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To burn, to burst, to blaze
July 28, 2014 2:52 PM   Subscribe


 
I can't believe that anyone who knows much about Plath could write that she might still be alive had she moved to San Francisco, even in wishful thinking mode. The "difference" between Plath and the author (well, one of many) was that Plath was seriously ill for much of her life. She had a sickness that resulted in her death. That does not diminish, nor should it enhance, her other accomplishments, which were major. And I hate that people--even after The Silent Woman, even after Birthday Letters--are still demonizing Ted Hughes. I love Plath's work but can't stand her "disciples" like this.

And finally:

But the theory is you did it first. Taught us how to share without being disgusting.

Taught us it was OKAY to be disgusting, or that there is an artful, meaningful, valuable way to share even the disgusting things about ourselves, more like. Plath was skilled at crafting beauty from disgusting or "inappropriate" emotions and imagery without hiding their essential disgusting-ness and without apologizing that these thoughts weren't traditionally "feminine."
posted by sallybrown at 3:35 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


What sallybrown said. Also, suicide is not usually "thought about" in the way this author describes;it's usually an impulsive act of the moment - the endpoint of a dreadful disease that sucks the marrow from your soul, to the point where death feels like a relief. There is noting to romanticize about suicide. Another thing about depression is that once one reaches a very low point, but not low enough to be completely dysfunctional, a lot of inhibitions about propriety just melt away - everything is raw. Plath was an enormously talented artist; she used her gifts to translate the rawness.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:28 PM on July 28


It's really great writing; Crouch is funny, she can turn on a dime, she can conceal things, she can reveal things, sometimes all of that in one sentence. She's fun.

[Spoilers follow -- RTFA before reading further.] She was honest about a black piece in her life, turning her back on her friend when she knew he was in real trouble. I was like "Yeah, no fkn wonder you can't sleep, asshole." and then I remembered that hey, I'm a human being, too. I'm weak, too. I fuck up. I have yet to date a fkn Republican but I'm only 59, it could still happen. And though I have never (yet) dated a republication, I too have tainted myself, I have swam in dark waters: I dated a fundamentalist christian, who I really liked a lot -- she used to be a total sleazebag, running through life like a howling she-wolf, Jesus caught her before she lost herself totally to drinking and drugging, but now she was lost to Jesus, and Hosea, and Leviticus, and that whole crew. Still, I liked her, we understood one another; maybe Crouch liked her Republican, too.

—a condition diagnosed by various doctors. It goes on whether I drink or don’t, whether I give up coffee or poach myself in caffeine, whether I get pricked with acupuncture needles or take medication. They all call it something different. Acute anxiety. Panic attacks. Here’ s the deal: I can’t fucking sleep.

Bingo! That, to me, was (can still be; I run hottest in the autumn but can be any day it wants) one of the worst pieces in manic depression -- I can't turn the switch to "Off" even when desperately tired. Unlike Crouch, I have nothing to save me come sunrise -- eggs do the deal for her somehow; for me, not eggs, nor coffee, love, hate, fishing, yoga -- nothing. My feet hit the floor and stick there, and to move through the day is to slog through the day. I'm ever so grateful to these brilliant doctors and chemists, who've come up with these psych meds that give me a life -- Better Living Through Chemistry, you bet.

I don't know Plath nor Sexton but I know about a zillion people with manic depression, some of them bursting with color and creativity and fire, almost glory; one woman I know, Amy, she is to me just the very picture of Art, it just always is bursting out of her, an unending stream, I think she is treasure, i think she is golden, I want to follow her around and build ornate reliquaries in which to store and show to best advantage all of the beauty that flows from her, but all of the craftsmen in the world couldn't keep up with her. She has suffered horribly from manic depression but even locked down in it the sparks fly out. Mixed states.

But it's not the illness that gives the talent, so many confuse that, they conflate them, but they are different animals altogether. What the illness confers is boundless energy, when running hot; you take two equally talented people, one with manic depression and the next without, the person with manic depression will be able to create more canvasses, more poetry, more whatever it is that they do. Unless/except if they are crippled by the other piece in it, the depression, crippled to the point that nothing can get out; deep depression truly is a black fkn hole, it sucks every bit of light into it, it's not just a void but a vortex. A horror show.

In any case, you can have boundless creativity but be dumb as a box of rocks, maybe create an unceasing flow of festive hats woven out of differing colors of toilet paper covered with glitter, maybe create a string of hollywood blockbusters. Both of those individuals have given a lot, sure, but is it beauty?

No. No, it is not.

That said, I do think that lunacy does make a canvas sing, makes writing leap off the page at least some, and Crouch writes like she's at least a little bit nuts; she's fun to read. The story of her friendship, and of his doomed love, it was great reading but it was knowing that a train wreck was coming up, and no way to not see it happen. A love story with a prostitute in it, that's going to be a sad story; one of the people that I love most here in Austin shares custody of his five year old daughter with her prostitute mother, who he still loves, at least sometimes, like for example when he's not hating her.

