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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

The Haunting of Sylvia Plath by Jacqueline Rose

I’ve got a sea of books surrounding my bed. But for the sake of a semblance of order I will be looking at one book at a time, ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, by Jacqueline Rose, published by Virago Press, 1991.


Let’s set the scene for the book I’ve chosen. It’s been raining here in Brisbane for a very long time. Each break in the tropical heat and downpour, I hit the hills and walk. This opportunity has been afforded to me for approximately two hours every day. This might be week three of the rain. It’s the kind of rain that brings more heat and stickiness. It’s swampish and sticky, and any chance of seeing a patch of blue sky makes me relieved. So it is this climate that I turn to  a poetess of swampines, of humidity. I love Plath, her themes are problematic, sometimes too honest. She never shies away from a topic.

‘It was a place of force-

The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,

Tearing off my voice, and the sea

Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead

Unreeling in it, spreading like oil’

From the first Stanza of ‘The Rabbit Catcher’

Plath explores the forces of nature and the force of sex. She is gagged, violated, constrained.(136)

A woman like me, who feels stuck on an island of my own making will easily find an unsettling but honest friendship with this poetess.

I am still in the throws of reading Rose’s account of Plath’s writing, and despite the criticism she recieved from reviewers ( whom were mainly involved in the Plath estate–ie Hughes) the book is really enjoyable to read. Rose has researched Plath’s body of work so well–she has utilised newspaper clippings and personal accounts. In the chapter, “The Body of the Writing’, there is the description of the ‘famous circle’ of Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. Rose makes mention of Anne Sexton’s description of meeting Plath. This is the kind of poetess meeting I wish I could have been witness to. Sexton says, ‘ We talked death with burned up intensity…Sucking on it!’ (35)

Rose considers in Plath’s writing the palpable connection between ‘body and language (that)sic knows no limit–not in the sense that it captures some aesthetic proces of a physicality without bounds, but because it touches on the limit'(35) Does this mean Plath’s work expresses the point of experience that might not be written about? Does she find a way to speak of the abject? Rose goes on to analyse Plath’s ‘Poem for a Birthday’, ‘Dark House’, ‘Maenad’, ‘The Beast’, ‘Flute notes from a Reedy Pond’, ‘Witch Burning’, and ‘The Stones’.

She examines Plath’s published collections, the censorship of her work ( or editing by Hughes her husband) and the  way her work is presented after her death. ‘What starts to emerge is that the editing of Plath’s work engages not only issues of sexual politics and power, but also concepts of writing and poetic language–not only what physically can, but also what aesthetically should, and how it should, be read.'(74)  There are many people who have a vested interest in directing, shaping, editing and attempting to control the interpretation of Plath’s work, not just Ted Hughes, but also her mother Aurelia and her sister-in-law Olwyn. This is a courageous book because it attempts to challenge the control of the Plath estate and to ask the question, who has control over Plath’s work.  Her work, cannot be held static, the meaning of her words cannot be controlled by a selective few. This is part of the tragedy of Plath. So much of her poetry has been controlled by those intimates around her. So much of her work has been edited after her death. Rose is determined to re-open the poems, to analyse and attribute to them new meanings or reveal hidden possible meanings.  There is never one version of reality, one truth, and to close Plath’s work off by censorship, by intimate assumption is to kill her twice over.


Sexual Identity equals sexual conformity Part 1

An Overview.

I recently discussed with a friend some of the issues she was facing in a community predominantly including many lesbian identified women identified people. She has to follow rules to be included in the Lesbian community. These rules aren’t in a handbook (perhaps they are?) but she wouldn’t follow them even if they were in a book. Identities have fought very hard to be visible, and we’re talking about a myriad of identities. Identities sometimes just become only more labels to choose from. And sometimes those labels are really depressing because they ask one to conform, to fit in…even if they were once on the outside. Thus the beauty of a ‘democracy is born’. Zizek, that sweating Elvis of theory, spoke about the ability of democracy to re-absorb those signs, those outside dissidents, back into it’s ever expanding smotherly arms. He spoke about this in the documentary ‘Zizek!’, which is amusing to watch. Where is the room to move in these constraints? Where is the room for my friend to make her own mythologies, to push the boundaries of ‘lesbianism’, when they blank her on the street. They are like men in suits. At this point it is advisable to read that retro classic, The Female Man, by Joanna Russ.

We’ve got identity of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. Yes you may identify as a straight ‘white male, but identity is not an isolated bubble. Your sexual orientation might include sleeping with people identified as men, and when you are walking down the street perhaps someone recognises the ‘ethnicity’ of your skin. What a funny concept. Ethnic.

I tried to explain to a male friend who has a thing for ‘black ladies’ that black is a racial construct. It is phenotype that he’s interested in, not genotype. His desire is an illusionary manifestation of social  constructions. Oh you like black skin? How black? Give me a gradation. Black like the Irish? Or dark chocolate pigmentation of the skin? We are still dealing in phenotypical traits. Genotypes refer to your hereditary make-up, your phenotype refers to your physical characteristics that are manifested. Brazil is a model of a society where people can move between racial classifications, unlike Australia and especially America and Britain. Race is conferred upon us. According to Kottak in  Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity, Brazil has over 500 racial labels with recognition of the variety of physical variation that exists. The US recognises approx 4 races. Sexual identity politics might take some tips from Brazil’s racial classification model. No bed would be boring again, even in the most boring of all situations–the middle class suburban nuclear family. 

Maybe sexuality could be understood better as phenotypes. This is not to discount in any way the very strong evidence that  one might be born ‘gay, straight, bi’. Yes it might be in the genes. However, we are a world of words that construct, legitimise, delimit, and help us navigate through the ultimate chaos of sexuality.

