Express or Die? The Sensidictory Artist – an extract

Here is an extract from my piece in The Death Mook, being launched tomorrow night at Dante’s in Fitzroy, Vic. Buy it here. In the full piece I discuss Sylvia Plath, Susanna Kaysen, and Elizabeth Wurtzel (in that order). As I’ll be reading the Sylvia Plath section tomorrow night, I’m reproducing the introduction and the middle section here.

Ever felt caught? Overwhelmed by the world’s injustices? Frustrated by your own inability to cope? Other people just don’t seem to feel it like you do. It grates, it aches. You harbour guilt about this intensity of feeling, when others are clearly worse off. You struggle to believe you’ll ever achieve creatively. You want to shovel off the repressive weight of expectation – of family, society, and the mirror. You scream, cry, hole up, self-destruct, drink, purge it into a song lyric, painting, poem. Perhaps you have considered just ending it all?

Susanna Kaysen: Anxious Ambivalence

‘Actually, it was only part of myself I wanted to kill: the part that wanted to kill herself, that dragged me into the suicide debate and made every window, kitchen implement, and subway station a rehearsal for tragedy.’

Girl, Interrupted (1993)

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Susanna Kaysen watched the world in microcosm from her hospital cocoon. Was she crazy, or was it the 60s? She supposes she’ll never know. She had tried to die, scratching at the ‘thing’ inside of her, numbing it with pills and alcohol. She knew she wanted to be a writer and yet everyone insisted on asking her what she wanted to do. Again, the weighty expectations placed upon a woman from a bourgeois conservative family. And she wondered: why did she feel so different anyway?

Some would be familiar with the film made of her story, but whilst effective, her own memoir Girl, Interrupted gets more intimate with this fractured mind. Backward and forward in time like a Virginia Woolf sentence, with the constant awareness that she never really has figured it out. How alone she was, always in two minds about everything and her mind layered up until she had to get it out. But as long as she keeps writing she seems able to keep the dark at bay. As long as she can share her otherness without outright rejection. But there was never a cure, as there may never have been a sickness, just an oppressive combination of elements that made her want to kill the radical being inside…

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