Intertextuality in Diane di Prima’s Loba: Religious Discourse and Feminism
1. Loba in the World of Textual Reference
2. Patriarchal Discourses: Eve and Mary
I stood upon a high mountain and saw a tall man, and another of short stature, and heard something like the sound of thunder and went nearer in order to hear. Then he spoke to me and said: I am thou and thou art I, and wherever thou art, I there I am, and I am sown in all things; and whence thou willt, thou gatherest me, but when thou gatherest me, thou gatherest thyself.(Panarion 26.3.1.)
It is for this you love me.It is for thisYou seek me everywhere.Because I gave you apples out of seasonBecause I gnaw at the boundaries of the light.(p. 74)
has been called and has represented a mother of demons, slayer of newborns, corruption, indulgence, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and the seductress of men. Lilith has made a return in feminist history many a time as an iconic symbol that represents the oppressed, both as a goddess and as an example of female strength, power, and mystery.
the tall man, towering,it seemed to mein anger, I was fifteen only& his urgency(murderous rage) an assault Ibent under. I saw the lilies bendalso.(p. 101)
He did not move, his voicehad turned to thunder, there wasno word to remember. but WombHe spoke of my womb.The fruit of my womb.Sunlight & thunder. I had notheard thunder beforein such blinding light.(p. 102)
Not small woolly grassnot furzewill cover us.(yr belly leaps & mine is still as stone)Not the wild prairie grassthat hideswhite antelope.(p. 104)
We are still and always between different incarnations, and are devoted to the task of assisting man in his incarnation: a terrestrial and marine place for man’s conception and gestation, with the mother feeding him, guiding his steps, fostering his growth, aiding him to develop in relation to his established gender, his Man-God.(Women, Knowledge, and Reality, Irigaray 1996, p. 478)
shescreamed, for him, for herself, shetried to open, to widen tunnel, the rockinside her tried to crack, to chip awaybright spirit hammered at it w/hissoft foamy head.(p. 30)
They fettered mew/leather straps, on delivery table. I cd notcry out. Forced gas mask over mouth,slave. I cd notturn head. Did they fetter mew/breath of a fish? These poison airs? I cd notturn head, move hand, or legthus forced. They tore child from me. Whose?(p. 107)
This of childbirth, of being opened from inside out, I thought, was how you truly lost your virginity. Torn open so the world could come through. Come through you. Not that semipleasant invasion from a man, excursus from the outside in. Now I felt the joy, the power, of being OPEN. Something unconquerable and deep about it. Place from which I live. Twice-torn.(p. 190)
I found myself strapped onto the delivery table, my hands and arms strapped down, and my body in the most unlikely position possible for producing a child: my pelvis and legs way higher than my stomach, my legs tied onto the stirrups of this contraption.(p. 170)
As Jeanne crowned and just as I was about to push her out, an invisible demonic being standing somewhere behind my head forced a gas mask over my mouth. I twisted my head as far as I could to get it off, I held my breath (all the while still trying to produce this infant). But to no avail. I finally did have to breathe, and the mask being over my face, I did pass out. At that crucial moment I was not allowed to be Witness.(p. 170)
Pursuedby cries of 200 infantseach of whommight have been the Christ.I do not knowWhich one I have carried awayon this aging burro.(p. 109)
Our Lady of the Chair;we have seen her, an empress,magnificent in pomp and grace, […]we have seen her head bowed downwith the weight of a doomed crown,or we have seen her, a wisp of a girltrapped in a golden halo.
O, I shall burstBurst thruTake nowmilke of the stars& rub it in my fleshLike sabbath ointmentI will flyBroomless, unarmed, unreadyI will fly.(p. 119)
3. Religious and Mythical Discourse: The Essentialist Debate
[i]n the twentieth century, faith in patriarchy and its myths has been seriously undermined. While those in power are inevitably threatened by any breakdown in cultural values, the oppressed members of society—women and minorities in the United States in particular—might find such a breakdown to their advantage as they see the stereotypes which have predefined their characters and their society disintegrating.(Worlds within Women Shinn 1986, p. 9)
Lady fling your bright drop to us, emblemsof your love, throwyour green scarf on the battered earth once moreO smile, disrobe for us, unveilyour eyes.(p. 49)
The (male) ideal other has been imposed upon women by men. Man is supposedly woman’s more perfect other, her model, her essence. The most human and most divine goal woman can conceive is to become man. If she is to become woman, she is to accomplish her female subjectivity, woman needs a god who is a figure for the perfection of her subjectivity.(Sexes and Genealogies Irigaray 1993, p. 64)
Shall we remember the half-mad whoreswho walked on themEyes black as Egypt: al-Khemthe womenof that Night?Shall werecall the quarter moons of that eratheir desperationthe hopelessness of the wind.(p. 263)
can you laugh, fathercan you denymouthfuls of blackened bloodI spit outeach morningto sing?(p. 148)
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Unfortunately, a notorious and fairly recent example includes the case of former Connecticut teacher David Olio, an English literature teacher who was fired in 2015 for reading Ginsberg’s “Please Master” in class.
