Modernist Impersonality in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath
This thesis revises strictly autobiographical and confessional readings of Sylvia Plath’s poetry by attending to the legacies of modernism present in her representations of the self. In reassessing the popular idea that Plath’s poems illustrate a linear narrative towards self-revelation, mired by the assumed predeterminism of her suicide, this thesis at once situates Plath within her literary, social, and cultural contexts of mid-century America and Britain, and analyses the poetic means in which Plath resists or defers stable significations of subjectivity. Rather than being highly individualised and inextricably personal evocations of selfhood, Plath’s subjective representations instead develop out of spatially situated engagements between self and world, destabilising the perceived location of knowledge and truth from within the contained borders of the self. This unfolding of multiple and indeterminate meanings of the self, contingent upon its entanglement with past and present discursive influences at the time of Plath’s writing, will be examined through the framework of modernist impersonality. Arguing against traditional understandings of impersonality as a repudiation of the self and its emotional experiences, I instead demonstrate how Plath’s deployment of impersonality reflects a revised approach that emphasises its potential to procure new affective reformulations of subjectivity in its engagement and orientation towards the world. Plath’s impersonal mode subsequently reconfigures features of her selfhood that have previously served to align with a perceived autobiographical self; instead, it reveals an embodied and embedded self that reconstructs and reimagines present and future boundaries within her textual world.