Diving Into the Digital Wreck

Image by: Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
Image by: Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun

My students and I are reading and discussing Adrienne Rich’s 1973 book, Diving into the Wreck. This book meant a lot to me when I first read it–my professor even brought audio of Rich reading…on vinyl(!)–and I’m a little disappointed in myself for being away from Rich’s work for so long. Her poetry hits me hard, especially when she takes on war and its relationship to a destructive, poisonous masculinity.

The collection, best known for the title poem, includes a fabulous poem called “Merced” that ends with the following lines:

 

in a world masculinity made
unfit for women or men
Taking off in a plane
I look down at the city
which meant life to me, not death
and think that somewhere there
a cold center, composed
of pieces of human beings
metabolized, restructured
by a process they do not feel
is spreading in our midst
and taking over our minds
a thing that feels neither guilt
nor rage: that is unable
to hate, therefore to love.

 

We talked quite a bit today about social structures and Rich’s attempts to interrogate and expose their often destructive machinations. I couldn’t help thinking about how Rich would fit the digital into her critical field of vision, specifically digital identity. After all the promise of the great democratic, status-leveling internet, has the classist, patriarchal structure simply, and predictably, replicated itself? As I post these thoughts on a “Domain of One’s Own” spirited platform (Jim Groom’s wonderful hat-tip to Virginia Woolf), is there something that I’m doing here that’s reinforcing a destructive gender norm? I don’t think so, but I also feel too enmeshed to recognize much.

More importantly, how should I start talking to students about this? The previous idealist in me would have said that the web’s potential anonymity could free someone from conventional structural constraints, if only from being dislodged from top-down machinery. But now?

I’m thinking about using a Domain of One’s Project next semester, and the majority of students in my class are women. I can’t throw those students into the mechanism Rich describes in the quote above, and Jim Groom’s project is 100% ideologically kosher to me. Still, what am I not seeing or anticipating?