Finding my balance: My thoughts on temporarily uprooting.

‘And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?’ – Mary Oliver, ‘Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches.’

I came across this poem recently and was intrigued by the wistful tone of its words. All the questions I’ve ever contemplated about life, the future, seemed to be encapsulated in every stanza. It seemed to dispel every negative thought I’d ever considered on these themes. And then, this line:

 ‘Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’

Breathing. So natural. So necessary. Sustaining. Comfortable. Second nature. With the calling of ‘Listen’ I physically halted. Perhaps I was only breathing just a little, and not even noticing. I had become so comfortable in my life that every thought and action was undertaken completely independently of my mind. I had switched to autopilot.

Monotony, routine, is a killer to the creative soul, but is also the antidote to a person who, like myself, lacks in confidence. That’s not to say that I knock routine. I need it, in fact. But having too rigid a structure provided me with too much of a comfort blanket. My best ideas and decisions are often bred in the most unsettling of circumstances.

It got me thinking that a lot of people consider life to be linear. There’s only a certain time and place where things can be done. Travelling can only be done in your gap-year. Job changes can only occur once every decade. Children come after career. Years roll on. These are perhaps bad examples. Perhaps I sound like too much of a young vigilante. But why must we all walk this undeviating line? Surely there is room to stray from the path, go forwards, backwards, upwards, downwards.

My masterplan was to take a strategic sidestep.

Instead of just breathing a little I decided to inhale a whole host of dreams and ideas. I wanted to travel, but I realised that I was never going to be the backpacker to Thailand. Instead, I have arranged to live in Berlin for six months, perhaps longer. It was art, lifestyle, language, literature that I was craving, and what better place for this than an international hub of culture like the German capital.

I’ve always been an over-analyser. I drive myself and my friends mad with my tendency to kill every good situation with my scrutinising eye. I realise that a lot of this sense of caution has been cultivated in me since I was a child.

Things can get heavy when too long at home. After graduating from University and moving back to the family home, I found myself becoming embroiled in circumstances that I could not change and it weighed heavily upon me. We all have our shackles and it is hard to know how onecan shed them, or even if we should. I found that I was always wearing the name of someone else upon my lips which prevented me from forming any articulate idea about my own future plans. I don’t want to escape, I just want to carve out a little mental space for myself.

I decided in the New Year that I no longer want to live a life poised in fear and apprehension. I titled this blog, ‘Finding my balance’ and this is what I intend to do to move forward. Help to relieve the burdens of others without being crushed under the weight of them. Acknowledge negativity but not be overthrown by it. Be disciplined, not obsessional. Labour for love of others, and for myself afterwards, but then learn to relax.

Berlin is about me fashioning my own narrative and taking control of my own circumstances. I needed something different, something inspiring. This is me seeking out the extent of my strength and capability, learning more about myself in the hope that I’ll be more certain of my future by the time that I return.

I am blessed every day for the life I lead and for the people I have around me, and this is what will bolster me for the months ahead. I hope to find myself in six month’s time with a renewed sense of positivity. My faith in life is still unfaltering.

I am still searching for what it is that truly motivates and excites me. My blog is called ‘Finding my Muse’ because that’s what I am doing: in life and in words.

#lifestyle #culture #personal

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Daily Prompt: Silhouette

via Daily Prompt: Silhouette

The approaching morn cast a silhouette of a woman dancing across the floorboards of my room. She glanced at me, read my smile with her still gaze, and resumed her posture. How beautiful she looked in the light of the rising sun. I arose from my bed silently, stepping carefully to intercept the delicate weaving of her feet, but as I approached to hold her in my grasp, she faded like a breath in the wind. I held nothing but the faint touch of my own illusion.

#dailyprompt #onewordprompt

Sylvia Plath and the Art of Dying

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‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenberg’s, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’

An odd line for the start of a book, I thought, upon reading the opening of The Bell Jar. I had read about Sylvia Plath before: sadist, suicide fanatic, suppressed artist, but never before had I read her novel which, upon further investigation, is undeniably about her life. A life characterised by such a sharp, unsettling sense of self-hatred as to make one quiver while reading. But this is only speculation.

