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The Demanding Woman Poet: On Resisting Marina Tsvetaeva

Catherine Ciepiela
PMLA
Vol. 111, No. 3 (May, 1996), pp. 421-434
DOI: 10.2307/463166
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463166
Page Count: 14
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The Demanding Woman Poet: On Resisting Marina Tsvetaeva
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Abstract

Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry, like Sylvia Plath's, dramatizes issues of primary psychological and sexual experience, issues that many critics have taken to be purely biographical. The openly apostrophic character of Tsvetaeva's writing has generated critical judgments about her character. Tsvetaeva's address, in both her lyrics and her letters, is embarrassing-not, as Jonathan Culler maintains, because apostrophe never fulfills its claims but, as Barbara Johnson argues, because it is a naked expression of need. Johnson's Lacanian conception of apostrophe as the child's demand illuminates Tsvetaeva's writing and helps to explain why Tsvetaeva has been charged with being a bad mother. However, Tsvetaeva's practice suggests that far from being contradictory impulses, demanding and giving can hardly be distinguished-a confusion that is reflected in the ambivalent responses her work has inspired.

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