Academic journal article Essays in Literature

Logonomic Conflict in Anne Bradstreet's "A Letter to Her Husband."

Academic journal article Essays in Literature

Logonomic Conflict in Anne Bradstreet's "A Letter to Her Husband."

Article excerpt

We know today that Puritan women authors often revealed other stories within the main story of emergent orthodoxy. One story they told concerns the discomfort some of them experienced in contemplating their feelings and identity. This discomfort often unstabilized their efforts as writers. My essay tries to piece together a version of this "other story" by assembling clues from a well-known poem by Anne Bradstreet, a poem deformed by fissures resulting from an attempt to negotiate and authorize the poet's sentiment.


To uncover this story, I will focus on logonomic conflict. Logonomic systems regulate "ideological complexes," a "set of contradictory versions of the world, coercively imposed by one social group on another on behalf of its own distinctive interests or subversively offered by another social group in attempts at resistance in its own interests." Ideological complexes include friction between various authorizations that represent "the social order as simultaneously serving the interests of both dominant and subordinate" groups. Regulating this subterranean strife, "logonomic systems" provide a visible "set of rules prescribing the conditions for [the] production and reception of meanings." Logonomic systems express attempts by dominant groups to control, and to legitimate their control over, subordinated groups; but the ways whereby these systems contain opposition or exceptions to general rules inadvertently acknowledge the contradictions and conflicts at the core of all ideological complexes (Hodge 3-12).

Logonomic conflict, my argument suggests, can be glimpsed in the unintentional, barely perceptible fissures that occur in uneasy attempts, like Bradstreet's, to negotiate between orthodox and personal authority. Authority is the matrix of this logonomic conflict. As Foucault and new-historicist studies have indicated, humanity engages authority by way of an unresolved dialogism between resistance to and replication of the status quo (Foucault 151). The perception of authority is always "a process of interpretive power," so that "the sentiments of authority lie in the eye of the beholder," who experiences both "fear and regret" in trying to penetrate the "secret the authority [figure] possesses" (Sennett 20, 154). So colonial American men were not exempt from this struggle despite the fact that they were more favorably aligned than were women with the power structure of their time - i. e., with the logonomic systems of set "rules prescribing the conditions for [the] production and reception of meanings."

Similarities notwithstanding, it is reasonable to assume, on the basis of what we know of Puritan American culture, that female encounters with authority were on the whole qualitatively dissimilar to male encounters with authority. Excluded from male modes of identity formation, women had to manage an alternative form of negotiation with the dominant social text (Miller 111). Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women struggled with the nature of authority more personally and internally than did most of their male peers. Biblically, theologically, ecclesiastically, socially, and familially, women were the second and weaker sex. To be second, it hardly needs to be observed, is to be less empowered in relation to the theocratic authority that has defined one as secondary.

According to the hegemonic and selective Puritan reading of Genesis, the mother of mankind was not only created from Adam's rib on second thought (as it were), but through a weakness of mind she ruined paradise and engendered mortality. Reinforced by patristic, monarchic and social authority, the Puritan ministry enhanced this reading of Genesis by relying on the Pauline epistles as the chief guide to the second sex. Although without clarification Paul seems to insist upon gender-based hierarchies in Corinthians and appears to eradicate such differences in Galatians (Boyarin), Puritans like Mather were inclined to relegate the former to the quotidian and the latter to the afterlife. …

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