Plath has been psychoanalysed to an inch of her life since her suicide in 1963. Sunday 14th January 2018 marked the 55th anniversary of the publication of The Bell Jar and occasioned my desire to add my own share of interpretation. It would be easy for me to mythologise Plath as a suicide fanatic, majestically draped in a robe of madness, but this would serve to trivialise her torturous experiences of clinical depression. What is striking about Plath, however, is the way in which she spoke of death with such an ease of expression. This was a woman who was deeply enraptured by visions of her own destruction that were so intimately crafted and, ultimately, so memorably enacted.

When considering the biographical details of her life, the opening line of The Bell Jar becomes more comprehensible. It was the summer of Plath’s senior year at college, the summer where they ‘electrocuted the Rosenberg’s’, and where Plath received electroconvulsive therapy multiple times before her first medically-documented suicide attempt. Plath, like her protagonist Esther, was in New York interning at Mademoiselle, a job a lot of women would have died for, chasing a rather stilted version of the American dream. Surrounded by conflicting modes of American womanhood – the domestic homemaker of the 1950s, the secretary who was learned in shorthand but ultimately subject to a man’s dictation– Esther, and Plath, began the downward spiral of despondency.

In The Bell Jar, death is a longing, a desire, but also a real, proven, possibility. The novel is sharply inflected by sharp motes of Plath’s own brush with self-destruction. Anne Sexton wrote how she and Plath ‘talked death with burned-up intensity, both of [them] drawn to it like moths to an electric lightbulb.’[1] This metaphor of electricity is used time and time again. Esther feeds off the adrenalin, the electric feeling of seeing ‘redness flower from her wrists.’ The potent image of red vividly reminding us of its author, Plath – a woman bent on mutilating herself body and soul. The reality of hurting oneself is glamorised. A nightmarish image of sinking further into a blood-stained bath ‘under a surface gaudy as poppies’ is swallowed up, forgotten, as we are lulled asleep along with its victim.

The morbid lucidity of Esther’s moments of pain are shocking to the reader, but all the more pleasurable to their author. Esther plays a game with us, and equally with herself. How much pain can she inflict upon herself, and how much can we hurt as a consequence?

One of Plath’s most momentous attempts at suicide is described in The Bell Jar. Esther heaves her body into a gap in the cellar wall and, after swallowing her mother’s sleeping pills, lies still on the brink of oblivion. She describes how ‘‘The silence drew off, bearing the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep’’. Her fragile body, this vessel of ‘tatty wreckage’, is finally numbed, nearly engulfed and swept away with the tide, but is saved before extinction.

I said earlier that is was easy for one to mythologise Plath because in a way, she wanted us to do that. She said herself that The Bell Jar was a ‘throw[n] together’ series of events from her life that she focused upon ‘fictionalising to add colour.’ You can’t help but think that suicide is an assertion of power and character; the additional ‘colour’, the redness flowing from the wrist, needed to remedy a life lived in torment.

Esther’s fantasies of suicide are tied to famous fictional narratives. Death is a stage, and we the spectators. Madness becomes theatre. In Plath’s poem ‘Edge’, she writes:

‘The woman is perfected. 

Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment.’

This is a woman that has been prodded and preened and packaged up in an image of death. At last, perfected. In ‘Lady Lazarus’, a woman who has survived several acts of self-destruction, the cat with nine lives, says that,

‘Dying is like an art.

Like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.’

It is in these poems that I hear echoes of Plath’s own residual thoughts of suicide. It is she that is finally placed in the centre of the amphitheatre, here until the final close of the curtain, where her dead body will be brought onto the stage in full display.

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23 Fitzroy Road. Previously home to W.B. Yeats, Plath moved here with her two children after her split with husband and poet laureate Ted Hughes. It was here that she was discovered after she had taken her own life. 

 

Plath’s final collection of poems are characterised by what her daughter Frieda Hughes described as a ‘distinctive Ariel voice.’ Ariel is where Plath’s inner demons – rage, violence, punishment, fever – are tangibly personified and brought before us as an offering. You feel the energy of a tormented psyche in search of something deeper, darker, to ‘colour’ her life with catastrophe.

