"Analytica Femina"
an excerpt from "Without at Net: Finding one's balance along the perilous wire of the new" as presented at the Dec. 1992 MLA in NYC

      Waking up inside this literary sociology early in the Seventies, with Simone de Beauvoir tucked in pocket, the experimentalist woman writer - who does not yet realize she is becoming one - begins to question the existing conditions of publishing. By the mid-Seventies she is quite clear that the more interested she is in pushing the structural and musical limits of the poem, the less welcome her work is in the essentially male-edited mainstream magazines. Still, she needs a readership, a community of conversation. Turning to the cooler rhetoric of the male predominant avant-garde, in its various '60s-'70s incarnations, does not pose a promising alternative at this particular moment since she is yet unable to articulate a fixed esthetic position. She doesn't know exactly what she's up to, whereas the visible experimentalist literary journals seem to know exactly what is and isn't worthy of their attention.

      Women-edited publications emerging in this period of the early Seventies would appear to be more receptive, one hoped, to the assertion of uncertainty and multiplicity in female experience, its tenuous extension into language. In France, Irigaray and Kristeva were already exploring this difference theoretically. If men had historically owned the territory and dictated the esthetic terms, one hoped that female editors would be available in a less rigid way, to support the idiosyncratic originality of contemporary writing by women.

      However, while a groundswell of women's writing and publishing surfaced in the Seventies and Eighties, much of it adopted a single-voiced identity model for exploring gender issues and sexual love. ["I" encountered and tell "my" story and, in doing that, speak for and with a community that is in the process of indentifying itself and gaining strength.] The need for writing that celebrated lesbian experience, ethnic identity and working class origins within a protective women's environment also reinforced and encouraged rhetoric of shared gender identity as the only righteous path. Ranks appeared to close, rather than open, as the powerful ideology of a "common language" took hold and became the central tenet of a feminist poetics.

      That the received structure of patriarchal language - so deeply embedded at the levels of genre and syntax - might be critiqued, struggled with, mocked or reconstructed in the very activity and body of the poem's making, has seemed to pose a threat. It is as if there were no tolerance for the contemporary extension of that "new music" inherited fromt he brave and highly imagined work of the modernist women preceding us.

      Nevertheless, in a world of Marie Curie, particle physics, John Cage, Twyla Tharp, Marxist dialectical models, Helen Frakenthaler and Louise Nevelson - not to mention the confrontation of Freud and Lacan by French women psychoanalytic critics - there were, by the mid-'70s, other models for thinking about female writing. The effort to linguistically construct a feminine subjectivity had once again begun. Gertrude Stein and H.D. were making a discrete return to a few anthologies and some textbooks, after a long period of neglect bordering on erasure. The presence of their work helped to prepare new ground.

      Slowly, news of other modernist women experimentalists began to surface. Until this time, it was as if we'd slept in ignorance, our links to these enlivening sources unavailable. This erasure of information has only served to reinforce the comfortable myth of a limited poetics practiced by women, confined to the safe hearth of the personal/autobiographical lyric. Stein and Barnes, Richardson, Loy and Neidecker might earlier have provided women writers with any number of possible experiemental models, had their works been available.

      Because the modernist project we'd inherited did not include the off-beat, risk-taking texts of modernism's principle female players, we were denied access to their interiority and the fragmented, dislocating language invented to map it. Women who were attracted to these new sounds and unfamiliar structures had only the male half of their family to provide them with forms of experiment and critique.