In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

STEVEN GOULD AXELROD Heterotropic Desire in Elizabeth Bishop's "Pink Dog" Alluding t? the U. S. Cold War policy of "containing Communism ," first articulated in George Kennan's "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in 1947, Alan Nadel has aptly labeled American life during the 1950s "containment culture" (x), and the historian Elaine Tyler May has referred to women's lot in Cold War America as "domestic containment" (xxv-xxvi). More recently, Deborah Nelson has noted how both poetry and law, responding to Cold War surveillance, actively pursued privacy during this era. In poetry, the valorization of personal enclosure asserted itself in such "domestic" texts (as I call them) as Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959) and Sylvia Plath's Ariel (1966).1 In law, the phenomenon took the form of a "right to privacy" constructed by the Supreme Court in Griswold ? Connecticut (the birth control case of 1965) and Roe ? Wade (the abortion case of 1973). Lowell and Plath publicized private spaces in poetry, whereas Justice William O. Douglas sacralized private spaces, especially the bedroom, in legal discourse. Overall, the era seemed awash in discourse about public and private spaces, or as Hannah Arendt termed them in 1958, referring back to classical Greek democracy, the polis and the oicfvia (22-78).2 Since the polis has a heterogeneous character whereas the oichia has by definition the unitary qualities of the household, this public-private binary could easily mutate into a cosmopolitan-nativist dichotomy, which Philip Rahv in the unconsciously racialized language of his era called a split between "paleface" writers (such as T. S. Eliot) and "redskin" writers (such as Walt Whitman).3 Arizona Quarter!} Volume 60, Number 3, Autumn 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004- 1610 62 Steven Gould Axelrod Helen Vendler seemed to resurrect such polarities when she analyzed Elizabeth Bishop's poetry in terms of the "domestic" and the "strange" (32). Yet Vendler's analysis portrays the two categories as difficult to separate, since the domestic impulse "depends" on the existence ofthe strange (47). In the present essay, I wish to go even further, arguing that Bishop's texts employ various strategies for complicating or contesting such categories. Although the poet's fascination with bordered spaces preceded the onset ofthe Cold War, the political discourse of that era both reinforced and problematized her representational schemes. Some of her poems evoked public issues, some encoded private experiences, and others seemed to do both at once. In a similar vein, some of her poems reflected a fascination with the places and traditions of the United States, particularly New England, New York, and Florida, whereas others entered into a dialogue with the places and traditions of Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, and Brazil. This was a poet, as we all sense, who enjoyed safe enclosures, yet who also defied them in order to construct spaces ambiguously public and private, domestic and cosmopolitan, familiar and exotic, rooted and rootless. She oscillated between "imagined places" and "home, / wherever that may be" as she says in "Questions of Travel" (Poems 94). Bishop, then, both joined the conversation of Cold War "containment culture" and maintained a critical distance from it. As she observed of the "boxes" in "The Monument," "the bones of the artistprince may be inside / or far away" (Poems 25). An artist-prince herself, Bishop seemed to slip effortlessly into and outside of containment structures, just as she continuously opened and closed the door of what she later termed "closets, closets, and more closets" (quoted by Frank Bidart in Fountain and Brazeau, 327). She refused to designate herself explicitly a lesbian poet, yet at the height ofCold War homophobia she published a series of poems that suggested lesbian desire, beginning with "Insomnia" and ending with "The Shampoo" (Poems 70—84). And at the very end ofher last composed poem, neutrally entitled "Sonnet," she exclaimed the word "gay!" but in a manner opaque enough to be legible or illegible, as the reader wishes (Poems 192). Bishop was deeply attracted to the boundaries of poetic form and Cold War culture, and she also wished to violate them, to cross over the lines, to "introduce freedom in the very body of the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 61-81
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.