Al Strangeways: On "Lady Lazarus"

In "Lady Lazarus," for example, Plath collapses the "them and us" distinction by confronting readers with their voyeurism in looking at the subject of the poem. To apply Teresa De Lauretis's theorizing of the cinematic positioning of women to Plath's poem, in "Lady Lazarus," the speaker's consciousness of her performance for the readers (who are implicitly part of the "peanut-crunching crowd") works to reverse the gaze of the readers so that they become "overlooked in the act of overlooking."

By extension, in her parodic overstatement (Lady Lazarus as archetypal victim, archetypal object of the gaze) Plath highlights the performative (that is, constructed rather than essential) nature of the speaker's positioning as object of the gaze, and so (to extend Judith Butler's terms), Lady Lazarus enacts a performance that attempts to "compel a reconsideration of the place and stability" of her positioning, and to "enact and reveal the performativity" of her representation. This sense of performativity and the reversal of gaze likewise extends, in "Lady Lazarus," to compel reconsideration not only of the conventional positioning of the woman as object, and of the voyeurism implicit in all lyric poetry, but also of the historical metaphors as objects of the gaze. Readers feel implicated in the poem's straightforward assignment and metaphorizing of the speaker in her role as object and performer, and contingently are made to feel uncomfortable about their similar easy assimilation of the imagery (of the suffering of the Jews) that the speaker uses. In "Daddy," a similar relationship between reader, speaker, and metaphor is at work.

From "’Boot in the Face’: The Problem of the Holocaust in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath." Contemporary Literature 37.3 (Fall 1996).

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Criticism Overview
Title Al Strangeways: On "Lady Lazarus" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Al Strangeways Criticism Target Sylvia Plath
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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