This trend is still relevant and recent works with clear transnational approaches include Jimmy Fazzino’s World Beats: Beat Generation Writing and the Worlding of U.S. Literature (Fazzino 2016), Erik Mortenson’s Translating the Counterculture: The Reception of the Beats in Turkey (Mortenson 2018), or A. Robert Lee’s The Routledge Handbook of International Beat Literature (Lee 2018).
Predating the transnational turn in American Studies, Kirschenbaum writes that in di Prima’s Various Fables, “[t]he thrust is for a longer history than that of the United States, for transcending national boundaries, and for turning in to lasting stories that preserve experience of the whole human race” (Kirschenbaum 1987, p. 57).
An early exception is Ann Charters’s “Diane di Prima and the Loba Poems: Poetic Archetype as Spirit Double” (Charters 1985), where she reads parts I-VIII of Loba as proof of the poet’s maturation, connecting di Prima’s use of mythology to the influence of Robert Duncan. In this article, Charters also reads Loba as a female parallel or feminist twist of the American Indian coyote. Proof of the current and increasing interest in Diane di Prima is David Calonne’s Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions (Calonne 2019), the first volume focusing on Diane di Prima to be published next year by Bloomsbury. Similarly, and although not entirely devoted to di Prima, Max Orsini’s The Buddhist Beat Poetics of Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel (Orsini 2018) also shows the relevance of di Prima’s work. In the latter, Orsini leaves Loba outside the scope of his study, but complains about the lack of attention paid to “di Prima’s employment of hybrid spiritualties and hybrid mythologies in Loba” (p. 113), naming Tony Trigilio as an exception.
Quinn focuses on Memoirs of a Beatnik, Loba and Recollections of My Life as a Woman in her article “‘The Willingness to Speak’ Diane di Prima and Italian American Feminist Body Politics” (Quinn 2003), where she complains about the lack of critical attention paid to di Prima up to that point and reads her work “as representative of a distinctly Italian American feminist theoretical consciousness” (p. 176).
For analyses of Kyger’s Tapestry and the Web in connection with the rewriting of myth, see Michael Davidson’s “Appropriations: Women and the San Francisco Renaissance” (Davidson 1989)—chapter 6 of The San Francisco Renaissance—and, most notably, Linda Russo’s “To Deal with Parts and Particulars: Joanne Kyger’s Early Epic Poetry” (Russo 2002), where she stresses Kyger’s mixture of “layers of both personal and mythic history” (Girls Who Wore Black, Johnson and Grace 2002, p. 182) and Robert Duncan’s influence in the poet’s artistic approach to myth. Although not specifically focusing on The Tapestry and the Web Amy Friedman’s “Joanne Kyger, Beat Generation Poet: ‘a Porcupine Traveling at the Speed of Light’” (Friedman 2004), highlights Kyger’s revision of the epic and transformation of Penelope into a figure that allows her to explore “burgeoning female creativity” (Transnational Beat Generation, Grace and Skerl 2012, p. 80). Recent publications include Elizabeth A. Manwell’s “Penelope’s Web: The Early Poetry of Joanne Kyger” (Manwell 2016).
For simplicity’s sake, in this article I refer to di Prima’s denunciation of sexism in the Bible as an example of “Christian discourse”. Though this term might be problematic or too vague, di Prima denounces women’s subjugation in specific “Christian” terms in other works such as Revolutionary Letters (see “Letter # 66”). As far as Loba is concerned, the “Christian” discourse or the “orthodox Christian” discourse acts as a counterpart to the gnostic and mystic discourse established by other representations of female characters that are also analyzed in this article.
