Department of English
Master of Arts
In The Newly Born Woman, Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement note that Michelet and Freud "both thought that the repressed past survives in woman; woman, more than anyone else, is dedicated to reminiscence" (5). Whether or not this is true of woman, that expectation of her—as keeper of the past—has perhaps subsisted in the deepest realms of the collective unconscious. From the work of Cixous and Clement, Julia Kristeva and Angela Leighton, I ultimately deduce that there are two perceptions of time: man's time has been associated with the straight, the linear, the historical, and the prosaic; woman's time has been associated with the circular, the cyclical, the monumental, and the poetic. Each time has its obstacles to overcome: man's time is stubbornly rooted in patriarchal language; woman's time is dizzyingly enigmatic. The struggles between these two times manifest themselves in the poetry of perhaps the two most canonical American women poets, Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. In the corpus of each, I find a common mode of operation that attempts to reconcile man's and woman's time, to varying degrees of success. Emily Dickinson uses the language of linear history to stretch its boundaries; she experiments with the nature of time and memory as related to trauma, beginning to question and reform historical memory (men's and women's) and our experience of it in poems such as #1458, "Time's wily Chargers will not wait"; #563, "I could not prove the Years had feet"; #33, "If recollecting were forgetting"; and #312, "Her - 'last Poems'—." Sylvia Plath, on the other hand, is not as certain that the two can be so easily reconciled. Determined to establish her place in literary history and lay claim to posterity, but terrified that doing so will take away her present voice, Plath often represents woman—sometimes literally, as in "All the Dead Dears," and sometimes metaphorically, as in "The Courage of Shutting- Up"—as a potential museum, a live body always in danger of drying out and immobilizing, being admired as she is, frozen in the present moment, but denied future evolution. Through close readings of the poets' afore-mentioned works and others, in conjunction with the frequent application of critical/theoretical scholarship in feminist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, and postcolonial veins, I will explore the attempted reconciliation of man's and woman's time in four chapters: "The Thrust of Manliness" concerns the limitations of linear time, including entropy, atrophy, and the charge of feminine reminiscence; "Morning Glory: Cycles and Resurrection" outlines the advantages of a circular perspective, including possibilities for change and resurrection; "Secretaries of Aporia: Recording without Meaning" explores the limitations of cyclical time as encased in linear time, particularly in the literary charge to detail without explaining; and "The Time of Trauma" underlines the historical and political implications of both the burden of reminiscence without return and the study of women's poetry in linear time.
English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America
Brown, Margaret, "Museum-Making in Women's Poetry: How Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson Confront the Time of History" (2007). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 965.