Sexuality is chaotic. It has order and beauty and mathematics in its slippery flowers and humming bees. It has lines of pleasure that flower into infinite variety. That’s what’s never discussed.

If we live on a binary planet, with black/white, no/yes, girl/boy, you/other, then it doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about other planets. It seems probable that we have constructed, through an entire orchestra of discourses, including medical, environmental, political, sexual and historical a very straight lens to view the world and the binary experience.  The binary experience of the world is like a world where no-one is paying attention to what is really going on. We are apes waiting for our next meal. We are apes looking at a plan and working towards a finished product. We have constructed our suits and clothes, not out of fabric, but of words. Our labels are not Gucci, or McQueen, they are ‘bi’, ‘straight’, ‘woman’, ‘man’.

Judith Butler, I know she’s so ‘old hat’, but she is right. Old hats are very good sometimes. Gender is…come on..let’s say it together….a performance. Ok so we’ve got that far.  But what if sexuality is just as performative, and just as fluid. Sometimes I dream of the way earthworms have sex with themselves. Or the way those glorious seahorse ‘males’ carry around their babies in their pouches, how the shrimp changes from male to female as it ages.

I”m talking ‘GREEN PORNO” with the wonderful Isabella Rossellini. You have to see these clips. You tube it. Sex never seemed so fresh and exciting.  Sometimes civilisation can bore us to death if we don’t start re-inventing ourselves. I am an electric primitive.

The missing photographs



I have these photographs that I’ve not looked at for quite some time–a year thereabouts. These photographs are taken on my latest trip to Pakistan, which was ten years ago. But I dare not look at them. I’ve practically lied to myself about all the photographs that do exist that I will be disappointed when I see that they do not. And there are certain territories, physical spaces that disappear off the map of my mind. I plan them out. I go over them. I chart the border of a mud brick wall to the roadside to the village outskirts to those spindly trees that mark the bitumen road. Those spindly trees that grow everywhere. I should be a botanist for those trees.

To name them and give them a proper name, a goddess of weaving…maybe Neith–that Egyptian goddess of weaving, a Neith tree. But spindly sounds more appropriate. Lewis Carroll’s use of spoonerisms, wordplay, his nonsensical delightful fun with words continues through poetry, literature and music. Gertrude Stein, Elliot, Moon, Joyce, Peake etc.

So back to the pondle trees. They are despondent. They are twisted despondent trees that do not make it into a photograph.They mark the spot where I stopped photographing. Their absence is my assuredness that made-up memories can be more accurate than a photograph. Even the mango tree I write about in my poetry. One mango tree surrounded by hundreds. It was this tree that saved us from the mosque and cold showers, the tree where we were possessed by a jinn. Not like the one in the surah from the Koran, but more like the one from the One thousand and one nights. Maybe we were the spirits of fire and air inhabiting the chicken-pox plagued bodies of small children. But I don’t have any photos. Just like the absence of photos of my worried mother rubbing snow into our itchy poxed skin in the mountains surrounded by gunfire and sinking houses. No photos.

This is the way it is with a head full of gunpowder and false memories. Fantastical memories, mathematical equations and geographical excursions inside my head.

In pursuit of appiness

It could probably be a name for a new line of apple products. And like apple products, happiness can be fleeting, it can fault-her, and then you need to take it to a genius tech (guru, spiritual teacher, breakdown) in order to gain perspective and achieve it again. Besides there is always something to upgrade to, a new device more compact and shiny to have. Garden+lover+financial security= happiness. This is a stupid formula and to my mind, most would agree that formulas are temperamental and are generalised. The point I’m making is that in the pursuit of happiness, we might have all sold out other more important ambitions. What is happiness? A state of content, a state of joy and well-being. These are good experiences to encourage, these are experiences everyone should have. But I am not always happy. And this doesn’t necessarily make me unhappy. Nor does it make me neutral. It’s as though happiness is something that happens without too much attention needed for its existence. I’m still not making sense. But it seems to be such a concern that an everyday greeting of ‘How are you?’, which we know as social beings as mostly a polite formality, might generate into a confusion of communication ettiquette should someone actually respond with, ‘Well I’m quite sad and forlorn and feeling terribly isolated, how are you?’ This is not the sort of response most people on everyday infrequent ‘I’m asking the bus driver as I board the bus’ would expect. And how would one possibly cope with that bus ride? Seeing a bus driver with tears in their eyes might prompt the humanitarian in you to ask if you can do anything. But you might be holding up the impatient commuters behind you who need to swipe their brains against the machine to board.

In the December 2011 issue of Psychology Today, Annie Murphy Paul explores the benefits of both optimism and pessimism and how both states of mind might function for decision making processes. ‘Pessimism can assist us in managing our feelings. Buy spinning down our expectations, it insulates us from crushing disappointment when things done’t go our way.”(61)

But I’m not actually writing this to give a belated birthday party to pessimism. Nor am I suggesting happiness sux. I just don’t think it is important to have to smile and be happy all the time. Just because I’m not smiling doesn’t mean I’m sending out laser beams of negative energy. I may be concocting a wickedly brilliant line for another poem, or I might be in bliss. I do think happiness is a decision making process in itself. It can be thwarted by low seratonin levels, environmental factors, but there must be a decision made. But whilst this decision is being made why dwell on thinking about it. I think connecting to other living beings is part of happiness. Genuine connections. But then I’m not thinking about whether I”m happy or how happy I am. And those motivational speakers with their optimism speeches freak me out. They look like their heads are going to explode with happiness. It’s like the word has lost any meaning. As though it’s just become an application. Another app.

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