The electric imagery, the rage, returns, and then the numbing effect. The speaker of ‘A Birthday Present’ exclaims ‘My god, the clouds are like cotton’, a smothering, white expanse, muffling, nursing a wounded soul with the numbing effect of ‘carbon monoxide.’ But these clouds are in ‘armies’. They too desire to hurt. The speaker cries, ‘I am alive only by accident.’ She does not want to be saved.

In ‘Tulips’, the imagery of white returns with a hallucinatory quality. The speaker contemplates ‘how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed in.’ She says:

‘’I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted, 

To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.’’

The tulips offer an offensive brightness which startle the speaker. She does not want flowers. She desires an existence devoid of self that only the sterility of the hospital can offer. She wants only to be ‘empty’, effaced. Eileen Aird remarks that: ‘The world of Ariel is black and white, one into which red, which represents blood, the heart and living is always an intrusion.’[2] The redness, the life of the tulips should ‘be behind bars like a dangerous animal’ while she, empty, light as a cloud, can be ‘free’, ‘peaceful.’ It is Plath’s own dead body that is left, wounded, despised, when a whisper of, ‘from the bottom of the pool, fixed stars/ Govern a life’, is heard, echoing, reverberating, at the end of the collection. Each word dropped like a stone in the ocean.

As self-confessed, ‘peanut crunching’  voyeurs of Sylvia Plath’s plight, we have cast her opus under the eye of the interpreter more times than one can count. The posthumous unearthing and publishing of her works reveals a woman who seemed reluctant to reveal herself. Self-flagellant, self-sadist, sufferer of torturous thoughts and assaults, she was a woman who, seemingly, did not feel in the world. Subject to continuous psychoanalysis for all who read her works, it’s doubtful that Plath’s mind and body will ever rest in peace.

 

[1] http://www.theparisreview.org/viewinterview.php/prmMID/4073

[2] Eileen Aird, Sylvia Plath: Her Life and Work. New York: HarperCollins, 1975.

#art #culture #mentalhealthawareness #SylviaPlath #literature

A short anecdote

This morning was miserable. I was feeling particularly sorry for myself as I stood on the platform, drenched and already drained of any fervour for the day ahead. While sat in the carriage, gazing drearily out the window, wishing the cyclist next to me would move the wheel of his bike unobtrusively from the side of my thigh, I overheard a conversation. A lady, who by the sounds of it had been the subject of infidelity by her husband, said ‘but you’ve got to laugh.’ She had to laugh to make light of the situation, to release herself, momentarily, from pain, to protect herself from the judging, yet kind, eyes of the spectator opposite her.

And this is why we laugh, I thought. We laugh to forget the cares of the world. We laugh to remind ourselves that we still live, and breathe, and hurt. We have a heart beating still, reverberating in our chests, beneath the layers of our paper skin.

#dailyprompt #life #lifestyle

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The Bronte Sisters: A Literary Obsession

After finishing my degree in English Literature, I travelled to the Yorkshire dales with my dad to visit the house of the Bronte’s – something I have wanted to do since I was a child. The maze of Haworth’s moors and precarious country pathways seemed to uphold the same shroud of mystery that had always, in my mind, been placed upon the Bronte sisters. Treading amongst the heather that speckles the grassland with majestic purple flowers I imagined the likes of Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre – fierce female characters of the Bronte novels – clambering over the moors in search of their lost loves, and strangely felt at home.

It is true that no body of work has ever inspired me as much as that of the Bronte sisters. Three eighteenth-century women, each with an extraordinary intellect and a deep understanding of human nature; each subjected to the same fetters that all Victorian women were shackled to, managed to create texts that are continuously remembered and reimagined today. Like the ghosts that haunt their novels, they linger in the English imagination.

So who are the Brontes?

Picture a morose widowed father, a tragically inebriated brother, a house overlooking a graveyard and the wild expanse of the Yorkshire moors and you get the setting of the Bronte sisters. Sound like a gothic novel? Now you see where the Bronte’s got their inspiration from.

