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This report is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

Diving into What Wreck?
Part II
Vahni Capildeo
In Adrienne Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’, the under­water explorer concludes the poem by an act of bringing to light. During the journey and encounters delineated stanza by stanza, the heroic persona eventually becomes split and plural. I/we/you/he/she resurfaces ‘carrying a knife, a camera / a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear’. This is an act of power. It confronts patriarchal tropes of adventure, discovery, possession and analytic evaluation, deploying those tropes against themselves. Conducting a quest does not result in glory and the assertion of a superb ego. Instead, it shows up any treasures or secrets which can be gained by these means as potentially violent or negative. Not only are they of doubtful value for fluid risk-takers such as the narrator, but they encode and betoken a way of telling the story of the world in which the narrator and their kind are worse than without value: inexistent, not even null.

The first part of this essay, in the previous issue of PN Review, was partly concerned with unconsciously site­specific reading, and how a reader’s own, less-examined context and assumptions may bend and overlight a text. It considered intersections of gender and culture. In doing so, it invited readers who may have naturalised certain perspectives as normal, homely, universal or invisible to re-read, and to examine the specificity of their own positions, without fighting shy of the possible critical import of personal or anecdotal experience. Focusing on Adrienne Rich’s work uncovered how her poetic insistence on the word ‘wreck’ might engineer ...


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