le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

contre le sexisme

Obviously, and as the very title of this list points out, lists of anything are subjective. But I want to spend a minute explaining why I growled over

I agree with some of his choices - I haven't read them all, which I do not mind admitting; for instance, The Da Vinci Code and The Lovely Bones didn't deserve that much press. I like The lovely bones, but it was just okay, not truly great. And I'll agree with any list that points out the utter unreadability of Finnegans Wake.

But this one made me mad.

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

When the first world problems hashtag first showed up, I was kind of pleased to see people recognizing that their griping was privileged; bitching about the 20 seconds it takes to boot up your computer is hardly a real problem, especially when you consider non-first-world problems, like no clean water, infanticide, genocide, hunger, poverty, etc. Of course, like everything else, it's morphed into a cliche that doesn't force us to think at all - it's the anti-defamiliarization (or enstrangement, as my translation of Shklovsky insisted upon using).

But I think it's used here far too dismissively, to devalue the work that The Bell Jar does. Plath's novel is quite an interesting representation of late adolescence as experienced by a female.  It's hard not to take Beauchamp's inclusion and scanty "analysis" of the book as sexist, or at least stemming from deeply entrenched male privilege. If The Bell Jar is overrated because of first-world problems, then so should be Catcher in the Rye, which is sort of the mirror-image twin of The Bell Jar.  I would guess that the reason Catcher  is left off the list is the maleness of Holden, an adolescent character with whom a great many young men identify. Plath's story, in The Bell Jar, unfolds in a different way because she is female, because she is female at a particular time and place. Men, alas, still haven't been taught to read from female perspectives in the way women have learned to view male perspectives. So I imagine that parts of Esther's narrative feel fiddly or pointless or unsubstantial, because of their femaleness.

The other objection, of course, to #firstworldproblems in regard to The Bell Jar is that it is essentially Plath's autobiography; it's a story of depression and mental illness written by a woman who committed suicide by putting her head in an oven (which has always seemed particularly grisly to me as a mode of suicide). Catcher is a mental illness story as well; despite his class status and other privileges, Holden is one depressed young fellow. It's callous beyond belief to relegate depression and mental illness to "first world problem" status. It's like claiming cancer to be a first world problem, or perhaps more accurately, the illness and side effects of chemotherapy to be a first world problem.

The convergence of the female's narrative and the mental illness narrative in The Bell Jar is clearly too much for Beauchamp. He's entitled to his opinions, of course, even the ones that come from positions of ignorance or privilege, and I'm entitled to point out the privilege of those opinions.


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