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Title: Transforming the Law of One: Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath from a Kristevan perspective
Authors: Khalifeh, Areen Ghazi
Advisors: Gaston, S
Fulton, D
Keywords: Abjection/Semiotic;Psychoanalysis;Feminism;Confessional poetry;American poetry
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: Brunel University School of Arts PhD Theses
Abstract: A recent trend in the study of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath often dissociates Confessional poetry from the subject of the writer and her biography, claiming that the artist is in full control of her work and that her art does not have naïve mimetic qualities. However, this study proposes that subjective attributes, namely negativity and abjection, enable a powerful transformative dialectic. Specifically, it demonstrates that an emphasis on the subjective can help manifest the process of transgressing the law of One. The law of One asserts a patriarchal, monotheistic law as a social closed system and can be opposed to the bodily drives and its open dynamism. This project asserts that unique, creative voices are derived from that which is individual and personal and thus, readings of Confessional poetry are in fact best served by acknowledgment of the subjective. In order to stress the subject of the artist in Confessionalism, this study employed a psychoanalytical Kristevan approach. This enables consideration of the subject not only in terms of the straightforward narration of her life, but also in relation to her poetic language and the process of creativity where instinctual drives are at work. This study further applies a feminist reading to the subject’s poetic language and its ability to transgress the law, not necessarily in the political, macrocosmic sense of the word, but rather on the microcosmic, subjective level. Although Sexton and Plath possess similar biographies, their work does not have the same artistic value in terms of transformative capabilities. Transformation here signifies transgressing of the unity of the subject and of the authoritative father, the other within, who has prohibitive social and linguistic powers. Plath, Kristeva’s the “deadmost,” successfully confronts the unity of the law, releasing the death drive through anger. Moreover, Plath’s psychic borders are more fluid because of her ability to identify with the pre-Oedipal mother. This unsettling subject is identified by shifts in texts marked by renewal, transgression, and jouissance. Unlike Sexton, Plath is able to achieve transformation as she oscillates masochistically between the “inside” and the “outside” of her psychic borders, and between the symbolic and the semiotic. Furthermore, this enables Plath to develop the unique “Siren Voice of the Other.” In comparison, Sexton, the “dead/less,” evades any confrontation with the maternal and the performance of death in her poetry. Her case is further complicated by the discovery of a second mother. As a result, passivity becomes a main characteristic of her work. This passivity remains until the maternal abject bursts in her text and she reacts to this by performing cleansing rituals, and gravitating toward a symbolic father. Without the dynamism of transgression, Sexton’s work is heterogeneous but does not achieve ultimate transformation and jouissance. Confessional poetry, in this sense, takes on a new dimension. The life stories of the poets become important not for their pejorative, pathological aspects that focus on narrative mimesis, but rather for their manifestation as an aesthetic process. The subject of the writer becomes important as an aesthetic identity in the poems, which are rooted in real life. The main concern then becomes the aesthetic transformative dialectic between the semiotic and the symbolic in her work of art.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University.
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Brunel University Theses
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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