Angelina Ward Grimke

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Angelina Ward Grimke’s "A Mona Lisa"–A Kleinian Reading, By Joe Aimone Essay, Research Paper Joseph Aimone The following reading, while it will begin in territories of inquiry that may be common ground for many readers, also adventure into dark corners of psychoanalytic thought associated with Melanie Klein and the "object relations" school of such thought, which may be very foreign, and highly counterintuitive to many readers, even those well schooled in psychoanalytic reading. I make this forewarning not to demand that readers suddenly come to understand and accept the ideas involved, but rather to excuse them their revulsion. Kleinian thought is hard to take, though the case is made by better theorists than I am that her legacy is in fact a

perfectly faithful and entirely clinically useful application of certain aspects of Freud’s own thought, with no substantial additions. That was Klein’s position on her relation to Freud, and it is often enough the position of anyone who makes use of her thought. Psychoanalytic thinkers who do not accept Klein’s view of her position vis a vis Freud often take issue in depth and at great length with the conclusions a Kleinian will draw. I do not propose to mount a defense against such disagreements in advance, though it may be fruitful to answer in a constructive dialogue after I have offered my interpretation of the poem. And I am confident that a fully elaborated Lacanian reading would greatly enlarge the scope of psychoanalytic reading of this poem, and that a general

mutual accounting of Lacanian and Kleinian views, which many clinically based Kleinian psychoanalytic theorists (Thomas Ogden, for one) find not to be in significant conflict, would offer enriched possibilities for the interpretation of literary works and psychoanalytic topics of all sorts, including this poem. (One might imagine the importance of the visual elements of the poem as crucial starting points.) And of course there is more to theoretical reading than psychoanalysis and more to the reading of literature than theoretical reading. But, as Robert Frost put it, "You’ve got to start out with inadequate knowledge." Is this a lesbian love poem? We can assume the beloved is female only because of the poem’s title, and we identify the speaker as female only by

extra-textual knowledge. If we read the poem with the assumption that the speaker is male, no immediate inconsistencies arise, though, as we shall see, the nature of the erotic relation embodied in the portrayal, the human emotion it draws upon for its power, is a terrifying thing. Is this love poem somehow especially African American? That is, does it talk about race? The answer will certainly be an affirmative, from the superficial evidence of the frequency of the word "brown" to the self-doubting and anxious racial identification of the speaker with "white bones" at the end, as Grimk?’s father had married a white Bostonian and her upbringing was certainly tinged with "white." The fact that the term "lesbian" is even still in

circulation is somewhat remarkable, given that the more or less equivalently derived term (derived, that is, from Ancient Greek textual sources) "platonic," which has been at times code for "queer," has not. Angelina Ward Grimk? is a lesbian poet, both in the less strict sense–being a poet who is a lesbian, who might thus be expected to have gender issues and identity politics associated with the female homosexual in a (very often) hostile culture–and in the sense of being like Sappho, the earliest textually recorded reported female poet of female homoerotic themes, a poet whose poetry appeals to the heterosexual male libido. And it appeals not just in the sense of a dependent imploring aid but in the common sense in which we reverse the power relation