There were four children: Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell, who all grew up in a house at the foot of the moors. Patrick Bronte – a Cambridge graduate and longstanding Reverend of Howarth Parsonage – bestowed upon his children the gift of an enriching home education. It was here that their genius was kindled. Storytelling became embedded in daily routine. Feeding off each other’s minds, they grew inside their fantasy world and cultivated stories based on their immediate environment: the rugged, tumultuous moors and the domestic routine of the family home. As I trekked through the moorland, I felt the whispers of Cathy and Heathcliff whip round my ears with a bluster of wind. It is in the idyllic, yet treacherous, expanse of the moors that the Bronte’s characters come to life.

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 The Bronte sisters have reached almost mythical status based on an understanding that they wrote such extraordinary books sheltered from the world in the confines of their home. This isn’t exactly true. Emily Bronte was not a lonely spirit shut away under the tyranny of her father, but a woman who actually enjoyed the comforts that cooking over a stove could afford. While her chief protagonist, Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights, ran heedlessly to the turbulent terrain of the moors, Emily wished to sit by the fire, composing her stories in time to the click of her knitting needles.

The home was a powerful symbol for Emily and Wuthering Heights attends to its invasion. The female sanctuary becomes impaired by the violence of tyrannous villains and divisive social conventions, even the sublimity of nature when the branches of an oak tree penetrate the haunted chamber of Lockwood. While demonic in aspects of their characters and the treatment of each other, Heathcliff and Cathy possess a love that is otherworldly. Cathy exclaims that ‘he is more myself than I am.’ The lovers become central to each other’s understanding of the point of existence. After Cathy dies, Heathcliff spends every waking moment wishing that he were in the earth with his beloved. It is this extinction through the elemental forces of nature that each character strives for, and eventually achieves.

We may put whatever emphasis we will on the fact that a peaceful coexistence beyond the grave is strikingly implausible for a modern audience, but the fact that Heathcliff and Cathy, ill-fated and fatally flawed, can maintain a love across the boundary of life and death is quite a remarkable concept in my eyes.

Perhaps it’s the lack of real emotion in our society that makes these novels appear, to some, like classic, empty love tales. Those old romantic tremors in our hearts, described so intimately in romantic novels as the pangs of love, are now felt as vibrations of our phones, notifying us of a ‘like’ on an Instagram selfie. Our concept of love has been diluted, reduced to the gratification of an extra ‘super-like’ on Tinder. Emily Bronte would be turning in her grave.

I don’t believe in ghosts but I believe in the heights of human passion.

And this is what the Bronte’s do. They make you believe and experience the full spectrum of human nature. They demand recognition of women’s experience as charged with intense bodily and emotional feeling.

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In Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne recounts the story of Helen who leaves her drunken husband Mr Huntingdon to create a new life for herself and her child. Possibly influenced by her brother who was bent on boozing himself into an early grave, Anne paints a portrait of a Byronic figure of great fascination, but also of vast moral failings. In a rather mocking and derisive tone, Mr Huntingdon says, ‘I have an infernal fire in my veins that all the waters of the ocean cannot quench’ – words that don’t belong in the mouth of such a shallow individual. These words are really for the novel’s heroine, and for Anne herself. Women stifled, but not broken.

In a diary, Anne longed to ‘go out into the world, to act for myself, to exercise my unused faculties, to try my unknown powers.’ The Bronte sisters possessed knowledge of their own strength and capability – a lesson to women everywhere to harness the ‘unquenchable’ fire stoking inside them. Jane Eyre – Charlotte’s novel that tells of a woman who must establish true independence before marrying – ends with the family house set ablaze. The fire decimates, purges, yet creates anew.  It is thus atonement with nature, and with oneself, that is the pinnacle of human achievement in these novels.

The Bronte’s works have always symbolised to me what I believe to be absolutely true and vital in life. The novels deal with the most fundamental, mythical and primal aspects of human nature. It is for this reason that they remain so important not only to myself, but to the canonical history of English Literature.

