creates a dialogue that explores this exclusive “logic of limits”, and seeks to break down the related oppositions: margin/ centre; self/ other; inside/ outside; centre/ margin; solitude multitude; Arab/ Jew; Jew/ gentile; Black or white; male or female; straight or queer; like oneself or stranger to the self. All these and more, need to be recognised as simplistic modes of dichotomising of what is in reality complex and irreducible to any mere binary form.