Her honesty, Crouch I mean, telling us of her turning away from her friend in his time of real need, that is what turned the writing for me, and pissed me the fuck off, and then, as noted above, I remembered my mirror, and who I see in it sometimes, and who I *have* seen in it, previous times. And then I admire Crouch, for telling the truth.

I have to finish with this though, I have to put this down here -- her father told her true: a drowning person will take you down with them. So, stay away. Stay away until you've learned to to help a drowning person, that is. You don't try to save a drowning person on your own, get some support. And, also, lifeguards have specialized training in how to save a person in trouble, they grab hold of them, spin them around, lock them under their arm, then haul ass to shore. I think that it is our duty -- every persons duty, it's part of being a civil human being -- it is our job to learn to help others when they are drowning. Even if it only means knowing where the floating ring is, to toss out to them, tied to a rope so you can haul them back in. It's called love.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:47 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


Great post Sebmojo. As someone who's also doing the Better Living Through Chemistry thing, I found it engaging. I think it says something really great about Metafilter, though, that I find the comments here more insightful than the article. I found it hard to relate to the author's perspective, which isn't a criticism just an observation.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 7:05 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I had trouble with this piece-- like, I literally had trouble following it-- but the comments in here were interesting and worth clicking through to.

I think Plath was an incredible artist and I get the sense that unfortunately she's not taken as seriously as she should be by Critic-Type People Who Apparently Matter. Her poems have this muscle, this electricity to them, that really grabs me by the ears and shakes my head.
posted by threeants at 7:17 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I vividly remember the halcyon days of turn-of-the millenium SF. Strip clubs, drugs, suicide, meaninglessness, ephemeral connections and a pervasive sense of unreality. It was one part each raptuous wonder and banal narcissism. This piece really resonated with me despite my ignorance of Plath's works.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:16 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I think Plath was an incredible artist and I get the sense that unfortunately she's not taken as seriously as she should be by Critic-Type People Who Apparently Matter.
Plath’s reputation among literary critics and historians of literature is deservedly gigantic. Her poetry is highly regarded, she is considered a pioneer among her peers, and there are many, many articles, monographs, and collections whose primary subject is Plath's work.

For the record, and all that.
posted by mistersquid at 10:52 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


This piece reminds me of a sometimes poet, painter, musician, etc named Weldon Kees, whose abandoned car was found near the Golden Gate bridge in 1955.

For the record, 'Robinson', from a quartet of poems that evoke the same tone and mood Crouch is writing about.


The dog stops barking after Robinson has gone.
His act is over. The world is a gray world,
Not without violence, and he kicks under the grand piano,
The nightmare chase well under way.

The mirror from Mexico, stuck to the wall,
Reflects nothing at all. The glass is black.
Robinson alone provides the image Robinsonian.

Which is all of the room—walls, curtains,
Shelves, bed, the tinted photograph of Robinson’s first wife,
Rugs, vases, panatellas in a humidor.
They would fill the room if Robinson came in.

The pages in the books are blank,
The books that Robinson has read. That is his favorite chair,
Or where the chair would be if Robinson were here.

All day the phone rings. It could be Robinson
Calling. It never rings when he is here.

Outside, white buildings yellow in the sun.
Outside, the birds circle continuously
Where trees are actual and take no holiday.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:57 PM on July 28


Holy Shit !!! I really did enjoy Crouch's writing in this essay, so I did a Startpage search, found Crouch's website, and linked from her site is a page of like 20 ( !!! ) of her essays. Hurray !!!
posted by dancestoblue at 1:03 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why, but I liked Katie Crouch's depiction of turn-of-the-millennium SF much better than I did her effort to recruit Sylvia Plath to make whatever other point she was making. Excellent writing, in any case. Evocative. I love the way she captures the particular feel of that time in SF, which was my last year in SF before being forced out by the economic realities.

Anyhow, the truth is that many gay boys like me also flock(ed) to Sylvia Plath like gossamer moths to a flame. Doom and drama -- two very salient and useful ingredients in a gay man's life, at least for a time. Then you go deeper and realize that Sylvia Plath isn't just all about the stereotypes: the woman numbly sticking her head in the oven, the joyless creature, the author of the piercing, nasty couplets of "Daddy." She had much clearer and fiercer insight than she's ever really given credit for, despite all the academic hosannas.

And, as Dan Chiasson writes, "She wrote several dozen of the most extraordinary poems in the English language within the span of a few months, before the children awoke at dawn." A writer, a gift, a collection of bees and birds and rabbits and knives; a poetry of the most capacious humanity and also the most dead-certain, razor-sharp, and cutting face-to-faceness with the ugliness and banality behind the beauty of life. A poet of perfection.
posted by blucevalo at 8:20 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


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