2021 Blog Posts

Gender Identity in “Diving into the Wreck”

“Diving Into The Wreck,” a poem penned by Adrienne Rich, seems in my view to be grappling with the complexity of identity; and more specifically gender identity. It’s an exploration of self that culminates in the speaker’s discovery of a mermaid following a journey through the wreckage of a traumatized mind. While the truth of the speaker’s identity lies somewhere beneath this wreckage, but the speaker doesn’t even know where to start, or even what they are looking for until they find it.

Diving into the wreck, in this case, is really meant to mean that the speaker is diving through the wreckage of their own mind in order to look for self-actualization and validation. It is an entirely introspective journey, as evidenced by these lines from the third stanza, which say, “and there is no one/to tell me when the ocean/will begin” (Rich, lines 31-33). It’s a journey of self-exploration, with the vast ocean serving as the mind and the various wreckage serving as the trauma and self-doubt that stands in the way of self-discovery. The journey is made that much more significant by the fact that it is a journey only the speaker themselves can take.

Because the speaker’s assigned gender and general appearance are each left ambiguous, the reader has no idea how similar or different their inner persona (“the mermaid”) is from their outward persona (“the speaker”). However, because it is buried in this deep wreckage, it is clear that this mermaid was being hidden for a long time, as evidenced by the mermaid’s description as a worn-down figure, “whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes/whose breasts still bear the stress/whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies/obscurely inside barrels/half-wedged and left to rot” (Rich, lines 78-82). Because of the discrimination that transgender people face, and the lack of acceptance they often receive for their identities, it’s not a stretch to presume that perhaps the speaker, subjectively or perhaps even intentionally, buried the mermaid deep within the subconscious and away from the hurt and trauma that wounded them in an attempt to protect themselves, even though they knew it would make them unhappy. In that context it is easy to understand the lines, “I am she: I am he” (Rich, line 77) and “We are, I am, you are” (Rich, line 87) as ruminations on the speaker’s gender identity.

Furthermore, the final stanza of the poem can be understood as the speaker and the mermaid finally taking action to resolve the dissonance they feel despite being one and the same. When the speaker concludes the poem by saying “We are, I am, you are/by cowardice or courage/the one who find our way/back to this scene/carrying a knife, a camera/a book of myths/in which/our names do not appear.” (Rich, lines 87-94) it is clear that a change is imminent. To anyone familiar with the concept of dead names, the lines “a book of myths/in which/our names do not appear.” stands out in particular. For someone in the transgender community, a change in name to better suit their inner self is a way to cast aside the artificial identity they had constructed before and finally be themselves. As such, this line signifies that the speaker can ignore this “mermaid” no longer, and at long last they are finally going to become one, as they were always meant to be, and will face all the good and the bad that will come along with it in hopes of living as a more genuine self.

Study of History: Addressing the Queer Body

In her poem Study of History, Adrienne Rich first writes: “The mind of a river / as it might be you”. Rich writes this poem entirely in the second person, making the reader wonder whether she is addressing the entire queer community or a singular queer individual.
It is important to first notice Rich’s metaphor. Not only does she choose to write about water; she chooses to write about a body of water, a river in particular. This is crucial because body is a word used to represent either a collective community or a particular individual. Words and terms such as “upstream”, “below the water line”, and “which of your channels diverted” imply that this body is complex, fluid and diverse. This could represent vast diversity within the queer community, but could also be interpreted as the fluid complexity of one’s sexuality/gender.
The last line of the first stanza and the entire second stanza describe external factors that destroy the river. When Rich writes of “Lying in the dark, to think of you / and your harsh traffic / gulls pecking at your rubbish… pleasure cruisers wiltlessy careening you”, it is made clear that this river has been exploited; it is polluted and decaying. This forces the reader to not only recognize society’s general impact on the queer community, but also recognize that societal norms restrict/slow down an individual’s queer identity. Use of gerunds in the first and second stanza not only imply that this is the river’s current state, but a continuous state that will likely flow into the future.
Rich also indicates that past trauma further impacts the river’s decrepit state. The third stanza focuses more on “what was done to you upstream” (Rich). When inquiring about the past Rich asks the reader “what powers trepanned”. After a quick google search, I found out that trepanning (now very illegal) was a surgery much like a lobotomy, but instead of an ice pick through the eye socket doctors used a drill entering through the temple. Separating essential nerve endings in the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain, doctors believed this surgery would guide queer people back to an acceptable sexuality. As a community, Rich could be referring to the literal surgery, therefore reflecting on a collective, historical trauma many queer bodies experienced. Yet also, her use of trepanning could refer to the restrictive gender/sexuality norms that were metaphorically “drilled into our heads” from a young age. Homophobic ideology becomes so ingrained into our society that queer bodies are likely to suffer from internalized homophobia.
Therefore, Study of History reflects on a universal queer history, as the river represents histories shaping the collective and individual queer body.

Blog #1 – Exploring “Myth” in Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck”

In her poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich explores a common narrative and fear from the LGBTQ community over the consequence of being different. While for many LGBTQ people, acknowledging their identity and ‘coming out’ has a liberating effect, other people may face rejection or violence in their lifetime. On the extreme end, this may lead to suicide. But Rich’s poetry shows how these outcomes are a “myth” (63). ‘Myth’ may refer to either a traditional story which seeks to explain or justification for something, or a commonly held misconception. Rich plays off this pun to push and show how there’s more fluidity and uncertainty within the LGBTQ community’s tragic history and what it might mean for its future.

