Angry Androgynes

A discussion about the political uses of anger (and the dangers of internalized unexpressed anger) led me to reread “The Phenomenology of Anger” by Adrienne Rich. It is found in Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972. Nestled mid-way in the volume, the poem begins not with a depiction of anger but with one of madness.

1.     The freedom of the wholly mad
to smear & play with her madness
write with her fingers dipped in it
the length of a room

And it ends, sections later

Every act of becoming conscious
(it says here in this book)
is an unnatural act

And then, to search out more clues to this unnatural act mediated by books, I turned to the other poems and recalled the figure of the merman-mermaid from the poem which gives its title to the collection, “Diving into the Wreck” and found more. There is the androgyne from “The Stranger”.

I am the androgyne
I am the living mind you fail to describe
in your dead language
the letters of my name are written under the lids
of the newborn child.

I raise the presence of these images of the androgyne because they are associated with the expression of anger. Earlier in the first stanza of “The Stranger” there is an assertion/cancellation of gender

walking as I’ve walked before
like a man, like a woman, in the city
my visionary anger cleansing my sight
and the detailed perceptions of mercy
flowering from that anger

Blossoms all wholly unnatural. And here is that passage from “Diving into the Wreck”:

This is the place
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold
I am she: I am he

“Diving into the Wreck” ends with a brief catalogue of items carried by this composite being; the last to be enumerated is a book, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear”. Naming is of course a path to power (a theme that was to preoccupy feminist thought and practice, see for example Mary Daly’s deconstructions and reconstructions in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Beacon Press, 1978). For Rich, the work with language is a quotidian task, something that arises out of daily interventions and constant attention to the mundane and its links to greater systems. Emotion becomes a route to analysis and creation or rather a re-creation. I close with this concluding passage from the first section of “Incipience” — what appears to be a synecdoche for full scale conflagration is also a figure for trust in the cumulative impact of small gestures.

to feel the fiery future
of every matchstick in the kitchen

Nothing can be done
but by inches. I write out my life
hour by hour, word by word
gazing into the anger of old women on the bus
numbering the striations
of air inside the ice cube
imagining the existence
of something uncreated
this poem
our lives

Androgynes may not be popular mythical figures these days but they’ve not lost their historical lustre, they shine with righteousness, lighting a path to the yet to become.

And so for day 1052

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