White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness

White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness

White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness

White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness

Synopsis

Just as the cultural background of readers shapes how they respond to texts, the context in which writers live shapes what they write. This book explores the relationship between three prominent twentieth-century American white women poets and the manifestations of whiteness in their works. The book argues that white women who write do so from within ideological, social, economic, political, and psychological frameworks of whiteness. Each chapter places one poet in relation to historical and cultural racial events prevalent during the time of her writings and explores the particular poems created and published during that period.

Excerpt

"White people do not see themselves as White" (Katz and Ivey in Helms 50). This finding initiates and undergirds the premise of White Women Writing White: White women who write do so as white women, from within ideological, social, economical, political, and psychological frameworks of whiteness; yet simultaneously they reveal limited, if any, conceptual relationship to the conditions of whiteness or to the effects that whiteness has on the written product. To name H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath as white and to pursue interpretation of their writings as white writings is to become engaged with positionality and authorship. Asserting a positionality has become a "significant aspect of our critical behavior," according to Michael Awkward. He also contends, rightly, that

sincere responses to the injunction, "Critic, position thyself," are seen by many as among the most effectively moral and significant gestures of our current age, protecting us from, among other sins, fictions of critical objectivity that marred previous interpretive regimes. (4)

Although I do not address the writers under discussion in White Women Writing White as critics, I do address their positionality in order to respond to a current cultural imperative as well as to an old, unheeded invitation by Bishop. She asked that we "see" more clearly into the perhaps "barbaric," "indecent," and "cruel" past of her authorship. In a conversation with poetry critic Anne Stevenson that took place years ago, Bishop said . . .

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