Adrienne Rich, American poet, essayist and feminist, died on Tuesday, March 27. I read her essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” about a month ago for an English class, and I was unable to put the book down the entire time. Her words evoked an emotional and deep understanding in me that other works rarely match. In honour of Adrienne Rich, here is an excerpt from “Re-Vision”:
“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful. The awakening of dead or sleeping consciousness has already affected the lives of millions of women, even those who don’t know it yet. It is also affecting the lives of men, even those who deny its claims upon them. The argument will go on whether an oppressive economic class system is responsible for the op-pressive nature of male/female relations, or whether, in fact, patriarchy — the domination of males–is the original model of oppression on which all others are based. But in the last few years the women’s movement has drawn inescapable and illuminating connections between our sexual lives and our political institutions. The sleepwalkers are coming awake, and for the first time this awakening has a collective reality; it is no longer such a lonely thing to open one’s eyes.
Re-vision–the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of enter-ing an old text from a new critical direction–is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male -dominated society. A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse, would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped well as liberated us, how the very act of naming has been till now a male prerogative, and how we can begin to see and name–and therefore live–afresh. A change in the concept of sexual iden-tity is essential if we are not going to see the old political order reassert it-self in every new revolution. We need to know the writing of the past, and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us.”
From “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision”, by Adrienne Rich