27 October 2012

Day 4, Part 2 of the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium: The Afternoon

This afternoon was also a good - no, a great - way to conclude the Symposium. As with the other post today, I've just decided to post my notes, relatively unedited!

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick: "Sylvia Plath and Trauma: Reading the October 1962 Poems"

Part of a book on modernist and contemporary poets. Two terms in trauma studies are "acting out": nightmares and reliving experiences and "working through": the process of the subject trying to make sense of the traumatic experience. Attempts to come with a narrative that hangs together about that experience, enables her/him to begin to work through it, to put the episode behind her.

"A Birthday Present"

Calm and resigned voice anticipates "Edge" and "Words". Line "I am alive only by accident" is the trauma event about which the speaker needs to work through. Trauma leads to a fetishization of death.

"Lady Lazarus"
Founding trauma is part and parcel as to how the speaker identifies herself "I am your opus..." Repetition of suicides is an aspect of the trauma.

Speaker is metaphorically hooked: caught in the trauma. "Ariel" over-determined trauma script. Speaker propelled by outside forces, not her own will. Speaks to acting out.


In "Daddy", the use of Holocaust imagery Plath ramps up emotional intensity to emphasize her trauma. Because of her experience seeing images from WWII, Plath may have suffered from a secondary identification with the war victims. While in "Ariel" Plath acts out, "Daddy" is Plath working through the trauma, in an effort to put the experiences behind her. Demise of her marriage (abandonment and betrayal) is the great traumatic event that spurned on "Daddy" and other poems like it. Speaker is so traumatized she can "hardly speak". But in the poem Plath is able to work through the trauma and to find the language to finally break "through".

Lynda K Bundtzen took the stage next for a talk about Plath's Bee Sequence poems. Talking about the manuscripts, but not all of the bee poems because time won't allow for it. Our loss.

Perhaps the bee poems represent her fears of being & becoming a honey-drudge  a housewife, who fears the cultural death of being awy from the city and life she wants. "The Bee Meeting" is a serious of questions with no answers offered: full of fear: questions of author-ity and authorship. Loss of identity, no sense of self or others. "The Arrival of the Bee Box" and "Stings" still ask many questions. "The Swarm" is manipulated easily, "dumb". In "Wintering" the speaker admits "It is they who own me."

Bundtzen highlights Plath's struggle in concluding the final line of "Wintering" based on her studying of the manuscripts was really fascinating. Although I've seen the manuscripts in person, for some reason the way in which she read them enabled me to feel that struggle quite palpably. She also quoted many of the other words and lines and stanzas that Plath toyed with in the creation of this five-part allegory.

Bundtzen's conclusion on "Wintering" was an eloquent few minutes comparing the poem to Hughes's departure, likening his departure from Court Green to the annual expulsion of the drones (the "massacre of the males" according to Lynda) from the beehive.

Langdon Hammer of Yale spoke on "Plath's German." Hammer memorably gave a version of this talk in both the Oxford 2007 Symposium and the one day gig at Smith in April 2008. I am eager to see what modifications have been done to the paper in the last four and a half years. His paper focuses on Plath's relationship as a writer with the German language.

Heather Clark and Anita Helle followed Langdon Hammer, on the theme of Plath, German and Otto Plath, talking about Otto Plath’s FBI files (Clark) and scientific works (Helle).

Clark's talk on Otto Plath looked at the German/American persecution in the lives of the Plath. The fear, anger and insecurity of the interrogations. Plath, a pacifist, dove into work as a result and this lead him to take a distance approach to love, life, and fatherhood. As Germans, both Otto Plath and the Schober family had much to be concerned about during World War I and during World War II. These narratives were explored by Plath herself in her poems, as well as in her journals, and in short stories: most notably "The Shadow". Heather's long discourse into the immigration history of the Plath family was fascinating, filled with so much new information that will greatly benefit how we understand Sylvia Plath's heritage.

Anita Helle then took the stage in an Otto Plath one-two punch. Anita had a handout with a selected bibliography of publications by Otto Plath which is a genius thing to have done! "Alternative Lineages: O.E. Plath, Sylvia, and Zoological Modernism." She pointed out a line in "The Beekeepers Daughters" that mirrors something that Otto Plath wrote in his book Bumblebees and Their Ways! very interesting fact. Anita's talk goes towards some lengths to de-mythologize and demystify Otto Plath by highlighting his contributions to science, by taking advantage of older, now digitized materials (scientific papers from scientific periodicals) that are available online. Another very novel approach to the subject of Otto Plath. This includes wading through technical papers on larvae, for example. Zoological Modernism focuses on insect societies. Anita did some wonderful work with the photograph of Aurelia, Otto, and Sylvia that accompanied the FBI story this summer, taken in the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, circa summer 1933. It is the only known photograph of the three of them together. I like the work Anita is doing on this, but I am utterly intimidated by the genius that she exudes.

The last panel of the day was a round table on archiving Otto Plath with Heather Clark, Anita Helle, Langdon Hammer and me. Me! The one horizontal among all the uprights! I do not feel qualified to review this, being a part of it: so if someone out there wants to do a write up, please email it to me!

The last "event" was a book signing at 7:30. Next? Home sweet home!

1 comment :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Yes, but Plath herself would rather be horizontal, Peter. ;-)

This afternoon, I think, was when we all hit the wall. Everyone suddenly became conscious of real life ahead, the furious storm in the east, travel plans and that our wonderful fantasy world and new friendships were soon to come to a close, at least temporarily.

I'll wade through my notes and see if I can fill in some of the gaps of things not yet mentioned. Such a wonderful time all around. I think that you and David ate at the Siam House all seven nights, didn't you? I ate there four times. Fantastic food, and Bloomington is such a great place to honor the needs of vegetarians and vegans. And really, could we have attended in a more beautiful week, with that gorgeous campus in full autumn color?

It was a delight and an honor to work alongside you all in the archives and hang out in the restaurants, along with my new favorite people, Catherine Bowman, David Trinidad, and Jeanne Marie Beaumont.

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Publications & Acknowledgements