#gothicnovel #romantic #romanticism #Bronte #literature #eighteenthcentury

‘New Year, New Me’ – that old chestnut

Christmas has passed and now dawns the obligatory reflection on the past year. I’ve had fun. I’ve got no regrets. But one thing that has occurred to me is the fact that for the first time in my life, I have had to adjust to feeling like my life is permanently in stasis. I am neither on the move, nor settled. I have no real aims or desires. Little to strive for other than securing my first 9-5 job.

After graduating from University, we all need time to adjust, it’s true, but when you’re floundering amid job sites, interviews and sometimes rather useless career advice, it’s easy to see how graduates such as myself struggle to do just that.

My graduate experience has seen me coming to terms with the fact that, for now, my life is stagnant. People say this is a time for ‘endless opportunity.’ I have an expanse of time in front of me. The struggle is knowing how to use it effectively.

After returning home from university, my mind, so used to being stimulated, even overloaded, struggled to cope with the sudden inactivity. Days passed when I laid on my bed feeling truly, inescapably depressed; anxious under the weight of having very little to fill the days.

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The future appeared as an endless abyss of time – days unfolding before me that had no real significance. I felt my mind teetering on the brink of insanity as I meditatively watched my mother’s hand stirring her tea every morning, wondering what I would do with my life that day. Psychologists have made links between depression and boredom. A mind unstimulated can create a mind that is unsound. The only problem with my mind, however, was its inactivity.

Emily Dickinson wrote in her poem ‘One need not be a chamber to be haunted’ that the greatest terror to be found is within ourselves. Forget ghosts, our brains, our minds, are the most insidious presence of all. Left alone with my thoughts on a daily basis became lethal to me. Monotony killed all creativity. The most genius people in history have had days where they have woken up encased in despondency, unable to quite contemplate why everything seems so distant from themselves. Keats once said, ‘I do not feel in the world’, and I relate. There’s nothing worse than feeling out of touch with yourself.

I tried to immerse myself in literature, politics and history to find some way of staying connected to the world, and to myself. I found comfort in reading things that inspired me. It reminded me of what I love and what is most important to me. The greatest among us can, so easily, slip into the recesses of our own minds and become dominated by our fears and anxieties. The test is how you dig yourself out.

Ever since I was a child, my mum has always been fond of speaking to me in metaphors. Her metaphor for me now is that of a flower – one that has been weathered by the storm and has, at times, nearly perished in the frost and must now protect itself for the winter ahead. The winter may be cruel and unkind, but it will fortify the flower for later years when the frost inevitably returns. This flower will protect itself under a layer of earth ready to bloom in the turn of Spring. For now it must wait, recover, and learn to be still.

Perhaps I will look back on this part of my life and realise that stillness is exactly what I needed. I needed to learn how to lead a life not under my own tyrannous dictatorship. In short, I needed to give myself a break.

I have no resolutions to make for the New Year, but all I know is that I want it to be varied. I want my life to be an ‘exhausting profusion of passions’, a series of mistakes and set-backs that are remedied by moments of intense happiness, glory and pride. I want life to be something I progressively discover when sense and experience deem me able to. I want to know and experience all, but remain curious.

And when all the chips are down, I will remind myself, as I try to do every day that, I am alive and I am advancing.

mparts_ @instagram

#NewYear #self #life #lifestyle #newyearsresolutions

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Roses for the dead?

A response to Simon Jenkins’ ‘No more remembrance days.’

John McCrae, writing in 1915 on behalf of the dead, urges us in his poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’ to ‘take up our quarrel with the foe.’ He passes the torch to us to avenge those who were slain in cold blood. Those days, as Simon Jenkins writing for the Guardian urges, are gone.

cross greaveyardRemembrance Sunday, according to Jenkins, has transformed into a ‘synthetic festival.’ A day where people who no longer really mourn the loss of the dead indulge in feelings of ‘self-congratulation’. ‘We really ought to get over it’, he states. Grief for a past event cannot be conceived of as a national priority.

