Thursday, September 27, 2012


Plath was not schizophrenic but she was a split woman, oscillating between conflicting irreconcilables. A woman in a man's world, a poet and a homemaker, a mother and a worldly successful. Yet plath, except in her last months before death was very adept at dissimulation. People who knew her had trouble reconciling the bright, american girl to the neurotic p
oet who killed herself. This corresponds to Laing's notion of a false self and a true self. The false self confers a simulacrum of sanity, a modicum of functioning but when the real self rears its head psychosis or splitting is an invariable result. It is my contention that, unlike laing's the camouflage was what kept plath going. When her real self emerged, it was forceful enough to end in obliteration.

But as another Laingian strand it is not the split person who is at fault but the world around them, the family that produces the schizoidness. Plath's journals demonstrate precocity and a eviscerating social gaze. Her critiques into America are both bitingly funny and accurate. Her understanding of the larger framework encapsulating and circumscribing her is highly perceptive. Forced by an unmitigatedly harsh social reality we see plath going inwards. Her neurosis ( indistinguishable with psychosis for laing) is a cultural neurosis, a neurosis felt by many women as evidenced by Anne stevenson and Janet malcolm. Plath's journals, even at their most intimate, most personal, are a social document giving a portrait of 50's America. Riven by antinomies Plath subsumes into insanity as as gesture of defiance. This is not to underscore the neurochemical. She eschews tradition and enters into a solipsistic self communion ( margaret atwood's heroine in surfacing does the same) and finds in her breakdown a breakthrough, another laingian concept. By divesting herself of the appurtenances of sanity and the norm Plath plumbs her psyche and emerges as more self aware, still fragmented, yet elusively reconstituted.

By the laingian scheme the patient is not mad but their madness is a commentary on the culture surrounding them. Can we say that Plath's first breakdown happens at an opportune moment in her life as a woman. She is on the brink of change and has been rejected by Frank o connor's writing program. A spiralling and dismal future beckons combined with her self doubt and inadequacy. Writing against the odds seems unthinkable, writing seems unachievable. When she looks out, hope is deflated. So she looks in and finds a primordial darkness , a vertiginous space and she succumbs.

Back in cambridge a vestige of normalcy resumes. She marries , writes and tries unsuccessfully to publish. Eventually, at 30 she kills herself after Ted leaves her.

Laing took an existential view of depression and Plath's journals prove that. The most powerful passages about wanting to die are underpinned by the laingian false self shutting reality out. Yet reality supervenes even in denial and plath faces an impasse every time she seeks to traverse and bypass its oppressive constituents.

It is interesting to note that most of the case histories Laing recounts are of women. Plath's despair and angst is that of a bright, attractive talented woman who sought more out of life than what life gave her. It was a post war scenario when plath was 18 and a restructuring of the family, women's re resumption of the domestic sphere was promulgated. Domesticity was prized as virtue and patriarchy insidiously reasserted its hold. Within this scenario plath's death is, for me, not a cowardly act of relinquishing life but leaving behind an indelible imprint of the nature of 50's social reality. Her 'ontological uncertainty' as laing calls it, her sense of dispossession, rootlessness in england are all factors. Mother hatred is also something laing's patients demonstrated, the mother as the repressive, freedom curtailing, symbiotically entangled knot which suffocates. The woman being relegated to the home nursed her frustrated ambition by making an infant the extension of her putative apotheosis. Such a reading is not fully contingent but sums up plath's journal entries of mother hate. All these concatenated dichotomies made plath a women inviolably singular yet representative.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nothingness to becoming- Reassessing Freud And Lacan.

To carry the mirror image further the zero or nothingness that constitutes the infant's sense of reality when he emerges from the womb counters his desperate bid to attach his heart to an object, an object he could then internalize and sublimate. I use the word sublimate fully consciously because an identity is arrived at through it. From a sp
eck of nothingness in a bewildering world to becoming a distinct identity, a marked presence is a process of both disavowal and assertion. While certain propensities, like the oedipal, are indubitably relinquished, others like the superego are augmented and exacerbated.

Freud would mark the girl child's passage even more arduous. Yet it is from an undifferentiated collective with singular variables, individual constituents that we emerge. And jung's postulation of a collective unconscious was just a semantic term because for Freud too the unconscious, as demonstrated in Totem and taboo or 'civilization and its discontents' was almost always collective.

A woman's space is particularly circumscribed by culture because the characterology constituting her is culturally predetermined. Self determination is a male prerogative while biology constrains women. The imperceptible or marked iconoclasm is underpinned by her essential inequality to man and no feminist theory has, as of yet, managed to obliterate that dichotomy. The female infant, i will radically suggest does not always suffer from penis envy. To do that presupposes a ubiquitous phallus which, though widespread is always contingent. Rather to me the mother, than the mirror functions as the true mirror that crystallizes identity. The male child perceives his essential and inescapable difference from his mother. Throughout rivalry to the father to an identification with him the mother is a receptacle who affirms the hommo social bond. The mother is the object of exchange whom the son and father pass back and forth. These oscillations are culturally sanctified. And penis envy, if it implies not having the phallus applies equally to men because a phallus as signifier needs something to define itself against. The woman becomes that other.

Women, on the other hand are also affected by the mother. But unlike the male child who sees an other to congeal being through absence the female child sees herself reflected unambivalently. She is unequivocally herself, self possessed and inviolable, in the mother child equation. The father is an other, desired and desirable but an other who will always be other. The male child divests the mother while the female child becomes the mother. The oedipal conflict, if any is actually problematized because a mirror cannot become the image it reflects. The phenomena may be varied too as the ego ideal for the female, unlike the male is an affirmation. It arises out of a luminous cleaving than a sundering. It isn't negation but affirmation.

When the phallus is taken as signifier it permeates interpretation. But the phallus would be incomplete without the womb. It is a symbiotic relationship and the phallus appropriates power as the prime mover. Yet the phallus is just what it is, i.e a signifier. The process of becoming ( childbirth) is the signification. So the desire is, as freud says, more than anything to retreat whence you began. The male child forever desires a return to the womb through intercourse and the female child achieves apotheosis and re experiences the primordial unison when she conceives. It is a timeless, archetypal place of return, indeterminate and unvalidated. But, it is all there is.