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Examining The Feminist Intertextual Factor

1397 words (6 pages) Essay in English Literature

28/04/17 English Literature Reference this

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Intertextuality has always been used by authors as a literary device in order to bring forth references to other works which might help to build the impact the author wants his text to have on the reader. By means of intertextuality the authorial voice integrates ‘previously existing codes into the new text’ which ‘explore the relationship between poet and any textual manifestations of another text’ (Díaz-Diocaretz, 67) . In her book on poetic discourse, Diaz-Diocaretz names the text which is not the poet’s own an ‘alien text’ (67). Adrienne Rich’s Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law is an example of such a text as it contains many references to ‘strong women who have have been censured for independent thought or action’ (Martin, 181). Adrienne Rich adopts this approach in order to emphasize her protest against a male dominating society which stifles women’s capacity to be independent in thought and action. Through her references to women such as the British Queen Boadicea, who according to Tacitus is said to have led an attack on the Romans, or Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘who assailed the barriers to equal education and social rights for women’ (Martin, 181), Adrienne Rich shows that the speaker in her poem, a dependent daughter-in-law, has repressed the desire to speak out in a society that ignores a woman’s capacity to reason and sanctions female initiative. By means of these intertextual references, Adrienne Rich points out that throughout history women have been looked down on because they dared to exceed the limits that a male dominated society imposed on them. As a result, many women nowadays do not

dare to revolt against the stereotypical roles that have been assigned to them and are thus trapped in the isolation of marriage based on the tradition of total dependency on men.

To begin with, ‘Snapshots of a daughter-in-Law’ brings forth a new strategy in its use of intertextuality. Besides introducing alien texts, the poet also reverses meanings and shows that although the world is considered to be universal, specific roles and positions are assigned to women which are difficult to overcome. The way in which alien texts are integrated into ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’ reveals the strategy of making use of texts in order to show either an approving or a disapproving attitude of the poet towards other voices. Thus, the new integrated element of the foreign text ‘resounds as a double voiced word: her own and that of the alien text’ (Díaz-Diocaretz, 73). For instance, Rich introduces phrases from either literary or philosophical texts which receive a change in the gender which is evident in the original text. One such instance is the verse from Charles Baudelaire “mon semblable, mon frère!” which is subverted to “ma semblable, ma soeur!”(SDL, 35). This strategy has a strong ironic purpose and by means of it the poet ‘not only creates a diachronic relation between a voice in the past and her own, but also proposes a reversal of values in order to create an internal polemic with the alien text’ (Díaz-Diocaretz,74 ). The play with texts from the past reveals an accusatory tone as Rich does not give any reference at random, thus making the reader realize that the world of patriarchy is a hostile and an opposing force. Thus, the choice of the alien texts will take part in the reaffirmation of female identity.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that the choice of references that Adrienne Rich introduces in ‘Snapshots’ is not arbitrary as it has a specific function in shaping the poet’s protest against influential patriarchal texts. Thus, all the allusions and references to other texts have a double function, one being to underline the poetic argument, by mentioning Emily Dickinson and Mary Wollstonecraft, and the other to protest against the alien texts of Horace, Baudelaire, Diderot for example. For this purpose, fractures of canonical texts are placed next to contemporary contexts in order to produce an effect of irony and contrast. For instance, part 5 of ‘Snapshots’ begins with the line ‘Dulce ridens, dulce loquens’ taken from Horace, Ode XXII, “Integer Vitae”, meaning “sweetly laughing, sweetly speaking”,

and continues with “she shaves her legs until they gleam/ like petrified mammoth-tusk.”. This combination between Horace’s voice and that of the poet is meant to emphasize how women ‘exist circumscribed by patriarchal suppositions’ (Díaz-Diocaretz,75). The image of a woman trying to look the way she is expected to, although contemporary, it seems anti-poetic due to Horace’s voice. Another effect of this combination of a voice from the past with that of the poet is the ironic criticism that women need to be “sweet” in order to please men. A similar effect is produced by the next part of the poem:

When to her lute Corinna sings

neither words nor music are her own;

only the long hair dipping

over her cheek, only the song

of silk against her knees

and these

adjusted in reflections of an eye.

The first line belongs to Thomas Campion and it is used by Adrienne Rich in order to contrast with her belief that women have no language of their own. In one of her essays, ‘When We dead Awaken’, Adrienne Rich points out her own personal search for a voice. She confesses that at the beginning of her career she would read other women poets trying to find in them the same things she found in the poetry of men because “I wanted women poets to be the equals of men, and to be equal was still confused with sounding the same”(WWDA, 21). In Rich’s poem Corinna is able to play the lute ‘just as a woman writer has the understanding of language'(Dixon), but just as a woman writer who follows the steps of men denies her own literary voice, Corinna cannot declare her music to be her own. All that Corinna is allowed to call her own is her femininity but even this is ‘adjusted in reflections of an eye’, ‘understood to be the critical scrutiny of the male gaze’ (Dixon).

In addition, Adrienne Rich uses intertextuality as a means to ‘create a new perception of the included text and to de-familiarize the reader with the already-read’ (Díaz-Diocaretz, 77). The reader is the one who has to identify the device that may modify the content. Rich elects the linguistic codes that

she finds appropriate for supporting and illustrating the constraints that women feel in a male-dominated society. For example, there are instances when the texts that are being referred to change their function from non-aesthetic to aesthetic. One such instance is Corlot’s commentary to a piece by Chopin which is placed at the beginning of the poem in order to create a certain atmosphere. All the allusions inserted throughout the poem ask for a re-interpretation of the past literary works, having as an objective not ‘to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us’ (WWDA, 19).

Taking everything into consideration, ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’ situates Adrienne Rich’s emotions against themes of language, boundaries and resistance by means of intertextual episodes which have a double effect: that of suggesting a new view on texts which seem to have been directed to a male audience instead of a universal one, and that of calling forth strong and independent women whose voices have been stifled for having dared to ‘smash the mold straight off”. The poet uses various strategies in order to create these effects, one of these strategies being the initiative to identify herself with the historical experience of women who tried to exceed the roles imposed on them by society. By resorting to changing genders in phrases taken from major writers she intends to emphasize the antagonistic male dominance and initiates a polemic dialogue with the original text. For Adrienne Rich the use of intertextuality acquires a new function within the poem: the original text is meant to contrast with the poem in order to allow the reader to interpret it in a totally new context. The poet’s intention is mainly to revise literary tradition and norms in order to point out how women have been deprived of their chance to affirm themselves.

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