Diana Di Prima
Najla Alameldin Professor Wheat English 106 03-21-2011 A Cultural Criticism on Diane DiPrima’s “The Practice of Magical Evocation” As a young girl growing up in an Italian American family, DiPrima began to witness expectations that she did not like about her culture. At eight years old she experienced her first expectation as a female in her family but this was not an expectation she felt positively on. In an interview given by David Hadbawnik, DiPrima says that one day her mother was very sick and couldn’t get out of bed; she called for DiPrima and said to her, “You let that man wash a dish. DiPrima says, that at that moment she thought her mother was crazy and that the only thing on her mind was “What do you mean, I let him was a dish? You know, he’s the grown up. ” Females growing up in Italian American households in the 1950s and 1960s were expected to learn the duties of their mothers. These duties included those activities that were confined to the home such as the typical cooking and cleaning. In an interview with David Hadbawnik, DiPrima says that women in Italian American families sat inferior to the men of their household while the men were considered to be a “luxury. Daughters of Italian American families were also expected to never leave home before marriage; marriage to that of an Italian or Italian American man. There was to be no sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relations within marriage were to be kept secret. Raised in this Italian American household; Diane DiPrima did not rise to the standards set by her culture and flouted many of her family’s rules and beliefs. However she later helped redefine the expectations of an Italian American woman through her literature.
When viewing Diane DiPrima’s “The Practice of Magical Evocation” through a cultural lens of women in 1950’s and 60’s Italian American households, it is evident that the text counteracts this culture by discussing her own sexuality and putting women on a higher pedestal of power. In “The Practice of Magical Evocation,” Diane DiPrima expresses her sexuality freely and prominently. She is frank, even blatant, about sex that in her own girlhood were kept private to the point of secrecy (Kirschenbaum 61).
That she was a young, Italian American woman, in 1969, having sex at all and outside of marriage, and writing about it is what remains so remarkable even today (Quinn 178). In her poem, she chooses to put a quote by Gary Snyder before her own actual text. The quotes states, “The female is fertile, and discipline (contra naturam) only confuses her” (361). The choosing of this quote declines her parental and cultures’ standards and foreshadows the sexual expression in her poem.
For DiPrima, sexual liberation is freedom from the old world of Italian American ethics, and into the new world of permission to do, say and be who she wants to be, and then to write about it (Quinn 179). Aside from flouting her family’s and culture’s conventions, DiPrima’s greatest transgression may be that she dares to write about herself in the first place. As Mary Jo Bona reminds us: “the fact that the Italian American woman…has chosen writing to express the self illustrates her ability to break away from traditional emphasis on family, one that implicitly enforces silence upon its members to insure that its family secrets are kept. This code of silence, a common theme in Italian American literature, is explicitly feminized in DiPrima’s literature, DiPrima talks about herself as possessing an actual body, with body parts, and bodily functions and pleasures (Quinn 178). In a line of her poem, DiPrima says, “the female is ductile and (stroke after stroke) built for masochistic calm” (361). Here DiPrima is saying that the body of a female is built to be molded for sex and is also built so that we gain the sexual gratification that depends on physical pain.
DiPrima expresses this because instead of remaining untouched until marriage like her culture implies, she rather be with who she wants and when she wants, and apply her body to what it is built for. DiPrima goes far beyond revealing the secrets about family, to unveiling the very secrets of Italian American womankind, not in the persona of the immaculate, mysterious Virgin Mary, but to the menstruating, independent, orgasm-seeking Diane (Quinn 179). She is having sex with multiple partners, male and female, and perhaps most egregious of all, having these relationships with non-Italians.
Throughout the century, the overwhelming majority of Italian American women in the United States married at least once, as did most women; however, also well into this century, Italian American women were still mostly marrying other Italians. (Quinn 178). Another line in Diane DiPrima’s poem that reveals her sexual liberation is, “…and pelvic architecture functional assailed inside & out (bring forth) the cunt gets wide and relatively sloppy bring forth men…” In this line DiPrima is actually explaining what happens during sex and is extremely blunt when writing it. To DiPrima the activity of sex was exciting.
In the interview with David Hadbawnik, DiPrima says, “I used to think of going to bed with someone as an adventure, each thing was different, each person was different, and I think what helped to find my physicality was to explore someone else’s physicality. In this poem, Diane DiPrima also expresses her power as an Italian American woman. In the Interview with David Hadbawnik, DiPrima explains that, growing up in her parents’ household men were considered a luxury in the way that you couldn’t rely on them for basics, but they were there with brilliant ideas and often lots of excitement.
DiPrima did not agree with this. The message sent from her family and culture in turn made her not always want a man around; she gained power this way. She didn’t want a man always there to tell her what to do or act as if he was above her. Instead, she learned the pluses and minuses of having a man around and realized that she could have her pick of guys and have them when she tells them they could come over. Diane DiPrima also expressed her power as an Italian American woman by taking her independence before it was actually given to her.
It was DiPrima’s stance, to live as though the women’s sexual revolution had already been accomplished – to separate sex from marriage and marriage from childrearing, and to improvise a quasi-familial supportive network (Kirschenbaum 64). In the poem, when DiPrima says, “the female is ductile” (361) she could be saying this with a double meaning. It could mean as I said earlier, that the female body can be molded. However, it could also mean that women can undergo change and form without breaking, expressing that women are powerful and strong in the way that they can withstand anything.
Another part of the poem that subtly shows the power of DiPrima as an Italian American woman is when she says, “…bring forth men…” (361). In the interview with David Hadbawnik, DiPrima says, “Yet as the same time, there were six daughters and one son that he had – the six daughters and my grandmother constantly were working around him and his ideals to keep things going. ” Throughout DiPrima’s childhood she was taught and had witnessed that women listen to and follow the men. But in these couple of words from her poem, she expresses that it’s herself that brings a man to her.
Through her literature, DiPrima not only shows the power she has as a woman but also shows the power in her words. During a meeting with her uncle, DiPrima says, “It is power that I am talking about, the use and abuse of power, power and secrecy and deals made in the dark. Coils of the unsaid winding through our lives, tangling and tripping us, holding the fabric together (David Hadbawnik Interview). This is one of the themes of DiPrima’s literature. It expresses how she discovered and learned to use power for herself; the powers of words and her power as a woman.
In the poem she repeats the phrase, “the female is ductile. ” This is a way that DiPrima performs the power of her words. She does this in order to illustrate the power and significance that these words should display to the reader. Diane DiPrima’s discussions of her rebellion against the beliefs of her family and culture through her literature soon gave Italian American women and also women in general the stepping stone to expressing freedom of themselves; freedom to express their sexuality when and how they wanted, and the power to be whoever they sought out to be.