By Sharmila Sen
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Extra resources for Eating India: Literary and Cultural Consumptions of the Subcontinent
The modernist aesthetic separated literary language from ordinary language and, in particular, from the personal. 1 Millay's poetry, however, does not acknowledge this separation of life from art. 2 Conversely, I wonder, doesn't Millay's poetry take the figurative, parodicconventionalcharacter of literary language and extend that rhetoricity to life, denaturalizing the personal? Her poems make visible through a theater of the personal how identity functions in culturally determined ways. If the social construction of male and female and the narrative of their sexual fates is produced by discourse, including literary discourse, this productivity is nevertheless hidden by the closure of identity.
In "Uncanny Millay," Suzanne Clark reminds us that the "work of Millay impacts literary studies more unconsciously than most" not only because Millay continues to be popular in the public domain, but because the music of her poetry is uncannily at hand in the body of memories of academics across the United States. Clark asks, What is the cultural work that Millay does? Besides inspiring feminist students today with her progressive politics and feminist defiance, Millay, by refusing to separate life from art and by using masquerade (addressed also in essays by Walker, Gilmore, Woodard, and Gilbert), problematizes modernist notions, the tradition of its criticism, and the very institution of literature as a separate aesthetic.
With the help of Millay, however, we can explore the role of literature in making identities and the difficult question of how the forgotten might use literary power. Because hers is not a narrowly aesthetic conception of literature, Millay dramatizes in both form and theme the way culture shapes individuals, what Teresa de Lauretis has characterized as the technology of subjects, beginning with herself. Does Millay know that she is problematizing the very idea of an identity by asserting the oxymoron of the woman poet?