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Title: Visual poetics: The art of perception in the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath
Authors: Nader, Myrna
Keywords: Surrealism;Liminality;Myth;Religion;Ways of seeing
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: Brunel University School of Arts PhD Theses
Abstract: This study of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath goes beyond the usual practice of labelling these writers either as reticent or Confessional. Instead, it places greater emphasis on their visual poetics which privileges the process of creativity – the different modes of seeing – over ethical and political considerations. I begin by discussing what each knew of the other and proceed to examine their common interest in perception and interpretation. Bishop and Plath seek to understand the depiction of ‘reality’ and the various forms that this takes: the concrete fact, the object or the authentic experience modulated by historical data, whether symbols, mythical forms or religious conventions. In their poetry the self objectifies the world, discovering and simultaneously defining observed phenomena. Alternatively, personal identity is determined as part of a symbolic order because the present is deemed inadequate in itself and, therefore, frames of reference need to be expanded, analogies drawn, historical parallels established, myths invoked. This historicised art is complex, stylistic and culturally established. Bishop’s poetry, for instance, distinguishes between customary ways of seeing; the symbolism of medieval painting and the untrained eye of individualism (Primitive art). Her poetic ‘transparency’, language which corresponds faithfully to actual experience, calls attention, by its very directness and apparent simplicity, to the various parts of a synthesising imagination that could, potentially, infringe upon pure vision. The analysis of Bishop’s language and its development is based upon her published and unpublished material. Bishop and Plath underscore differences between description and meditation, empirical enquiry and symbolic transformation, the tangible and the abstract. They further consider religious beliefs ephemeral and place their faith in the primacy of the material world. Bishop is especially distrusting of symbolism in Christian imagery. Plath admired Bishop‘s poetry for being ‘real’, that is intimate, but not self-obsessed, concerned with aestheticism and ‘pleasure-giving’. This was the type of poetry she aspired to write. The reading of Plath uses autobiography sparingly, while arguing that her work – including poems in Ariel – demonstrates the creative strategies of, what she termed, a ‘pseudo-reality’. This precludes the automatic designation of her poetry as fully Confessional. Visual poetics is broadly defined to include a discussion on surrealism. Bishop was fascinated by the movement‘s expression of the numinous and transcendent but recoiled from its illogical thinking. Plath was equally drawn and repelled by male surrealists’ portrayal of the woman subject. In her poetry the misogyny of this art is countered by the appropriation of more positive imagery found in female surrealists such as Leonor Fini.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University.
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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