26 October 2012

Update from the Sylvia Plath Symposium Day 3

Today was breakneck: nonstop: ceaseless: endless: a great day to be a Sylvia Plath reader. I highly anticipate giving a round-up of the day from my own perspective, and hope that some of the kind scholars who expressed interest in reviewing the panels that I could not sit in on have reports to me before too long about their impressions, too. I think it is important to present more than my voice and opinion in this; so if you're reading this and you were in the same panel I was: please consider writing something up from your own point of view. Please.

This morning the literary panels began at 8:30. Or, circa 8:30. Certainly an early start time but the people that came to hear the darling Jess McCort (and author of "Sleeping Beauty Awake: Sylvia Plath through the Looking-Glass" and "Alice in Cambridge: Sylvia Plath, Little Girls Lost, and “Stone Boy with Dolphin”") and myself discuss The Bell Jar were certainly wide awake and seemed to be eager listeners. I expect a summary review of this panel by a willing participant in the next days and will post it online as soon as I get it! But, I'll say briefly about the panel that Jess' title was "'This Smith Cinderella': Breaking the Glass Coffin in The Bell Jar and my paper was titled "Sylvia Plath: Palimsesptic Writer".

After this panel, for which there were three concurrent panels, listeners were treated to Janet Badia, author of the fascinating and recent Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers discuss "The Other Anniversary: Plath's Dent to Ms. Magazine's ." In her paper, Badia points out that in addition to this being the 50th Anniversary of the October poems, it is also the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine; and from its first issue, how the magazine made a significant contribution to Plath's fame. In its first issue, Ms. Magazine printed Plath poem for three voices "Three Women" in which Plath traces the purely female experiences of childbirth and miscarriage. She talked about the issues first cover of a many armed figure with domesticated symbols in each hand: it actually reminded me of the fig tree imagery that plagues Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. What was particular fascinating was Badia bring up the reconsideration of Plath that the magazine published some months later in a long essay by Harriet Rosenstein.

After this, I was up again for a paper called "Sincerely Yours: Sylvia Plath and The New Yorker". In this paper, I spoke about Plath's business correspondence with the magazine, and was able to do something in the talk that I was not able to do in my paper this summer, "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England" with Gail Crowther, which is quote from the letters. Someone may have intentions to review this talk? So for the meantime I will not go on any further on this. I was really delighted to read it, and felt that the information presented was largely new and interesting. But, I might be delusional.

The morning sessions concluded with more literary panels. Again, I do expect a synopsis of one or two of them. The panel I attended dealt with "Plath and Female Embodiment / Body and Suffering". The three panels were, in order of speaking, Colleen Abel, Lauren Benard, and Clare Emily Clifford. Abel's "'Inhabited by a cry': Interior and Exterior Landscape in the Late Poems of Sylvia Plath" approached Plath's poems as reflecting some of the emotional traumas she underwent, and that as a result her poetry changed dramatically. Citing the more imagistic poetry such as "The Colossus" and "Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows", Abel went on to argue that there developed a "psychic fushion" between the physical and emotional landscaped. A rare early example of this was "The Eye-Mote", but Plath more notably fuses the self and the world in the later poems such as "Poppies in October" and "Tulips". Abel used some of the theories (or at least a theory) of DW Winnicott, particularly his theories of the transitional object. Lauren Benard's paper "A Choreography of Female Wounds: Embodied Aesthetics in Sylvia Plath's 'The Detective', Fever 103', and 'Cut'" discussed the fear and fascination with which Plath regarded the functions of the domesticated female body. I was particularly interested to hear this paper as "The Detective" is one of my favorite poems by Plath: but the approach by which Benard examined the poem was completely new to me. The poem has now been opened up to me in a completely new way and I am thankful for this. I was interested in her comment, citing Nancy Hunter-Steiner, that Plath was somewhat addicted to experience, and that in this addiction, she sought the kind of experience that she could somehow use creatively. The treatment which Benard, who has published with Plath Profiles ("Taking on a Mourning Her Mother Never Bothered With: Esther's Anguished Memory and Her Resistance to a Domestic Life in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, gave to the three poems was expert and well supported, her argument clear and fulfilled. Clifford, another Plath Profiles author (I Have a Self to Recover: Sylvia Plath and the Literary Success of the Failed Suicide), has a penchant for the gruesome, as was evident in her paper "'A Case Without A Body': Body Parts, Dead Bodies, and the Poetic Corpus in Plath's October Poems." Clifford terms the poems she looked at as "postmortem poems" and fuses elegy with an increasing market (and stomach for) the medicalization of death, the funeral industry, war, and genocide through the lens of forensics. She cited the rise in television of programs which feature cadavers and other icky, fairly explicit examples of death. But Plath was working with death and body parts - as have a lot of writers - well before this became appropriate for network television. Clifford largely looks at the death and dismemberment that exists in Plath poems in a way that is non-traditional from the generally accepted rebirth motif. Indeed, she looks at the poetic self and corpus in its inbetween stage: after death but before the rebirth.