The theme of uncertainty carries into the beginning of the poem, where a diver prepares to explore a shipwreck, “First having read the book of myths” (1). Building off the pun, the dive into the water begins to resemble an investigation. The double meaning of “myth,” a falsehood or origin story carries several implications for the diver, who later comes to identify with the shipwreck, “we are the half-destroyed instruments / that once held to a course” (83-84). In comparing herself to the shipwreck, Rich establishes a metaphor between the ‘myth’ of the wreck and her own personal narrative. The ‘dive’ therefore, becomes a symbol for introspection. However, her use of the pronoun, “we” (83) highlights that this myth goes beyond a single narrative. The ‘wreck’ and the ‘myth’ of the wreck belong to and are, in fact, echoed by a community.

In order to evaluate the metaphor, it is therefore worth exploring the ‘myth’ of the shipwreck. For this, Rich leaves several clues. Harking back to the line, “we are the half-destroyed instruments / that once held to a course” (83-84), it’s implied that the ship sunk, because it changed directions or went off “course” (84). This is further evidenced by the imagery on line 86, “the fouled compass.” Thus, the ‘myth’ of the wreck could be read as a fear over what happens when someone dares to be different. Given that LGBTQ people have existed on the margins of society (and historically faced violence because of their differences), this would make them especially vulnerable to this narrative.

The final appearance of the word, “myth” cycles back to the first line with some important distinctions, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear” (92-94). Notably, “the book” (1) becomes “a book” (92), indicating that the myth of the shipwreck no longer has the same definiteness. While breaking off and daring to be unique are key characteristics in the LGBTQ community, this uniqueness doesn’t have to lead to a ‘wreck.’ Rich escapes that fate, declaring “our names do not appear” (94). Rather than a celebration, this conclusion has a melancholy tone, as we are reminded how many LGBTQ people suffered in the past. The narrative is therefore a myth in the same way that the poem’s wreck is “evidence of [the] damage” (66). Both serve as reminders of what many had to go through. But more optimistically, the poem also dispels the deterministic aspects of the narrative, showing that LGBTQ people are free from reliving the tragedies of history.

Learning to Live With Injury

“Queerness,” writes Love, is “both abject and exalted” (3). This contradiction permeates the queer studies as one side aspires to “fix” the abjection by disregarding it and imagining a utopia, while the other emphasizes the suffering of queer lives.

The attempt to deny the past, without properly dealing with it, can misfire; such an attempt is only “a symptom of haunting,” of pretending without succeeding (1). Queer novels, like The Well of Loneliness, that anchor in queer suffering, are the novels that stay and haunt the readers the most, not the happy ones. Suffering seizes while happiness makes us forget. The forcibly imagined utopia for queer lives can create a delusion, a discrepancy between reality and fiction, and ultimately, apathy. In another word, we don’t care about ourselves when we are happy and others don’t care about us when we are happy (or pretend to be). The “mass-mediated images of attractive, well-to-do gays and lesbians” can generate apathy on a larger scale, within the public (3). We have had our equity, so why should anyone care about us, why should pay attention to the “reality of ongoing violence and inequality” (3). Denial of this reality for an “imaginative fix” makes it easier to happen again, to allow it to keep happening unchecked. Denial can also disregard the legacy of our ancestors, disregarding what has propelled and led us here. Love says we cannot risk such amnesia.

On the other hand, suffering can individualize as well, meaning that we can become it, be consumed by it, and, as Love cautioned, be “destroyed” by it (1). And so the challenge for Love is to understand suffering and not be consumed into the totally crippling victimhood. Even though she claims she does not know how dwelling into the “dark side” can brighten queer lives, she does not mean to brighten it, at least not in the sense of “wishful thinking” or an amnesiac “utopian desire.” Going backward and “feeling backward” on “painful and traumatic” queer literature is not to be equated with being retrograde or homophobic. Love means to understand the past, to move beyond victimhood, to reconcile, in order to live better, to engage with the “archive of feeling,” to honor the roots of queer literary history (4).  Such roots indelibly always involve suffering and without such roots, the propagation and history of queer lives and queer literature would not be possible. The future of queer lives, then, depends on how to reconcile with that suffering, to understand what it meant to be “living with injury——not fixing it” (4). No denial or utopia can advance our lives if we cannot understand and reconcile with the unavoidable rememory of our own lives.

How to add pronouns to Zoom

Hi all!

As we are Zooming our way through these first few weeks of class, it might be quite useful for us to all add pronouns to our Zoom names.  To do so, hover over your video image when in a session.  When the blue box with three dots appears, click that and follow to Rename.  Once there, you will want to edit Display Name.  Don’t forget to hit OK!

Or, if you are not in session, open your app and click on the home icon/tab at the top, then click the settings cog image in the right corner.  From there, click Profile, the Edit My Profile, and finally the Edit button near your name.  Then you can change the display name to include pronouns. Don’t forget to Save Changes before you leave!