On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978Paperback
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- Publisher: WW Norton & Co
- Format: Paperback | 320 pages
- Dimensions: 140mm x 206mm x 23mm | 340g
- Publication date: 27 September 1995
- Publication City/Country: New York
- ISBN 10: 0393312852
- ISBN 13: 9780393312850
- Edition statement: Revised ed.
- Sales rank: 116,895
At issue are the politics of language; the uses of scholarship; and the topics of racism, history, and motherhood among others called forth by Rich as "part of the effort to define a female consciousness which is political, aesthetic, and erotic, and which refuses to be included or contained in the culture of passivity."
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Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes a National Book Award for poetry for Tonight, No Poetry Will Serve, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1994, and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork. Ms. Rich's other volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2006, Rich was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award.
Wrestling with the Selected Prose of Adrienne Rich is no mean exercise, but the 20 very different pieces on language and feminism coalesce with her attentive coaching - Foreword, reflective headnotes, expanded footnotes - into a campaign for cultural "re-vision." Prefacing an appreciation of Emily Dickinson, she observes that the conventional critic searches "obsessively for heterosexual romance as the key to a woman artist's life and work"; free of such constraints, Rich finds that the metaphorical "Owner" of Dickinson's "Loaded Gun" is no man - or (knee-jerkers beware) woman - but Poetry. The business of the essay, significantly, is interpretation, not rhetoric, and like most of the collected others - originally prepared for literary or education forums (1966-78) - it retains its individual secular identity. In the collective context, of course, each also supports Rich's increasingly visceral conviction that male-dominated society, with its venereally-diseased ethics of objectification, quashes the "life-expanding impulses" of men and women both. Problematically, however, she argues for "a politics of asking women's questions," for "defining a feminist consciousness," visiting the sins of the "patriarchy" on its scions by excluding them from her crusade for radical reorientation. As her perspective changes with time, so does her focus: the feminism that informs her sympathetic identification with Anne Bradstreet or her close reading of Jane Eyre becomes, in effect, the subject of the later entries, and at her most polemical she confuses gynephobia (fear and hatred of women) with Medicaid fraud as the conditioner of unnecessary Caesareans. Language, raw or refined, is the "material resource" of "re-vision": at the "bedrock level" of her thinking - on teaching basic writing to open-admissions students - "release into language" confers "power"; in an introduction to the work of Judy Grahn, "Poetry is. . . a concentration of the power of language." Rich examines three other modern poets - Anne Sexton, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Natalia Gorovenskaya - as well as the constraints of sexism on education, lesbianism, motherhood (does it force us to "become obedient to a social order we know is morally bankrupt"?), always with her poet's care for words. "The journey of my thought. . . is not linear," she warns at the outset. And the challenging end is only a beginning. (Kirkus Reviews)
Back cover copy
One of America's foremost poets and feminist theorists collect here some of her most important early prose writings. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence is an extraordinary sort of travel diary, documenting Adrienne Rich's journeys to the frontier and into the interior. It traces the development of one individual consciousness, 'playing over such issues as motherhood, racism, history, poetry, the uses of scholarship, the politics of language.' Rich has written a headnote for each essay, briefly discussing the circumstances of its writing.