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Jenne 1 Keith Jenne Barbara Pittman English 1020 10/12/10

In my rough draft it was diagnosed that my essay was an opinionated analysis of the poem and article. I added two paragraphs, after the intro, with a better summary of the article. I revised my thesis a little from my rough draft to focus more of my argument around the poem being confessional and less about devaluing the Holocaust. As I talked about in my reflections I don’t believe that I should have used “I think” in my thesis. It sounds too opinionated. Much of the work below I kept intact but I moved some sentences around and added more clarity to help better support a consistent argument. “Lady Lazarus” and the Mysterious ‘Black Phones’ In the scholarly article “‘Black Phones’: Postmodern Poetics in the Holocaust Poetry of Sylvia Plath” Matthew Boswell argues that Plath’s poem attempts to convince the reader that “Lady Lazarus” is a non-confessional look at herself. Boswell emphasizes that Plath’s poem is nothing more than a post modernistic look at the Holocaust through the eyes of “a suicidal strip artist who performs a kind

of Holocaust-themed cabaret” (54). I respect what Boswell has written and I think that he makes a compelling argument surrounding postmodernism, but I just cannot bring myself to subscribe to the ideology that Plath’s poem was written

Jenne 2 purely for art. In the end, I am not entirely persuaded by his argument. I think that Plath wrote this poem as an intimate self-diluted glance at her inner psyche, while using an approach regarded as post modernistic by comparing the Holocaust to her suicidal urges.

Boswell begins his article by looking at views of other critics that suggest that Plath’s poem is some way confessional in nature. He employs these views to separate his argument from his peers and to state that Plath is “brazen in her exploitation of the tropes and iconography associated with the Holocaust” (Boswell 55) and that “she conveys a clear sense of the distinction between art and reality” (Boswell 55). Boswell goes onto argue that her style ultimately becomes the “defining features of postmodernism” (55). He also examines the significance of the Holocaust in Plath’s poetry and how it illustrates her feministic views.

In the second half of Boswell’s article he switches gears to dissect the meaning of the black phones and what they symbolize. He indicates that the metaphorical black phone used in many poems written by Plath imply, an amputation of “poetry’s relationship with the past”

Jenne 3 (Boswell 59) and its modernistic ideas. Boswell continues to elaborate on his interpretation of the black phones and how it represents “voicelessness” (62) that is “created by ‘artistic’ performances which can never equate to historical reality” (62). Boswell makes a powerful case for postmodern influence in Plath’s Holocaust poetry, but I feel he ignores obvious hints that tell the audience that it is much more disturbing opposed to postmodern art.

As I take a look at Plath’s poem I would first like to examine the definition of postmodernism and how it relates to Boswells take on “Lady Lazarus”. “Postmodernism” is defined as a late-20th-century style and concept in the arts … that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematical relationship with any notion of “art”. Based on that definition, Boswell makes a compelling argument that Plath’s poem represents postmodernism. I would have to agree with his views here to a certain extent. I believe that Plath uses this poem as an artistic disagreement from the conventional modernistic views by challenging the ideas of her era. I am sure that many people believe the Holocaust was not something to depict in art metaphorically, particularly when much of the world was

Jenne 4 affected by this catastrophe at the time. Furthermore, her unwillingness to convey sympathy for the genocide of millions of Jewish men and women may have left many of her critics nauseated, thus establishing a postmodern feel. In my opinion I believe that Plath’s style comes off as a little insensitive, but as I try to compare it to her desperate mental state at the time she probably felt more like a tortured Holocaust victim rather than a conceptualized “suicidal strip artist” (Boswell 54).

Early on it is clear that Plath represents herself through a woman named Lady Lazarus, a Jew executed in the Holocaust, but as I look deeper into this poem it all seems like a red herring covering up the definitive truth. “Lady Lazarus” reads like a woman screaming for help specifically when she writes, “And I a smiling woman./ I am only thirty./ And I like the cat have nine times to die.” (Plath 19-21). Plath issues the reader a warning that she is not afraid to die and that she will continue to pursue death until she succeeds. As I read ahead Plath informs the audience that “Dying/ Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.” (43-45). As I read these stanza’s it sounds less like a fictional character and more like a poet in need of psychological help. I agree with

Jenne 5 Boswell that she uses touches of postmodern art, but it all seems to detract from her underlying attitude concerning death that is impossible to ignore.

In an attempt to persuade the readers, Boswell promotes the idea that Plath’s exploitation of the Holocaust behaves as a platform used to illustrate her feministic views in a strip tease like fashion that, “borders on prostitution” (56). I tend to agree with Boswell that Plath uses strong feministic tones throughout her poem, particularly when Boswell writes, “the aggressive feminist position, that Lady Lazarus assumes…is not a total distortion of the concerns of Holocaust verse, and could be justified by the insight that the Holocaust was an event which was, for the most part, conceived and perpetrated by men” (57). His statement rings true in a sense that her writing is femininely driven, but I think that Plath’s writing runs considerably deeper. We see her feministic tone illustrated when Plath writes, “And I eat men like air.” (Plath 84). Boswell states that this feminist posturing is intended for the “’masters from Germany’” (58). This could be true figuratively, but this sentence seems to be clearly pointed at the men that mistreated her throughout her life. It would almost certainly not be a

Jenne 6 stretch to say that the men in Plath’s life in all probability facilitated her mental state of hate. Therefore inspiring her true voice for “Lady Lazarus” while exposing the main antagonists in her life.

Boswell suggests that the black phones referenced in Plath’s Holocaust poems symbolize the death of modernism and the reigning in of postmodern views. He refers to the black phones as “a mode of communication with the past that can only transmit incommunicability.” (Boswell 61). Once again he tries to insinuate that the black phones rally around his hypothesis that her poetry is artistic in nature and less confessional. I fail to see the connection of the black phones artistically. The central character of “Lady Lazarus” has tried to commit suicide three times. I believe that character to be Plath, literally. I get the feeling that she is truly crying for help in her poem, specifically when she says, “I do it so it feels like hell./ I do it so it feels real./ I guess you could say I’ve a call.” (Plath 46-48). The black phones could be translated as her metaphorical disconnect from the world. This detachment from reality has left her vulnerable to her ultimate goal of self-destruction. She fuses this into our consciousness when she articulates that, “I turn and burn” (Plath 70).

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Boswell makes a strong case for his ideas on postmodernism and the black phones regarding Plath’s poetry, but I tend to classify her work as an open proclamation of her inner being. I did some research on Sylvia Plath and discovered that she committed suicide months after writing this. It came as a shock to learn this, but I really was not that surprised after all. Plath was most likely beyond a point of no return at the time and this reinforced my opinion of her dark mental state. It is hard to comprehend any interpretation other than a confession of a depressed woman. With that said, Plath’s poem demonstrates to the reader how afflicted she was when she wrote “Lady Lazarus” and I feel it embodied her true feelings for suicide.

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Work Cited Boswell, Matthew. “‘Black Phones’: Postmodern Poetics in the Holocaust Poetry of Sylvia Plath” Critical Survey; 2008, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p53-64. Ebscohost. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. http://web.ebscohost.com.libauth.tri-

c.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? vid=3&hid=15&sid=0150fb72-83d7-42e4-b185-295b206a684e %40sessionmgr4

Plath, Sylvia. "Lady Lazarus." An Introduction to Poetry. By X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 13th ed. N.p.: Longman, 2010. 262-264. Print.

“Postmodernism.” Oxford Online Reference. Oxford U Press, 2010. Web. 12 Oct. 2010 http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/view/entry/m_en_us1279801 #m_en_us1279801

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