fredag den 21. april 2017

READER'S ROUND // "Sylvia Plath skriver om mig" Part 2

En af litteraturens forunderlige kvaliteter er, at den formår at gribe ind i ens eget liv. Litteraturen kan sætte tanker i gang, den kan ændre måden, hvorpå vi betragter og forstår andre mennesker, men også måden hvorpå vi forstår os selv. Vi kan spejle os i litterære karakterer og pludselig forstå os selv på et dybere plan, eller vi kan tage afstand til det, vi læser og pludselig erfare, at vi føler anderledes, end vi troede. 

Det er helt unikt, når et menneske møder en bog, som forandrer noget i menneskets tilværelse. Denne lille føljeton skrevet af forskellige læsere handler om netop dette: et menneskes møde med en bog og alt det der opstår i mødet.


Ps. Forfatteren har valgt at være anonym, men alle kommentarer vil blive videresendt og læst. 



Del 2
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Jeg starter hvor jeg slap: med Sylvia Plath og Carson McCullers. Jeg har fundet ud af at Sylvia Plath var en stor beundrer af Carson McCullers hvilket uden tvivl forklarer hvorfor de indledende sætninger i henholdsvis Plaths The Bell Jar (1963) og McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (1946) minder så meget om hinanden. På internettet har op til flere læsere påpeget andre nævneværdige ligheder mellem deres værker. Blandt andet kalder Esther sin sommer i New York “queer” – et ord McCullers’ Frankie bruger igen og igen når hun går rundt i sin sydstatshjemby og funderer over hvad det er for et skred der er sket i og omkring hende i løbet af sin sommer. Hun kan ikke sætte ord på det fordi hun er midt i det, men hun er blevet ensom. Hun leder efter et meningsfuldt fællesskab, hun føler sig som et misfoster i sin pubertære, vokseværksramte, ranglede krop, og hun længes bort fra dér hvor hun er.
Jeg ved hvad det vil sige at være ensom. Måske ved jeg endda også hvad det vil sige at have en depression. I hvert fald kunne jeg identificere mig fuldstændigt med Esther indtil omkring side 120 ud af 234. Her er hun lige kommet hjem fra New York og skal til at i gang med sit speciale om James Joyces Finnegans Wake der er én af de mest komplicerede, labyrintiske romaner der nogensinde er skrevet, og dermed et overordentligt ambitiøst studieobjekt. Det er også her hendes fysiske symptomer sætter ind: hun kan ikke spise, hun kan ikke sove, hun kan ikke læse. For mig er det ikke sådan – ikke helt, i hvert fald. Jeg mister lysten til at spise, jeg sover for meget. Jeg kan godt læse, men Finnegans Wake ville jeg ikke give mig i kast med – slet ikke at analysere.
At læse The Bell Jar gik til gengæld let og hurtigt. En nat hvor jeg ikke kunne sove fordi det føltes som om der kørte fem spor af tanker gennem mit hoved på én gang, stod jeg op og læste omkring halvfjerds sider. I læsningen blev mine tanker reduceret fra fem spor til ét, og det var smertestillende at det tankespor jeg fulgte, ikke var mit. Tankerne jeg læste var tilmed relevante for mig. Jeg havde brug for dem. Jeg følte mig aldrig mæt i min læsning, hverken dén nat eller i det hele taget.
Jeg føler mig sjældent så glubsk når jeg læser. Det var en form for desperation som bundede i en stærk identifikation. Esther er foruroligende let at identificere sig med. Hun har ikke kontrol over noget, ikke engang sig selv. Hun er akademisk dygtig, men hun føler at hun må sno sig og snyde alle til at tro at hendes evner virkelig lever op til deres forventninger. På et tidspunkt i sine studier formår hun at bytte et ellers obligatorisk kemifag ud med et fag om Shakespeare. I sin salgstale for byttehandlen taler hun om “honour among honourable people”, og for udefrakommende virker argumentet plausibelt nok, men når hun senere tænker tilbage på kemilæreren Mr Manzi, lyder det: “I felt like going down to him on my hands and knees and apologizing for being such an awful liar”. Det går også op for hende at hun ikke ved hvad hun vil med sit liv, og det overrasker hende. Hun drømmer om det ene og det andet og det tredje liv, alle sammen eksotiske og spændende, krydret med eksotiske og spændende mænd. Hun har lyst til at leve alle de liv på én gang, men hun kan ikke vælge. Det hele falder fra hinanden; hun kan mærke det: lige om lidt bliver hun afsløret på universitetet – lige om lidt ser de at hun faktisk ikke havde evnerne alligevel, selvom alle troede det. Hun er en løgner, og hun er i færd med at smide alt det væk hun har opnået.
Det er det samme med mig: det hele falder fra hinanden. Jeg ved heller ikke hvad jeg vil med mit liv. Og lige om lidt, det kan jeg godt sige dig, lige om lidt bliver jeg også afsløret i ikke at kunne noget alligevel selvom alle troede det. Når det kommer til stykket.
Mange af de mere konkrete scener i The Bell Jar er også genkendelige. Jeg kan for eksempel sagtens forestille mig, som Esther, at lægge mig under en madras for at blive tynget ned i sengen i håb om at den fysiske pacificering kan smitte af og fiksere mit sind der ellers flimrer uroligt rundt i værelset og oppe i stratosfæren og rundt om planeter og –