That basically wraps up the morning from my perspective. There was a well-attended lunch time talk by Lynda K. Bundtzen in the IU Art Gallery. In Lynda's talk, she looked at four artists: Boris Lurie, Stella Vine, Kristina Zimbakova, and Linda Adele Goodine. Lurie's work was not done as a response to Plath's poetry, but he was active in the period just after Plath's death - around the same time that Plath's Ariel poetry was hitting the market - and through the period after her famous book was published. Reaction to Lurie was similar in many ways to the reaction to Plath's poetry: it was produced before its time in a way that was shocking, enticing, and unforgettable. I haven't generally had a positive reaction to the art of Stella Vine and I also didn't get the impression that Bundtzen did either. For some Plath scholars, I feel the reason for Plath's fame has largely been misunderstood by popular culture: in that she is famous for the wrong reasons, and I don't need to detail to you what those reasons are. And so by being picked up by a contemporary artist who responds to celebrity in her own way, and in some instances in crass ways, this kind of "representation" or reaction isn't necessarily going to be liked by Plath's defenders, for lack of a better term. I must say Vine's work, "Sylvia Plath Court Green 1962" looks better in person than it does either online or in the printed program. There were times when I felt, from the distance between me and it during the talk, that it was calling to me to look at it. But, on the whole, I was drawn more to Linda Adele Goodine's photographs and the two pieces by Kristina Zimbakova. Readers of this blog will know Zimbakova's name, and if by chance you do not. please familiarize yourself with her work because as a response and reaction to Sylvia Plath, it is by far the most original and inspiring of the lot. Many of her works have appeared in Plath Profiles which has definitely been to the journals benefit. I find my entire soul unspeakably moved by passion the seeps from Zimbakova's hands into work, and just as in "Out of the Shoe and into the Cauldron" (which can been seen in Plath Profiles 4, I find myself reaching up to touch her art (but the docents don't take too kindly to this). On that note, the docents were unwelcoming, rude, and quite disruptive to my listening experience during Bundtzen's talk. But, rather than end on a sour note, I will say that Holes in the Papery Day was equally as impressive in person - no, moreso - than it was when it appeared in this summers issue of Plath Profiles. But to see it in person evokes even moreso the connections to the poems of Sylvia Plath which inspired it. The photographs of the art in the journal and her included details are faithful but seeing it in person is like being tattooed on the retina

There were some stellar readings in the afternoon by Amanda Golden, David Trinidad, and Tracy Brain - as well as a final panel section: but these will have to wait a bit as Sylvia Plath Info needs his beauty sleep (shocking, I know: but this isn't nature).

1 comment :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Just a note that both Janet Badia's presentation on Plath's affecting Ms. Magazine, as well as your presentation on the New Yorker correspondence, was excellent. Peter, your presentations were especially fun because you blew up the correspondence for us all to see and take part in the research/discovery process with you. Wonderful stuff!

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