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Profane Exegesis: My Day In The Life of Sylvia Plath

Robert K Hogg

Here’s a good one: During a dream, by which I mean only the other day, I found
I couldn’t switch the light on, which baffled me. There was someone there with
me, I don’t know who. Perhaps he was my surrogate version of the character in
the Waking Life movie. But it was an anxiety dream. I assumed my electric had
been cut off. I still have the bill to pay (Drama? You got it). And even within the
dream, if obscurely, I had the conviction it might be an 'omen' of some kind, or a
warning. One that said, this is a glimpse of your trivial future, and you screwed
up paying your bill. But then I noticed the electronic clock of the video-recorder
– that in real life doesn’t work – shining in the darkness.... Whatever the hell that
means.
But time could represent the way it preoccupies us, weighs on us, like gravity,
tying our thoughts down, to thoughts of death, feeling we're trapped in the mire,
stuck in the here and now – and not in a good, fun, spanky way – that the battle
was lost before it's begun. A symbol of the dangers of future, potential
demoralisation. I'm out of similes now. Nothing like looking on Mr Brightside.
There's a taste in my mouth, and it's no taste at all. At worst, I’ll keep an eye on
the cash so as not to be careless, just in case. That’s reminded me of a quite
recent weird episode with money, but I can barely be arsed describing it, so I
won’t, but might come back to it if I remember.

Last night just before I went to bed, I had the impulse to take down The
journals of Sylvia Plath from the shelf. No biggie (though it’s a large volume!).
When I think of her, the first thing that comes to mind is her attractiveness and
intelligence and the waste of her suicide; but that was up to her. I noticed the
stuck up bint across the street, sorry – mother's – voice sounded oddly Plathlike.
She (Plath, not the mother: though to think on it, there isn't a million miles
between them in their outlook; at least Plath knew she was preoccupied with
thoughts of death, but these people are dissociation par excellence) – came to
remind me of Lynn and her death fixation. I well remember Lynn remarking on
it when she – Plath – was featured in an O.U. prog on female writers. I watched
it a couple of times. One of the Brontes was also featured I think, as well as the
poet, Christina Rossetti. I have a small volume of hers... supporting the wafer
thin Simpson's poster on my bedroom window. (One afternoon it was warping in
the sun and sliding off and it was beginning to freak me out until I realized what
the weird scratching sound was). It crossed my mind to stick the big Plath book
on the windowsill in my no doubt vain quest to educate and inform the mindless
masses in the form of her younger alter-ego's – Walter Ego – the silly little
bitches across the street, who watch everything I do.

At the moment, I also have a cheap novel I picked up, titled The Earth, My
Butt, and Other Big ROUND Things. But I would. That and the Simpson's
poster featuring tens of characters in the series – a kind of eccentric group
portrait, and also the old Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray large format
volume on Bowie. I had it years ago, but these get nicked or lost in the morass of
the prime narst ex. Same thing. All pearls before swine of course, but Bowie
features in the next episode of this new history of rock on BBC 2, along with
Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and others, though I fail to see the direct connection
with Floyd. I suppose it must be the Sixties connection. He – Bowie – did do a
cover of Floyd's See Emily Play, on Pin-ups. I was listening to Floyd’s Relics at
the time of Ziggy Stardust in ’72. The first in the series was on Hendrix and it
was interesting to hear how he “blew Clapton off the stage”. Poor Eric,
conceited, humourless, arrogant tyke that he is. I’ve always had that impression.
It must've been a mortifying experience for him, but that's the sporadic nature of
artistic gifts for you. My dad once saw him bawling out some girlfriend in
Turnberry hotel by the lift. sense. Maybe she was crazymakuing gold-digger,
and it was his artistic temperament.

Anyhoo, not to be sidetracked any more, I opened the Plath volume at


random and read (154), “November 3 – God, if I ever have come close to
wanting to commit suicide, it is now, with the groggy sleepless blood dragging
through my veins, and the air thick and grey with rain and the damn little men
across the street pounding on the roof with picks and axes and chisels, and the
acrid hellish stench of tar. I fell into bed again this morning, begging for sleep,
withdrawing into the dark, warm, fetid escape from any action, from
responsibility. No good. The mail bell rang and I jerked myself up to answer it.
A letter from Dick. Sick with envy, I read it, thinking of him lying up there,
rested, fed, taken care of, free to explore his books and thoughts at any whim. I
thought of the myriad of physical duties I had to perform: write Prouty; write up
Press Board; call Marcia. The list mounted, obstacle after fiendish obstacle, they
jarred, they leered, they fell apart in chaos, and the revulsion, the desire to end
the pointless round of objects, of things, of actions, rose higher. To annihilate the
world by the annihilation of oneself is the deluded height of desperate egoism.
The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against.
Irony it is to see Dick raised, lifted to the pinnacles of irresponsibility to anything
but care of his body – to feel his mind soaring, reaching, and mine caged, crying,
impotent, self-reviling, an imposter. How to justify myself, my bold, brave
humanitarian faith? My world falls apart, crumbles, “The centre does not hold.”
There is no integrating force, only the naked fear, the urge to self-preservation.”