Ligesom jeg bruger fortællingen om Esther til at forstå mig selv og min egen situation bedre, bruger Esther en novelle hun har læst til at forstå sig selv bedre (og til at formidle sin egen fortælling om sig selv til en læser, lige som jeg gør her). Hun har læst en novelle der handler om en jødisk mand og en nonne der plukker figner fra et figentræ. Efter hvad der lyder som antydningen af gengældte romantiske følelser (udtrykt ordløst uskyldigt elektrisk af to håndrygge der kort rører hinanden), holder nonnen op med at komme ud til figentræet og den jødiske mand. Esther kan godt lide historien; især nyder hun figentræet. Tyve sider (og nogle måneders spring i tid) senere viser det sig at netop dette figentræ bliver nyttigt for hende til at forklare hvad det vil sige at befinde sig i en tvivlende, tøvende position: “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Et billede der før var smukt, bliver lige pludselig ekstremt brugbart for Esther som metafor, og metaforen er lige så nyttig for mig som den er for hende; også jeg kan se det hele rådne væk mens mit vægelsind råder.

Hvad betyder det når man opdager at man ligner en litterær karakter så meget? Det er ikke overvældende, det er ikke ubehageligt, det er ikke en øjenåbner. Det kan jeg bevidne. Som jeg skrev i mit første indlæg med læsenoter, er det ikke en genkendelse der tager pusten fra mig. Til gengæld er det en trøst. Hvorfor er jeg ikke helt klar over; måske fordi det simpelthen bare er en menneskelig kvalitet at man føler sig trøstet, tryg og bekræftet af at kunne genkende sig selv og sin egen situation og andres situationer. Man er ikke alene i sin lidelse.
Jeg er ikke alene. Det forstår jeg, men også i den forstand at jeg ikke er den eneste person der føler sig spejlet, genkendt, i Esthers skildring af sit følelsesliv og sine relationer. Det er vigtigt for mig at understrege at jeg ikke tror man skal have en depression for at forstå hvad The Bell Jar skildrer; hvordan glasklokken føles. Frygten for at være utilstrækkelig, tvivlen på sig selv, på fremtiden, følelsen af magtesløshed, oplevelsen af at være indespærret og sært afskåret fra andre mennesker som i en glasklokke, ja, selv søvnløsheden er grundlæggende, menneskelige vilkår. Men jeg tror til gengæld også at lindringen ved at læse skildringer der rammer fuldstændigt plet når man står i en ellers fortvivlende, forvirrende og indadvendt (og derfor ensom) situation, er så meget desto større – og mere kærkommen.

”I felt sorry when I came to the last page. I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green fig-tree”.


ENGLISH BELOW
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One of the wonderful qualities of literature is the way it can reach into our own lives. Literature can make us reflect on the way we live, it can change the way we perceive the world and how we understand ourselves and other people. We can see ourselves reflected and mirrored in literary characters and suddenly understand ourselves better. 

It's such a unique experience when you read a book that changes something in your life. This series is about exactly that: a person's meeting with a book and everything that happens in this meeting. 

Ps. The author of this post has chosen to be anonymous, but all comments will of course be forwarded. 