One of the earliest feminist appropriations of Lilith is Judith Plaskow’s “The Coming of Lilith” (Plaskow 1974), an essay that coincides in time with di Prima’s writing of Loba. For a summary of feminist revisions of Lilith see Which Lilith? Feminist Writers Re-create the World’s First Woman (Dame et al. 2004).
See “Lilith of the Stars”, the poem that concludes Book I.
Daly reads the annunciation as an example of the patriarchal myth of the rape/defeat of the Goddess—a recurrent theme in analyses exploring Greek myth through Zeus’s frequent raping rampages. For Daly, this theme, “[i]n christianity […] is refined—distinguished almost beyond recognition. The rape of the rarefied remains of the Goddess in the christian myth is mind/spirit rape” (p. 85).
In Norse mythology, Fenrir is the son of Loki, and was foretold to kill Odin, for which the Gods tried to chain him two times unsuccessfully until they used mythical elements to build the chain—readily: the footfall of a cat, the roots of a rock, the beard of a woman, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird, and bear’s sinews.
In Recollections of my Life as a Woman, a similar scenario is described as di Prima relates how she was “wheeled into an elevator and shoveled onto a cot in a ‘labor room’—where [she] was surrounded by six or eight screaming, moaning, or semi-unconscious women” (pp. 168–69).
The similarities between di Prima’s description of her own childbirth in Recollections and the Virgin Mary’s in Loba are many: they both want a natural birth but are anesthetized against their will—the words “forced gas mask” appear in both texts—in addition, they are both strapped so that they can hardly move, and even fed soup afterwards—“They fed thin soup & sour/reluctant milk” (Loba p. 107), “It took a fair bit of growling and general heavy-handedness to get something to eat, but they finally came up with some soup”. (Recollections p. 170) The main difference will be that although di Prima’s pregnancy is described as sought for—a conscious decision of her part—Mary’s conception is not.
On Kyger’s style, Johnson and Grace state that her “poetry manifests an interest in the burdens imposed and the perspectives permitted by gender and the feminine, as in her revision of Penelope’s story in ‘The Odyssey Poems’ (Tapestry pp. 53–61). However, her gendered emphasis is more understated than the pronouncements of di Prima, or the insistences of Johnson, or the decrees of Martinelli. She takes an oblique way through women’s experiences and perspectives and tells it slant in the Dickensonian tradition”. (Breaking the Rule of Cool Grace and Johnson 2004, p. 134).
Although Gimbutas’s book has proven to be very influential for feminists thinkers and artists, it has also been greatly criticized, especially in the archeological and anthropological fields. One of these critiques is Phillip G. Davis’s The Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality (Davis 1998).
Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote that, “[i]n the twentieth century, Woman has liberated herself from the pedestal upon which she has been ‘set up’, mostly by men. Loba enthrones her again, only this time it is done by herself”. (Loba back cover) Referring to the collective category of “woman”—which he writes in capital letters—Ferlinghetti’s words point to a reductionist approach in which di Prima, as the poet speaking for women and about women, gives form to an alleged shared female essence. Advertisement copy editors at Penguin must have felt the same way, as they blurbed the book as “a visionary epic quest for the reintegration of the feminine” (my emphasis, back cover), which also points to an essential, uniquely feminine of way or being a woman. Even di Prima herself has pointed out in interviews towards this reductionist view: “So now when people say ‘What is Loba about?’ I’m able to say it’s about the feralness of the core of women, of the feminine in everything. In everyone”. (Peter Warshall, “Tapestry of Possibility” Di Prima 1999, p. 22).
In a more recent article, Grace and Trigilio oppose this view, stating that “di Prima’s simultaneous emphasis on the primacy of mythic vision and on tactile cause-and-effect relationships in the world suggests a historical urgency that incorporates, rather than opposes, transcendental idealism” (p. 232).
© 2018 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Encarnación-Pinedo, E. Intertextuality in Diane di Prima’s Loba: Religious Discourse and Feminism. Humanities 2018, 7, 132. https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040132
Encarnación-Pinedo E. Intertextuality in Diane di Prima’s Loba: Religious Discourse and Feminism. Humanities. 2018; 7(4):132. https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040132Chicago/Turabian Style
Encarnación-Pinedo, Estíbaliz. 2018. "Intertextuality in Diane di Prima’s Loba: Religious Discourse and Feminism" Humanities 7, no. 4: 132. https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040132