Monday, June 11, 2012

The Monthly Review remembers Adrienne Rich

When Adrienne Rich passed away recently (March 27, 2012) I did not mention it on this blog.  Somewhere in my library I have a signed copy of a collection of her poetry, but I've never studied/read her work enough to be able to speak about her, even though I've known for a long time that the work (poems and essays) of Adrienne Rich commands a lot of respect from feminists and Marxists.

So, I was pretty happy when I saw that the new (June) issue of the Monthly Review had a whole section devoted to remembering this great poet.

Besides some selected poems, (that had appeared in the magazine in recent years), there was also an essay titled, "Credo of a Passionate Skeptic," (which first appeared in MR in June 2001).  It is a very thought-provoking essay in which she gets into a number of topics and questions.  But, what stood out the most to me seemed to be some self-criticism about how she had viewed Marx and Marxism.

She mentioned that she was, at first, dismissive of Marxism, but this was because she had been "echoing the standard anti-Marxism of the postwar American cultural and political mainstream."  She recognizes that this anti-Marxism was embedded in the early women's movement "both by garden variety anticommunism and by fear that class would erase gender..."  She talks about how she went back to study Marx and "found no blueprint for a future utopia but a skilled diagnosis of skewed and disfigured human relationships."

Although she didn't totally break with common-held American views of communism, (e.g. her summation of Stalin), she did embrace Marxism and was eager to show people where gender intersected with class.  The short obituary in MR ends like this:

So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).

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