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“O Canada!”: The Spectral Lesbian Poetics of Elizabeth Bishop

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


A general reluctance to engage the issue of lesbian identity in Elizabeth Bishop's work has understandably been conditioned by her own longstanding reticence. An approach that theorizes about the nonreferential, hence inarticulable, contours of Bishop's project, however, discloses a more eroticized aesthetic practice—one conceivably enabling the vital exploration of transgressive sexuality that perhaps goes without saying. What arguably forges the link between theory and practice is Bishop's experience of loss. The unspeakableness of mother loss due to insanity, mediated poignantly by the curtailment of Bishop's Canadian childhood, formerly provided the invitation to enclose Bishop's writing explicitly within a lifelong travail of itinerant displacement. Recent psychoanalytic theory, by contrast, foregrounds a more challenging loss that divides her writing between reality and the real and thus implicitly opens it up to a spectral lesbian poetics beyond what her canonical “American” identity readily permits readers to see and to say.

Research Article
PMLA , Volume 113 , Issue 2 , March 1998 , pp. 243 - 257
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 1998

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