Jenkins makes a fair point in suggesting that this kind of remembrance should be forgotten. National Remembrance days are perhaps too ostentatious for their own good. Affected speeches, the waving of British flags, the parade of uniforms emblazoned with the proud symbol of the poppy perhaps resemble a rally for war victory and colonial power rather than a meditation on loss. ‘History is always defined by the victors’, says Jenkins. Perhaps remembering is not the issue, but rather the manner in which it is done.

While Jenkins argues that remembrance, presented on a national scale, is no longer appropriate, even meaningless, it’s my view that perhaps we don’t remember enough. In a world of technological advancement and scientific discovery, a world constantly progressing and changing, I think we have forgotten what it really is to remember the horrific scenes of the past. Our concept of ‘remembrance’ has been reduced to a minute’s silence. A fleeting moment timed by the futile hand of the clock. A minute of twiddling your thumbs and gazing around the room, wondering what you’re going to have for lunch that day.

I’ll never forget the time I first came across Wilfred Owen’s famous poem, ‘Futility’, in my A-Level English class. No other student seemed to know who Owen was.

‘Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once.’

Move who into the sun?’. ‘Why?’ people asked. ‘He’s dead’, I thought. ‘A soldier. And for that, he deserves visibility.’ Owen recognised the futility in war, in suffering, in remembrance. He recognised the futility in believing that those after him could ever contemplate the extent of their collective torment. All we have are words and a romantic, rather distant, sense of it all.

While people move themselves into the sun on their lunch break and sit grazing on war memorials, do they really remember? Do they take a moment to view the names of those inscribed on the stone, and contemplate those who died unknown? There are no roses for the unidentified dead.

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We are the beneficiaries of bloodshed. We stand firmly on peaceful soil gained from the sacrifice of our ancestry.

To remember is not to forget how far we’ve come. To remember is not, as Jenkins suggests, to revive old antagonisms, but to acknowledge that they were there, they happened, and to strategize how now to move forward in a world where antagonisms are as frequent and fleeting as the changes in weather.

Jenkins rings true when he proposes that ‘ongoing disputes’ worldwide are sustained by old memories that never die. History is a ‘fuel’ he suggests, but not, in my view, for unceasing vendetta. The point of history is not to set the world ablaze with reignited resentments of the past, but to ‘fuel’ the present with what lessons we should have, but perhaps have not, learnt. The key is not to eradicate the past, but to understand it. Perhaps this is what Jenkins was getting at. Old memories die hard. The lesson is not to forget, but to innovate.

Jenkins ends with a sensible proposition. ‘The task is not to ignore some past event but to view it in proportion, to find some compromise between present and past.’ Let us encourage the recognition of personal loss, appreciate its connection to a past world, allow those who wish to, to wear their poppies. A poppy is for remembrance, acknowledgement, respect. Red for the blood that was shed.

For your reference:

Simon Jenkins’s Article:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/09/no-more-remembrance-days-consign-20th-century-history

 

The Trouble with Trash Television

televisionWe all do it. A hard day at work or university inevitably entails an indulgence in trash TV. It’s something that requires little concentration, that makes us laugh, or even makes us feel slightly better about our lives.

Our definitions of televised ‘trash’ all differ. An hour of Geordie Shore could be an intellectual activity (not likely) or an escape from our own exhausted mental faculties. When I think of trash, I think of reality shows which are not really reality at all… The version of ‘reality’ constructed in shows such as TOWIE or ‘Made in Chelsea’ are almost entirely constructed and aesthetically framed for our viewing pleasure.

We like to watch the ‘perils’ of other people’s lives whilst sitting comfortably on our sofas, smugly grinning that whatever is happening on screen is not happening to us. And when the most disastrous thing to happen to someone involves being exiled from a party because of a fallout with its host, it helps us to escape from the real tragedies in the world that are plastered over our daily newspapers. The suffering of our TV reality stars, being far from harrowing hardship, are more palatable to us – something that requires little emotional investment or intellectual discussion. This version of ‘reality’ distances us from the problems of the real world. But this is only speculation…

Whilst claiming to be liberal and open-minded, we all have entrenched prejudices that are brought to bear on our viewing experience. Seeing Charlotte Crosby weeing herself in bed next to Gaz prior to sex is simultaneously repulsive and hilarious, purely because it is so morbidly humiliating. If we’re all being honest with ourselves, viewing what our grandparents would call the ‘degeneracy of the youth’ – i.e. getting naked in public, losing possession of our body fluids (in one way or another) and picking up ‘lads’ and ‘lasses’ to take back to the stained sheets of the ‘shag pad’– allows us to claim our own moral superiority. Trash TV watching is thus in some way cathartic. Our lives may be bad but at least we haven’t just embarrassed ourselves on national television.