Part 2
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I’ll begin where I left off: with Sylvia Plath and Carson McCullers. I’ve discovered that Plath was a great admirer of McCullers, which no doubt explains why the opening pages in Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963) and McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (1946) are so reminiscent. Online, several readers have pointed out other similarities in these works worthy of mention. For example, Esther calls her summer in New York “queer” – a word which McCullers’ Frankie uses over and over while wandering about in her Southern hometown, wondering what has happened around her, and to her, during her summer. She can’t properly explain it because she’s in the middle of it, but she’s become lonely. She’s searching for a place to belong, she feels like a freak because her lanky, adolescent, growth spurt-hit body is unfamiliar and ugly to her, and she’s longing to be somewhere far away.
I know what it means to be lonely. Perhaps I even know what it means to be depressed. In any case, I was able to identify completely with Esther until page 120 out of 234. Here, she has just arrived home from New York and is about to start writing her master thesis on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of the most complicated, labyrinthian novels ever written – and thus quite an ambitious subject of study. It is also at this point in the novel that Esther’s physical symptoms begin: she can’t eat, she can’t sleep, she can’t read. For me, it’s not like that – at least not quite. I lose my appetite, I sleep too much. I am able to read, but I wouldn’t sit down and read Finnegans Wake – let alone analyse it.
Reading The Bell Jar, on the other hand, was quick and easy. One night where I couldn’t sleep because it felt like five flows of thoughts were running through my head at once, I got up and read about seventy pages. In the act of reading, my thoughts were reduced from five flows to one, and it was a relief that this stream of consciousness I was following was not mine. Moreover, they were relevant. I needed them. I never felt satiated in my reading, neither that night nor in general.
I rarely feel so gluttonous when I’m reading. It was a kind of desperation originating in an intense identification. Esther is alarmingly easy to identify with. She has no control over anything, not even herself. She is academically gifted, but she feels like she has to fake it and trick everyone into believing that her abilities really do live up to everyone’s expectations. At one point during her studies (a flashback in the novel), she succeeds in swapping a mandatory chemistry course for a course on Shakespeare. While working to persuade the dean she talks about “honour among honourable people”, and to outsiders (and the dean, it turns out) the argument seems plausible enough, but when Esther recalls the chemistry teacher Mr Manzi, she feels “… like going down to him on my hands and knees and apologizing for being such an awful liar”. It also occurs to her that she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, something which surprises her. She dreams of one thing, then another, then another; one lifestyle after the other, one as exotic and exciting as the other, spiced with exotic and exciting men. She wants to live every life at once, but she can’t make up her mind. It all falls apart; she can feel it: every moment now she will be found out at the university – every moment now they will see that she did, in fact, not possess the abilities everyone thought she had. She’s a liar, and she’s throwing all her accomplishments away.
My case is the same: everything is falling apart. I also don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’m faking it. And any moment now, any moment I tell you, I, too, will be found out. When it comes down to it, I am untalented and useless, too.

Many of the more concrete scenes in The Bell Jar are also recognisable. For example, I can easily imagine, like Esther, lying down under a mattress in order to be weighed down heavily in my bed, hoping that the physical fixation might transfer to my mind which is otherwise flickering about in the room and the stratosphere and around planets and –

Just like I’m using the story of Esther to understand myself and my circumstances better, Esther herself is using a short story she’s read to understand herself and her circumstances better (and furthermore, both of us are using these stories to give accounts of ourselves to a given reader). The short story Esther has read is about a Jewish man and a nun picking figs from a fig-tree. After what seems like a hint of reciprocated romantic feelings (expressed wordlessly innocently electrically by the backs of their hands briefly touching) the nun stops coming out to the fig-tree and the Jewish man. Esther likes the story; she especially takes pleasure in the fig-tree. Twenty pages (and, plot-wise, a couple of months) later, it turns out that exactly this short story with the fig-tree becomes useful for her in order to explain what it means to feel existentially doubtful and hesitant: “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
An image that used to be pretty suddenly becomes extremely useful for Esther as a metaphor, and the metaphor is just as useful to me as it is to her; I, too, can see it all decaying while my indecisiveness reigns.

What does it mean when you discover that you are so similar to a literary character? It’s not overwhelming, it’s not unpleasant, it’s not an eye-opener. That, I can attest to. As I wrote in my first post of reading notes, it’s not a recognition that takes my breath away. However, it is comforting. I’m not exactly sure why; perhaps simply because it is a human quality to feel comforted, safe and acknowledged when recognising yourself and your own circumstance in others and their circumstance. You’re not alone in your pain.
I’m not alone. I understand that, but also in the sense that I’m not the only one to recognise myself in Esther’s portrayal of her emotional life and her relations. It’s important for me to stress that I don’t believe you need to have a depression in under to understand what The Bell Jar is about, and what a mental bell jar feels like. The fear of being inadequate, doubting yourself and the future, feeling powerless, trapped and oddly cut off from other people, yes, even the insomnia, all of these are inevitable parts of the human condition. However, I also believe when you are experiencing despairing, confusing and inward (and thus solitary) circumstances, the alleviation induced by reading portrayals that hit home is so much the bigger and more welcome.

In the words of Esther Greenwood: “I felt sorry when I came to the last page. I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green fig-tree.”

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