A Hall of Mirrors – An Exploration of Writing and the Creative Mind

architectureA Hall of Mirrors – An exploration of writing and the creative mind.

Emily Oldfield.

The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.’

– John Milton, Paradise Lost.

In Sylvia Plath’s piece ‘Morning Song’ through the line ‘love set you going like a fat gold watch’ the directional element is evidently downwards, away from the surface of mind and into the rich depths of time and feeling. I am reluctant to call such writing ‘poems’, but rather, a ‘piece’ – an element of the mind of proportion that cannot necessarily be fathomed.  On the other hand, in Arthur Miller’s play ‘Death of a salesman’ The protagonist Willy Loman is crippled by the ‘tragic flaw’ of not knowing the self, his language stiff and limited to idioms in an ‘upwards’ view towards a capitalist society. Both writers I believe imply language as a means of expression in a tight position.  Writing itself forms a commitment, a connection to the voice created in that through means at own fingertips and exploring new self-geography– ‘a revelation of the self to the self’ according to Seamus Heaney. Is this what Shakespeare manipulates Hamlet into considering ‘Within the book and volume’ of his brain? Indeed, it appears language that holds place in the mind, and in turn, mind in language.

The mind’s seeming ability to cultivate language is a concept that has always fascinated me – the attempt to attribute a neurological sensation to which identity is subjective to the lines and compress of words. As poet Seamus Heaney remarked ‘the feel of things in their names’ – a combination of words to map to a feeling. Consider the release as hand forces words from the pen, typed print to the page. It is almost cruel – it is definitely beautiful. Writing flurries and extinguishes – the movement the hands, the mind, in time – all in unity, establishing  relationships with the individual and reality. Sometimes I feel that this is a unity I cannot achieve anywhere else. I am confessing myself and becoming the poet that is not a person. This is the power of words, as Aristotle implies in his ‘Poetics’, a ‘Unity’ essential to ‘tragedy’ – but should this worry me? No, I do not believe so. The creative effort of the mind and body’s resources to bring meaning of experience into form could be considered according to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Jung as cultivating the material between unconscious and conscious. Showing who really is, and who was.

‘Poetry’ in the ‘Wordsworthian’ manner could be considered ‘feeling into words’ – a revelation of the self to the self, but forming a new level of solidity in the mirror, implied through Sylvia Plath’s chilling line in ‘Contusion’ ‘The mirrors are sheeted’ – writing expressing the reflection the external world attempts to cover over. Writing, not just poetry, is in itself an expression, then compressed to chains of genre – I believe this should not always be the case. Writing is three-dimensional and I urge through my words for you to consider – Considering is the writing in itself, it is not something to be ‘involved’ in as this is the intrinsic nature, though the levels of self-capacity to be explored is fascinating. This is implied by psychoanalyst Sigmund  Freud as ‘an exploration of the unconscious mind’. As having experience of mental illness myself, I believe the use of written language today shows its very limits and very expanses. Words such as ‘anxiety’ and depression’ today give emotional states a sense of the generic, an uncomfortable logic – I believe that if everybody could aim to cultivate their sensation of being through words or written imagery such would allow a greater access to the self, without stigma or oppression. Seamus Heaney re-iterates this in a recognition of verbal texture to find the definition of our own realities which ‘recover a past and prefigure a future’ in weighing up the conflicts between the commitment to art and the commitment to order. Before I came to release through writing I was terrified by the concept of the future – now I am able to create elements before they have happened. This is powerful – beyond the logic of empirical evidence. The only person that can expose the self is you – no matter how many doctors, they will never be inside the ’hall of mirrors’ of the mind.  They may look at themselves – dumbly, but they cannot look at you. Yet words reflect and refract through – I believe. Evidently this is my interpretation, I am cultivating it through language myself. But What does this mean to you?

When someone writes a word, we have a vague sense of what it means – yet we will experience a different sensation of mind. Writing is subjective to experience, sensation, culture – if we want the truly multicultural perspective– writing – an endless assembly of meaning in a single word. The dictionary struggles now for its solidity. I used to see myself in there – now I feel myself free.

Sylvia Plath is often identified as a ‘confessional poet’, and I believe her work is highly important in exploring the romantic conceptions of the cultural product, unlocking the self possibly influenced by Yeats – who is recognised for his use of anthropological-cultural themes within his writing, implying the possible need for aesthetic distancing. In a widely varied and often fast moving culture I believe writing provides the safety I need against a multitude of anxieties.
Yeats’s poem ‘Tread softly’ contains such  possible safety in the line ‘But I, being poor, have only my dreams’ and notice the irony in my identification of ‘his poem’ – although he may identify himself with a ‘poor’ persona in his writing, what Keats has come to own in the poet’s preservation through words I believe to be a lasting richness – possibly implying writing as a means of separating oneself from the harshness of social position and into a release of the mind through ‘dreams’. Freud may further this point, considering his work ‘ An interpretation of dreams’  where he implies the function of dreams is to preserve sleep by representing fulfilled wishes and urges which would otherwise awaken the dreamer; and as the work of Keats implies, writing hold this capability also.

Dreams are a possible product of the unconscious, to which Keats would appear to imply that the ‘poor’ have only a subconscious mind in that they are often recognised by their grotesque, unrefined desires which Freud calls the Id. Confessional poetry and writing itself is seen as poetry of the ‘self’ or ‘I’, exposing facet of the persona to reader, which creates the poet. The poet, I believe, is the product of the poems – the mouldable figure we can apply, empathise, fit to ourselves – similarly to Willy’s Loman’s stance as a product of his own skewed ideal of ‘The American Dream’ in Death  of a  Salesman. Revealed is a character of words – but when current culture becomes too much, too threatening, I believe this a character with which I can slip between the sheets (of paper!) – a sequence of chapters, sonnets,  leaves.

Yet for the poets of the ‘confessional movement’ their work was not about the catharsis of confession, Plath is quoted as saying that poetry was not , “ Some kind of public purge or excretion’ and I agree with this in that writing holds capacity to restore culture to the self but through the self, rather than subject oneself to the critique of culture. It is an object in itself, the double-sided beauty, a whole beautiful mirror.

Emily Oldfield.

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