We can take the moral high ground, but ultimately we still consume as much as we condemn.

The cast of Geordie Shore were booed out of a nightclub in Newcastle by the same people who have religiously watched the show as an antidote to a weekend hangover.

We pride ourselves on being a ‘cultured’ nation, and act like watching an episode of ‘Celebrity Love Island’ and ‘Ex on the Beach’ renders us unclean, yet our (not-so) secret commitment to ‘low-brow’ reality shows suggests otherwise. Perhaps the fact that we feel too constrained by our own reputations makes us secretly admire their lack of inhibition. These are raw, human emotions in their most real form. The characters of TV shows have undergone a process of unveiling. Their courtesy and their commitment to polite facades are shed and we are left with the essence of what it is really like to not give a f***. (Though of course they all play up to the cameras.)

These shows may be intellectually vacant, mind-numbing, and may encroach upon, or even displace, the real-life tragedies in the news, but the heightened human emotion, the sensationalism, the drama and the hyperbolic reactions will always keep us coming back for more.

Female Hysteria: from a Self-proclaimed Hysteric

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Image: Girl Interrupted, Angelina Jolie

It’s the twenty-first century. A time of innovation and a radical turnover of old-fashioned belief systems. How is it, then, that a term originating in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC has still maintained its significance in our vocabulary today? Deeply discouraging though it may be, the practice of labelling women as ‘hysterical’ lives on.

Despite living far from the ludicrous conceptions of hysteria bandied about in the 19th century, hysteria is still figured as a female malady, though no reputable GP would diagnose you with it today. Having no modern scientific basis, allegations of hysteria are used as a silencing tool for ‘objectionable’ women who wish to vocalise their opinions. Thoughts of women being emotionally out of control present themselves in sexist lingo. Accusing women of being ‘hysterical’, for example, is simply a means by which we are reduced to the mere hormones coursing through our bodies. Our rights of speech are forced to be relinquished; our voices simply rendered white noise.

Literature is as much to blame for feminizing madness. Our view of women has been obscured by a literary inheritance that depicts women as pathologically insane – think the madwoman in the attic trope. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel The Yellow Wallpaper, features a woman who is confined to her bedroom and kept in a state of forced mental inactivity by her husband as a means of controlling her supposed ‘insanity’. She grows slowly more frenzied as she imagines herself being trapped behind the sickly folds of the yellow wallpaper. Enforced silence in literature is clearly the antidote for female madness.

But allegations of hysteria are not merely a gendered linguistic issue. Rather, they are a means by which our bodies can be used to dishonour and shame us; a device with which a woman and her opinions can be dethroned. As the first female nominee of a major party in the United States, Hillary Clinton has been subjected to rumour-mongering based on accusations of her failing health. The conservative media would have voters believe that Clinton may collapse, break into seizures and emerge ailing and incoherent in front of other world leaders if nominated as President. ‘Frailty! Thy name is woman!’ the conservative right still chants, 400 years after Shakespeare’s publication of Hamlet. The allegations surrounding her weak health, ‘Trumped’- up by right wing conspiracy theorists, suggest how hysteria diagnoses are a means in which society can grapple with women’s changing roles in society. Modern culture appears to be wrestling with the prospect of integrating women like Clinton into the public sphere, using this mechanism of silencing as a means in which her self-expression can be made more palatable to a right-wing populated by males.

It is easier for people to imagine women expressing their views through the lens of psychiatric illness. Female opinions seem to constitute a sense of ‘otherness’. Our silence is just a means by which we can adapt to masculine society.

