The Sublime and the Poetics of Multiple Identity in Marina Cvetaeva's Remeslo

Laura Miller-Purrenhage, University of Michigan

Many scholars have noted the importance of the relationship between identity and images of physical and poetic bodies (particularly fragmented bodies) in Marina Cvetaeva's poetry and prose. Images of fractured or broken bodies litter her poetry, and that same poetry is often fractured in meter, rhyme, appropriated sources and/or thematics. Some critics claim that the fragmentation of body, verse and source indicate Cvetaeva's frustration with the inherently fractured nature of human identity and that she yearns for a whole, solid, fixed self. But a closer examination of her poetry and prose offers the opposite reading.

Analyzing both Cvetaeva's biography and poetry from her collection Remeslo, this paper will claim that Cvetaeva's poetics of identity derives from a type of sublime confrontation. Using the theories of Immanuel Kant, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Judith Butler and Patricia Yaeger, the paper will demonstrate that the sublime encounter caused a sense of fragmentation in Marina Cvetaeva's psyche. But, instead of rejecting this fragmentation and attempting to reunify her identity, Cvetaeva embraced fragmentation. Indeed, what Cvetaeva's confrontation with the sublime taught her was that the "certainty" of wholeness or the solidity of a fixed identity is illusory. Cvetaeva's use of fragmented bodies alludes to her reaction to those sublime encounters; it alludes to her belief that identity is fractured and multiple—that a whole, stable identity is impossible to attain. Importantly, as the end result of the sublime reaction, the eternally fragmented, composite and changeable nature of identity, as represented in the text of the body, is positive. The pleasure in this sublime relationship results from the joy of change, the potential for continuous growth, and the knowledge that the self is never trapped. Cvetaeva's texts depict the unified and unchanging self as morally, spiritually and often physically dead. Only the joyful acceptance of embodiedness, fragmentation, multiplicity and chaos can bring about the necessary pleasure and empowerment in the sublime encounter. Ultimately, this paper seeks to offer a new understanding of Cvetaeva's often erratic depictions of the body and self and the reasons for these depictions.