This October 24 - 27th will see a major Sylvia Plath Symposium taking place in Indiana University at Bloomington. An official website with comprehensive information on this symposium is located at http://sylviaplathsymposium2012.indiana.edu/. The event will include talks from Plath experts like Karen V. Kukil, Lynda K. Bundtzen, Janet Badia, Tracy Brain, Heather Clark, Amanda Golden, Peter K. Steinberg, Langdon Hammer, and many other Plath luminaries.
I am beyond excited to have been given funding to attend this Symposium. The range of papers and excellence of speakers makes this event a dream come true for early career Plath researchers like myself. I am also thrilled to be giving a paper at Bloomington as well. If any readers of this blog are coming along to the Symposium, take a look at my abstract and perhaps come and see my paper / or say hello!
I will be tweeting from the conference and taking lots of photographs for future blog posts, but I would urge everyone to follow the Sylvia Plath Info twitter as I'm sure Peter Steinberg will have his finger on the Plath pulse much better than I! :)
The abstract for the paper I will present: SATURDAY OCT 27 WOODBURN HALL Panel 1: 8:30-9:20 am.
“Something in me said, now, you must see this”: reconciling death and “the empty benches of memory” in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Berck-Plage’.
Written in early summer 1962, Sylvia Plath’s longest poem, ‘Berck-Plage’ has mystified critics and admirers alike. The vivid and grotesque descriptions of Berck beach juxtaposed with the sickly slow death of Court Green neighbour Percy Key, has led commentators to define this poem as a confusing confessional piece; entrenched in “funereal doom and gloom,” indicative of Plath’s supposed death/re-birth fascination and rooted in personal fears. This paper aims to challenge such critical perception, and suggest that when a wider frame of textual, historical and philosophical analysis is applied to the poem, ‘Berck-Plage’ reveals Plath’s fascination with larger concepts such as the meaning of death and life after the Second World War.
By primarily considering the relationship between what Plath chooses to say and leave unsaid in ‘Berck-Plage’; my paper will argue that the focal concern of this poem is expression of inexpressible trauma. The pervading memories of mass slaughter that penetrate Berck beach, combined with the individual suffering and death of Percy Key give Plath the opportunity to explore two distinctly different types of death. One in which the speaker is a bystander, unable to process past memories; and another where the speaker is an active, seeing, present participant in a funeral party. My paper will ultimately suggest that it is the recognition and infusion of these two types of death that allow Plath to begin to reconcile the unspeakable events of WW2 and come to a new understanding of personal death in her work.
Taking into consideration different critical opinions, historical documents, philosophies of memory and death: this paper will conclude that ‘Berck-Plage’ does not simply detail Plath’s “morbid nightmares” and obsessions, rather - it is a poem that represents her pioneering, fearless and postmodern engagement with mortality, traumatic world events and her unique understanding of them.