Clashes of Self and Identity in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel through Deconstructive Lens
Self and Identity as two separate but interconnected Phenomenon in deconstructive approach, have been typified outstandingly in Plath’s Ariel. The derision of poetess toward the external factors, namely in social and political contexts appears to be pertinent to her latest poems. The duality of Sylvia Plath as self and Plath as daughter, as her mother and others expected her to be is a crucial point in reciting her poetry. The schizoid character of postmodern identity has no option but to experience the uncanny (Brain, 65) and to face the double(Ibid).
The attitude towards the intrinsic malady woven into poems in fact paves the way for deconstruction. Since deconstructing acts like a surgical operation applied to texts and works, thus analyzing human’s psyche opens a good scope in this field. The fact that every man is born with a double, the entire human’s struggle is to protect this spontaneous creation of double in order to preserve life. When “I” is repeated, the self and its replica are called to question.
There is obvious ambivalence between the persona’s identity and individuality in most of Plath’s poems in Ariel. The despondent chant that even the most grotesque and comic poems conceal beneath their profound layer is not dissimilar to Hemingway’s Iceberg principal. Although every text might have an icy and solid surface, this does not merely imply that accessing to the heart of the work is not feasible.
Identity in question, Motifs of Double and Duality
To discuss the self, one should recollect nd summon up the challenging notion of Identity and its play of doubleness and duality. The whole life of an artist is summarized in one quest that is the process through which could find Identity. Almost inevitable, all of Plath’s poems intentionally allude to indefiniteness of gender to remove all identities feasible from the narrator individuality.
To quote Tracy Brain in her blockbuster book, The Other Sylvia Plath that was one of literary breakthroughs of twenty century would be conceptualization of Identity concept regarding Sylvia Plath’s own identity. Brain provides the reader with Plathian Doubleness (Brain, 121) with the amazing hint to Sylvia Plath’s thesis on Dostoyevsky’s use of double in her mastering masterpiece, M.A project. Therefore, she was not only unfamiliar with this sort of literature, focusing on characters and their doubles, but also a qualified and specialized enthusiastic about the so-called subject matter. Taking into account the doubling of her own self, the genderless speaker of Plath’s Ariel with no specific nationality and gender colored a new cubism in the canvas of her poetry.
In “Tulips”, taken from The collected poems of Sylvia Plath edited by Ted Hughes, the persona’s loss of self during her hospital experience is portrayed via these lines, she weightlessly feels free from all earthly belongings that they “catch onto her skin”(Line 25,P.161) like “little smiling hooks” (Ibid):
I am nobody
I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to nurses
And my history to the anesthetist And my body to surgeons
Now I have lost myself (Lines 6-11)
Watching her identity recede, she sees the tulips and everything like the marriage affixed ring as a kind of entrapment. The petulance of speaker’s voice here has been mixed with artistic frenzy of its creator’s mind.
Entrapment of “I” in Ariel poems
The conceptual interpretation of “I” has been reiterated in Ariel poems. One’s being is shaped around this pronoun and left the modern criticism unjustified and unwarranted in superfluous understanding and perception of this mystified entity. The fact behind these repetitions affirms the unity of “I”, but at the same time casts it into doubt and ambiguity as well. As in Derrida’s Critique cited in Porritt, (328) “Surpassing Derrida’s Deconstructed Self” “…sense of self almost perishes.”(328), when the unity of signified/signifier would be ruptured and ripped apart through the extension of repeated “I am I, I…”In another word, articulation of “I” is masking the absence of self, or to use Derrida’s terms, the voice masks an “always already absent presence”.
Considering the fact that “I” could play the external and emphatic stress for the very sign of self, nonetheless this intruding pronoun poses the legitimacy of self into question. As a matter of fact, “I” deceives one into fallaciously impression of a singular Self.To broaden Derrida’s philosophy further, “I am I am I”, is as if the “I” is trapped between two opposing mirrors. Consequently, the origin appears to be unattainable since “the reflection, the image, the double splits what it doubles.”(325). self-identity is multiplied within the frame within frame of infinite range and as a result there is no self entity of “I” who claims “I am I”.
The lack of self-identity emerges in one of Plath’s illustrious poem titled “Daddy”, in which the origin of character is irretrievably lost. The poem is a notable parody of distorted identity, where the language itself has come to facilitate the narrator’s schizophrenic psyche in achieving a verbal that is true to its fragmentation and inconsistence. The instability of Daddy’s gender and masculinity implicitly diminish and cheapen the patriarchal supremacy and power. To identify the foot and the root of one’s origin, in the daughter, duality of two racial heritages neutralize each other in a grotesque way. This degeneration of identity tyrannizes harshly with applying the verbal language true to this atmosphere.
Despite all doubtfulness and improbability which govern the identity in various shapes, In “Lady Lazarus”, Plath refers to her I-affirmation that is inevitable:
Yes, yes Herr Professor
It is I
Can you deny? (Collected Poems p.246, Line 79)
These paradoxes of self-affirmation along with self-rejection in contradictory way have extravagantly contributed to unsteadiness of identity itself.