Cheerful, huh? She’s interesting to read. She certainly has a naturally


dramatic way with language, but it lacks exuberance – to say the least. “The
damn little men across the street”... sounds almost like harassment from
gangstalkers of the time. Look it up. And her abhorrence of the demands of life,
of time – probably the world, to escape everything, sounds like one of Ballard's
short stories. It sounds like – comes across like – she was desperate for meaning
but didn’t know where to find it. This is confirmed later, when she mentions the
possibility of finding a psychiatrist then dismisses the idea; and I have to respect
her for that as most of them surely don’t know shit, though I’m sure they’ll think
they have my number; but 'you ain’t heard nothin’ yet'. I used to feel a vague
dislike of her hubby, the poet Ted Hughes, no doubt stemming from an element
of jealousy, but also the thought he may have failed her. I pictured him absorbed
in his work and desire for literary greatness, fame – and she does remark on it,
and it may well be significant, but the truth is I don’t know enough about the
relationship, or her personality. And she may well been just as ambitious. I
watch the occasional documentary on these literary figures, then forget them
almost as soon as I've seen. It's a talent.
I only got just over 100 pages into the journals before I let myself be
distracted; though I did spend £20 a while back on a bunch of books on the two
of them, but didn’t even begin them. I tend to forget my own motivations; that
and there is so much to look into and keep up with. My life is a never ending
cycle of floundering in reading material. I’m overwhelmed by it. I have enough
books to keep me going for twenty years even if I never buy another. You could
start a bookshop the pragmatic-minded say. As if I bought them for some loss-
making future business. One buys books for curiosity and the stimulation of
ideas, and ideally, in my case, to recycle what I’ve learned from them in the form
of more ideas, preferably with an added dimension of interest. Ideally. But I
write only of what I find of interest myself, in any case, often of necessity.
Seems to me it’s the only way to be. Yes, I can indulge myself in some more
conventionally bookish novel of ideas. and being ruthless with my emotions, and
demonstrate my versatility in various genres - and I may not, vis a vis Henry
Miller, but when all is done and said and done, what is a novel or any writing at
all, but a reflection of the thought-system of the author and how they interpret the
world and existence?
There's also the question of experience, and Colin Wilson writes about this
in his letters to Henry Miller. He says – in the intro – that had to skip vast
sections, as he found Miller’s long descriptions of his friends and acquaintances
boring. Or is just that he, CW, doesn’t have the same interest in them, or people
in general, preferring to get his ideas from books? Then again he's remarked on
others not being genuinely interested on people. So maybe it's simply a case that
Wilson's friends and mind are far more interesting to him than Henry Miller's. Or
how he chooses to write about them. The perennial question; and problem. He
has solved it, or believes he has, through emphasising the importance of ideas
and the mind. He’s right of course. But what is also apparent, to me at least, is
he would never have invested the time and effort on certain people as some of us
do. True, it was as good as thrown in my face with murderous-minded interest,
but it gave me an insight into a way of being in the world that was almost foreign
to me, though I shared the same fear, only expressing it differently. I believe
Wilson is no different form the rest of us in that sense, and as with the rest of us it
comes down to the matter of forgiveness. There’s a lot to write about in the
world and about it, but the experience and belief in fear is only the converse of
unforgiveness and collecting grievances. And vice-versa. I think it’s a matter of
compassion, and Philip K. Dick was more aware of the problem in his intuitively
penetrating way, demonstrated in a novel such as Mary And The Giant, about a
fearful and reticent girl – young woman – he meets while working in a record
store. But perhaps he identified too closely with them. That would be as
detrimental to him as to them; a case of false empathy, identifying with and
reinforcing weakness. (Woman do the same with clever, manipulative, abusive
partners and bo's who have no intention of changing their ways).
I think there are millions of these women around, and dealing with them is
anything but straightforward; it takes time. Not because time itself is the
problem, but how they set up the situation. And if you're not a therapist getting
paid by the hour for this and your allegiance is to being a productive and prolific
writer, a la Colin Wilson, along with having to provide for and contribute to
looking after a family, then economy of time is of the essence. CW 's novel The
Personality Surgeon was very moving in its way as well as amusing; a
psychological tour de force, as one come to expect from him. He always
surprised. It's why I was so enamoured of him. But I can't say I put as much
credence now, in his protagonist, Charlie Peruzzi's solutions to his patients
problems.
He just had them swapping one negative self for a supposedly [positive
other. Maybe the idea is that the change in body image reflects a change in
attitude and this will create a virtuous circle – a positive feedback loop – he's
very keen on this kind of thinking, based on his studies of Maslow. But changing
behaviour or one's self-image doesn't effect lasting change as it's only re-
arranging the internal furniture of the ego, where shifting perceptions of self and
others abound.; lasting change comes from a decision made by the mind, the
source of which, is outside of time and space. People are important not just
because we want others to respond to us positively – which is really just a way of
hoping to get what we want – but because others are the means through which we
make our way back to God, through holding nothing against them, and through
which we learn to hold nothing against ourselves.
But on one level, he's accurate enough. It can be difficult to feel positive
about others if you don't feel positive about yourself and they don't either. But
ideas aren't objectively separate from people. There's no ivory tower or cave
where one achieves enlightenment and other people are inconsequential. We're
all a reflection of an idea – of the belief in separation from each other; as we're all
projections of one another in any case, as the the world and the whole
phenomenal universe; relationships take place only in the mind. We all react to
thoughts as if they were concrete things. That only reinforces the point. And
hiding away from the world only makes it more real to the mind. You wouldn't
hide from or abhor it of you didn't think it was real.. But no one is under any
obligation to fill their life with time-wasters and sociopaths. But I digress – yet
again.