My efforts here are not to solely castigate males for demeaning women on charges of hysteria, but to urge people to interrogate their own use of terminology. Women should no longer be attached to a term that suggests our apparent tendency to break into violent fits, sweats and tears when our voices are not heard, and we certainly should not be pushed to the periphery of politics by a demeaning of our bodies or mental health.

With women in larger numbers seeking employment, higher education, or simply a louder voice, a subversion of misogynistic language is needed to carve out our own space to display our intellectual brilliance. It’s not enough to merely laugh off this outdated pseudo-scientific term. The real work begins with abolishing not only the word itself in relation to women, but the deeply entrenched connotation of craziness, excessive emotion and irrationality that it brings.

Our frenzy – if frenzy it may be called – is fuelled only by our censored opinions.

Review of Dr Faustus (The Jamie Lloyd Company)

 Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships?’: Game of Thrones Pin-up Kit Harington returns to the stage after a four year break to take on the role of the eponymous Dr Faustus – a twenty-first century recluse who becomes bewitched by demonic rituals and the prospect of fame.   

So who exactly is Faustus? In Marlowe’s 1592 text, Faustus is a tragically intelligent student at Wittenberg who sells his soul for twenty-four years of power and pleasure. In a rather obscure rewiring of an Elizabethan morality play, director Colin Teevan underscores the modern desire for fame through the lens of a tv-obsessed maniac.

The play opens with Faustus gazing vacantly at his TV screen as if already possessed by the flash lifestyles of those celebrities he seeks to emulate. A far cry from the rather charming, intellectually amorous Faustus of Marlowe, Kit Harington plays a clumsy, dysfunctional recluse who, confined to his grotty bedsit, becomes obsessed with dark magic.

Faustus’ room, thronged by naked, zombie-like figures, immediately represents a morally inflected world where the dead exist with the living. The play documents a psychotic episode of a modern day computer nerd driven hysterical by his loneliness and addiction to television and the internet. Colin Teevan creates a mad fantasy world where Faustus becomes a superstar magician like Derren Brown who can perform godlike magic tricks and whose arrogant retorts are met with extravagant laughter and applause by his ghoulish companions. The middle section of the play functions as a multi-faceted satire of politics (Faustus parades around with the likes of Obama and the Pope) and showbiz, as if attempting to salvage some significant moral message from the chaos of the plot.

The play is characterised by incoherence as if reflecting the obsessive, fame-driven mentality of Faustus. Kit Harington poises his character between frightening extremes of ecstasy and despair, shifting between animalistically bounding around the stage to  being seated naked and vulnerable on the edge of the stage, trembling in the wake of his own devilish proceedings. Harrington beautifully articulates the despair of a Fallen man, but the audience is never allowed to sit still long enough to silently lament with him. Brief carnivalesque interludes of dancing and loud music punctuate the emotive scenes, providing a disorientating and even hallucinogenic effect.

The grossly hyperbolic violence and sexual scenes are sharply collided with the sentimental plotline of Faustus’ love for Wagner which he simply cannot maintain in his pursuit of stardom. In a rather perverse spin on the relationship between Faustus and his devilish companion, Mephistopheles’ character manifests an intense, sexually charged attraction for Faustus, and vice versa. The appetite for fame is grossly conflated with sexual appetite. Faustus’ ecstasy at his own fame explodes in overt sexual passes at Mephistopheles and other characters.

Although there is little trace of the original play within this rather warped, modernised version, we are still compelled by Faustus’ rise to fame and eventual Fall as a relatable story of failed stardom. Teevan’s version of Dr Faustus maintains the grotesquely hypocritical rhetoric, the half-swallowed asides and petulant satire of the original, but ramps it up a gear with sexual explicitness and extreme slapstick. We are provided with a rather obscured image of what it really is to betray your sense of self in pursuit of fame.

Dr Faustus remains compelling even amongst a domestic, modern day setting. Like Faustus’ unwavering attention to his television, we cannot stop watching, and with Kit Harrington parading around wet, half naked and dripping with blood, I’m not sure we want to.