The fragile position of both identity and language that the poem shapes and figures around it can be observed through the repeated words, putting the idea of assurance and as well uncertainty forward. As if the speaker seeks to draw the spectator’s approval and permission via repeating and rephrasing. Since replicating implies that the speaker is not confident about conveying her ideas properly. “I” as the most significant of Self- Identity has been rendered to “Ich”, the German equivalence for the pronoun “I”. Applying “Ich” could be deemed as a reference to Plath’s double racial identity and at the same time regarded as a closure that the pronoun “Ich” connotes with its disarticulation and suffocation, due to consonant ending.
As a result, it frustrates any self-definition and this selflessness has occupied most of Plath’s Ariel poems.
In contrast to “I” that is free and at least carries liberation in its articulation, however there are some obstacles and shortcomings in its clarity and restriction of defined range, “ich” seems to be timid and unpronounced.
The tarnished individuality presides over the poems and the disturbing paralysis of this realization would lead the character to a sort of passivity and subjectlessness. The impossibility of any self definition makes the narrator come terrifyingly close to depersonalization and dehumanization, that means equating people and object to indicate devaluation of human life and relations. As “Applicant” depersonalizes human’s relationships and affiliations in this way:
I noticed you are stark naked.
How about this suit-Black and stiff,
but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it? (Collected Poems p.221, Lines19-22)
Marrying to black and stiff suit is the death of all conjugal matrimony. Personification is used to undermine the integration of human being’s individuality. Ariel poems are the exact mirror to question identity and everything relevant to do so. The “I” is trapped, dismembered and equated to be taken for granted like commodity. This is the culpability and blameworthiness that the modern human has to pay for price of industrialized machinery world. “Cut” is looked upon as one of brilliant cases in point:
What a thrill–
My thumb instead of an onion
A flap like a hat,
Then that red plush (Collected Poems, P235, Lines 1-8)
To personify the injured finger here as a result of dismemberment, the poetess attempts to incarnate the solo finger by addressing it:
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill
Papery feeling (P235, Lines 22-26)
Undoubtedfully it must be the thumb that the speaker is talking to, since it is the shortest finger, like a homunculus and dwarf.Taking the medicine as narcotic and sedative to soothe and alleviate the pain of injured finger is in fact to heal the separated and dehumanized self and accordingly to kill the depersonalization that is like a papery feeling. Paper can be regarded as a white board in which the identity would define itself. But “Papery feeling” is flimsy and frail. Feeling like a paper is an absolute acceptance of depersonalization and devaluation of human life. Also one may assume that paper is associated with formal atmosphere and any social ritual issues. As it is previously declared here that depersonalization and fragmentation is a distinguishable trait in Ariel poems, the researcher would have a preference to end this part of discussion with Sylvia Plath’s apparent personification of dominant images in her poem “Elm”, the 24th line, she fabulously writes:
“The moon, also, is merciless”. (Collected Poems, 192)
Assuming the moon to be merciless like a living creature is the grotesque image of demanding and reification of human’s characteristics.
The objectification of self that has been atrophied and emaciated in socioeconomic atmosphere in consequence of World War II would be a justification to move toward scrutinizing the phenomenon of self.
Phenomenon of Self
They stuck me together with glue (Collected Poems222)
To unravel the complex network of self entity would look to be unfeasible. Notwithstanding the sense of self per se could be determined by what one perceives from the atmosphere. The psyche is trapped within the body frame. As discussed in previous section, the external representative of self, the so called “I” can not substantiate and prove the entity of self. In another word the inability of “i”in self-confirmation has cast the credibility of self into doubt and suspicion. If “I”is signifier, the self as a reflector might be the signified. But vice versa is potentially probable, self as signifier and “I” as signified. As this interchangeable transaction exists, subsequently the correspondence between “I” and self is like orbiting a circle, infinite, repeatable and substitutive. This incorporeal and abstract splitting up of self is perverted symbiosis of persona. Although this falsification of self makes the sustainability of human’s life possible, otherwise there would not be any incentives to live upon it.
Derrida’s notion of self, cited in Porritt (323), argues that “Derrida dismantles the concept of “self” as a unified, identifiable presence or entity. Derrida specifically views the self as “split”, the self is therefore unable to provide a solid foundation for meaning”. In proportion to Derrida’s contribution to deconstruction of self (ibid), self is not a unified, singular and identifiable entity, but only a phenomenon created by human language.
The aesthetic self of artist is so susceptible and perceptive that when the quest for its definition and discovery fails, this feeling of gloom and frustration would lead the character to mental breakdown and psychological disorder. One should not ignore the fact that accessing to the resources of profound feelings often occurs in mental breakdown mood. Knowing the fact that Plath was a psychopath suffering from psychic collapse sporadically, that is why Plath’s hospital writing is full of delicate and passionate description and sketch. The tangible fluctuation between self-loathing and self-recognition would lead the persona to a sort of schizophrenic disposition along with experiencing polarities of a self that has been divided and fragmented in this ill at ease situation of mind.