The Inoperative Community in The Bell Jar: The Sharing of Interrupted Myth
In this essay I intend to offer an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar (1963) that goes beyond the scope of the confessional and feminist readings which have prevailed in Plathian studies. Following the critical interest raised by the notion of community and its problematic relationship with individual subjectivity in recent decades, I draw on Jean-Luc Nancy’s understanding of “community” (1985-1986) in order to offer an alternative interpretation of The Bell Jar. The theoretical framework which inspires this essay declares the impossibility of an operative community which actually fulfils the natural longing of all human beings for immanence and transcendence. I argue that The Bell Jar actually tackles the interruption of two long-standing myths—the possibility of community and the assertion of autonomy of the self. Since the latter has already been addressed by several authors as a central issue in Plath’s novel, I here focus on how she deals with the shattered myth of community. Far from being a narcissistic account of private traumas, the novel is paradoxically an attempt to share with others a universal plight—the overwhelming sense of humans as exposed and finite beings facing the absence of a community of immanence. Ironically, it is the sharing of that disturbing truth which allows the emergence of community in Plath’s novel.
Key words: Sylvia Plath; The Bell Jar; inoperative community; singularity; finitude; exposure
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