Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sylvia Plath, Satre, and trouble with mirrors

Mirror
Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

“There is a white hole in the wall, a mirror. It is a trap. I know I am going to let myself be caught in it. I have. The grey things appears in the mirror. I go over and look at it, I can no longer get away. It is the reflection of my face.” Jean-Paul Satre, 1938.

Well, Jean-Paul, I'm left wondering if the advent of the common mirror, readily available, easily affordable, infesting all our domestic corners and public spaces, was a necessary pre-condition for the birth of existentialist philosophies.
Or the birth of Western individualism.
More to the point, was the bathroom mirror a necessary pre-requisite for the self-portraiture of Angst ?
A pre-requisite not because an already angst-ridden artist could now sketch from his crystal mirror image, but because the birth of the industrial-manufactured mirror became a determining factor in the very birth of the modern pervading sense of Angst. The material culture's artefact 'mirror' so conditioned the cultural milieu that society could now comprehend, connect with, and value the cultural artefact 'portrait', expressive of the state of Angst.
Enter the two Freuds.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for introducing me to these two powerful pieces of writing, Plath and Satre. Followed then by your thoughts about the angst ridden artist, with tilts towards narcissus and Freud.

    I love Plath's poem particularly. It's strangely gut wrenching that woman 'with tears and an agitation of hands'.

    Thanks, Harry.

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