Monday, 18 November 2013

Guest-blog: "Had She Plotted It All?" - Mimetic Representation and Fictionalization of Sylvia Plath in David Aceituno's 'Sylvia & Ted'.

In this guest-blog post, Lara Serodio discusses her MA thesis topic. Serodio's dissertation investigates the ways that Sylvia Plath is represented and fictionalized within popular culture, biofictions and specifically, in David Aceituno's Catalan poetry collection, 'Sylvia & Ted'. Serodio raises interesting questions about the way Plath's life and work is represented in biographies and academic texts, as well as Plath's position as muse to other writers. She also considers the importance of reader responses to the work of Plath and asks whether Plath's fictionaliztion of her self in her poetry and fiction is relevant to how readers respond to her writings.

It all started the moment I had to select my MA thesis topic. Although the idea of working about Plath had been in my mind for a while, given that I’ve been reading her since I was nineteen years old, I did not have a project in particular, and had not thought about her as my theme for this task until a colleague lent me, unaware of my admiration and familiarity with Plath’s works, the book of poems Sylvia & Ted, by the Catalan author David Aceituno. After several months of oblivion, in which I completely forgot about the book, I started to read it by coincidence while I was on my summer holidays and it only took me twenty minutes to realise that I had to do my MA thesis about it. Why?, you must be wondering.

In the first place, what interested me the most about the book was what it said about me: this made me think about the possibilities of a text that portrayed a particular person (in this case, Sylvia Plath) while recreating and transmitting universal emotions. Isn’t it weird? A book of poems portraying Plath as a character and what it strikes me the most about it is what it says about my own life. In this sense, Aceituno’s book (and these kinds of biofictions) offered me the opportunity to work from the perspective of Plath’s person. I think his book turns out to be significant in its sub-genre because it displays the perfect mixture of creativeness and plausibility, which is exactly what I intended to demonstrate in the discussion about the legitimate nature of both biofictions and biographies in the case of Plath.

There are a large number of biographies concerning the figure of Plath, and more are published each year, which gives us a hint of the increasing interest around her. Thus, not only is her poetry remembered, but her life and the relation that exists between biography and poetry are also taken into account. This is due, among many things, to Plath’s ways of fictionalizing herself, which is the subsequent issue to consider when reading Aceituno’s book. If Plath herself primarily used her life as the main source for her fiction -with the final consequence of becoming a character in it-, it is also convenient to think that Aceituno’s exercise in turning Sylvia into a character of his is plausible and equally legitimate. This assertion is extensive to Plath’s biographies, as it is proved in my text, given that they, too, rely on Plath’s writings to piece together a version of the facts. I believe this, consequently, makes biographies equal to biofictions.

In order to take these enquiries further, I spent most of my time reading both biographies and biofictions about Plath, as well as academic papers published on these subjects, which, as you probably already know, are of a significant volume. Therefore, I started to write my MA thesis with what I consider was an extensive background on the subject. However, this fact became also a problem. The huge volume of bibliography was problematic when it came to organising the contents: what I thought it was an advantage it turned out being, as well, an obstacle. Nonetheless, this extensive research has certainly helped me to both support and refute my theories about Plath’s processes of fictionalization and how these are related to the creation of biofictions about her. Likewise, I managed to come up with original material myself, since I had the chance to interview the author of Sylvia & Ted, David Aceituno. This fact provided my dissertation with my own interpretation of his work that contrasted with his own words.

I felt that the most convenient way to understand these interpretative processes was to go behind the critical reflections on the nature of reality and fiction and the semantics of possible worlds. What I tried to put together was a small and basic itinerary as a result of the keywords that appeared in the construction of the rest of the text: terms such as fiction, truthfulness, reality, etc. My aim was to understand these terms considering that they are the basis to approach the rest of the project. I tried to sum up the central ideas of the most important theorists on the field, being aware that this was just the tip of the iceberg. In doing so, a whole new theoretical world has opened to me.  

In general terms, I must add that writing this thesis has been mostly a pleasure, since it provided me with different topics to approach, not only Plath’s life and work, but also her biographies and biofictions. Moreover, it has also been a big challenge. However, and bearing in mind the possibilities of a further investigation, I must say that a lot is left to say. I had to cast aside a few questions that I wanted to develop –as it is, for instance, the role of the reader–, and I also found other approaches to the topic that I would like to investigate –as it could be the other causes underlying Plath’s writing processes. Additionally, I had to leave aside a great amount of possible bibliography –mainly, a further development of the primary sources analysis and the subsequent academic research about it. These are all topics that I intend to resume at some point, although I cannot be more specific about when or where.

Additionally, I must confess that during the composition of my thesis I have come up with a few ideas to create my own biofiction about Plath, since I have come to understand the nature of these and I also have acquired the sufficient information about the subject. I will keep you posted in case I adventure myself into that world.

I can only add that I hope you find my MA thesis interesting enough to give it a look if you are a Plathian. It will be published by the Universitat de Barcelona website archive, so, when available, I will let you all know! Thank you!

Lara Serodio studied screenwriting and cinema at ESCAC in Barcelona. She continued her academic education in the areas of cinema and cultural studies at the University of Barcelona (UB) where she enrolled in the Construction and Representation of Cultural Identities MA. She has just completed her MA and is now taking time off to reconsider the possibility to a PhD about Plath. 


Peter K Steinberg said...

Very interesting post Lara and Maeve. I wonder... which biofiction's aside from Aceituno's did you find particularly good or helpful, or even unhelpful?


. said...

Hello Peter!

Thank you for the comment.
Actually, I focused my work on Aceituno's and did not carry out a comparison. Nevertheless, I read a few poems and a few biofictions, among them Little Fugue by Robert Anderson, Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots and what I think is the most considered among them, Kate Moses' Wintering. I also read Emma Tennant's books, and, while I tried to focus on the positive aspects of all of them -specially trying to understand their intentions-, it's true that the "friendliest" is Wintering.
I also read the script of Christine Jeffs' film Sylvia and I must confess that although I did not enjoy it at the beginning, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the images.
I am sorry I cannot be more precise, but that is one of the reasons I think I came up with my own idea of a biofiction, because I could only find Aceituno's near to my perspective [I do not like polarised vision in this specific case: ted's team vs sylvia's team. There is no such thing.]