Afrekete and Marinka: Fluid Identities in Fragmented Bodies

Laura Miller-Purrenhage, University of Michigan

As indisputably significant and influential authors for their cultures and times, Russian author Marina Cvetaeva (1892-1941) and African-Caribbean-American Audre Lorde (1934-1992) have been individually studied by many scholars. In particular, many critics have noted the central position of the body in these authors' works. Yet no critics have compared these authors' depictions of the body to one another. A cross-cultural comparative study of these depictions is a particularly interesting and useful way to examine images of bodies and their relationship to identity, as the viewpoints of varying cultures can challenge established ways we interpret the body and identity in literature. More importantly, cross-cultural studies can highlight unexpected similarities among people who normally do not connect with one another, while acknowledging their differences.

Utilizing insights of such post-structuralist feminist theorists as Judith Butler and Audre Lorde's own feminist theory of difference, this paper explores the relationship between identity and bodies in Marina Cvetaeva's collection of lyric poetry, Remeslo, and Audre Lorde's collection The Black Unicorn. Both of these collections are remarkable for their use of the folklore and mythology of their respective authors' cultures, aspects that perform a central function to both authors' poetics of identity. Both authors constantly reference, explicitly or implicitly, a folkloric or mythological trickster, an identity-shifting figure in their collections whose identity becomes tied up with that of the lyrical characters and even, occasionally, with the author herself. Through these characters, Cvetaeva and Lorde suggest that identity is not stable, but constantly fluctuating. Paradoxically, contrary to post-structuralist theorists, both authors operate from a solidly fixed position, so that their theories of identity are strategically concentrated on a constant play between fluidity and solidity. No matter how they deconstruct other ostensibly solid parts of a person's identity (i.e., gender or sex, the body as a whole, nationality, or race), each author continually maintains one distinct part of her identity.

Cvetaeva is always a poet, and Lorde always black. From these stable positions, the authors suggest that the rest of their id entity is fluid and multivalent. However, each author views the idea of fluidity differently. Lorde hopes "to come out blackened and whole" and suggests multiple identities for herself among which she moves fluently. Moreover, her poetics of identity is intricately connected with her politics, particularly with her experiences with race, gender and homosexual/heterosexual relations. Cvetaeva, on the other hand, is not so strongly influenced by politics and the concept of wholeness is not as important to her. In her poetry, she breaks down all stable points of identity to suggest that her identity (except as the Poet) does not exist. She is composed of parts that may form a whole poet, but not a whole person, for the parts themselves are not even stable (she is both male and female, mother, daughter and neither, even black and white). Furthermore, each author's poetics of identity is mirrored in her stylistics. At times, they cross genre boundaries or write in fragments, just as the self crosses boundaries or is fragmented. In providing this cross-cultural comparative analysis of two such influential poets, this paper seeks to fill a gap in the body of criticism that has been written up to this point.