Friday, July 18, 2003

Priscilla Becker's Internal West. Boy, this book has a lot stacked against it: the whole Paris Review debacle (here's a typical letter on the subject—scroll down) combined with the relentless "I-ness" of poems by a poet who like Eliot seems nearly smothered under her own death drive—how is it possible for a reader not to take a line like "I look forward to a cessation of life" as melodrama, if not self pity? But the book deserves better, as our own dear skepticJohn Erhardt argues in a review of the book at slope. Curiously enough, John compares Becker's work favorably to Confessionalism in general and Robert Lowell's work in particular, citing "Skunk Hour" with a fair degree of disgust. I hope he'll have something to contribute to the discussion that's been going on re: Lowell when he gets back from Wisconsin. Anyway, there is a fierceness in Becker's writing, a tension, that makes me think there's more going on here than the neurasthenics you might expect from the poet as described in Joanna Rakoff's article. I'm convinced by some of this work that Becker is not only as alienated as she claims—which is in itself of limited interest—but also that she is effectively manifesting the alienation that any of us might feel—in Kantian language she has hit upon a universally communicable experience, which seems more significant than the experience itself. I'd like to spend a little more time with this book to see if it stays within the realm of a subject alienated from all objects or if it delves into the more interesting territory of a divided subjectivity, whose parts are constantly shifting in and out of objectification. It's especially compelling when a woman writes this way; it feels that much more true and urgent because I think it speaks to the basic condition of women under patriarchy. But of course men are hardly immune from this vocation (another word I've gotten from Kant—Bestimmung, which has Stimmung, voice, as its root).

It's closing time!

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