Suffering or Self-Pity?

December 5, 2010

While I was writing a paper for another class, I came across this quote in my textbook Life as Politics by Asef Bayat:  “As Michael Brown rightly notes, when you ‘elevate the small injuries of childhood to the same moral status as suffering of truly oppressed,’ you are committing ‘a savage leveling that diminishes rather than intensifies our sensitivities to injustice.’”

This immediately reminded me of our brief discussion on Plath and her use of the Holocaust her in her poetry.  I really wish we’d had more time to talk about this idea including how other contemporary poets have called upon past “crimes against humanity” in order to relate their personal suffering.  I wish I’d found this quote sooner in order to ask whether or not the class agrees or disagrees.  At least in the case of Plath, I found her use of holocaust imagery sort of desensitizing with regard to both cases of “injustice” (her childhood and the suffering of the Jewish people) and I also found myself relatively unsympathetic to Plath.  I know there is a lot of scholarly commentary on this but I’ll just post one quote I found from Theodore Dalrymple in his book Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality: “…the metaphorical use of the holocaust measures not the scale of her suffering, but of her self-pity,” which, according to Dalrymple, prior to the emergence of Plath, “was regarded as a vice, even a disgusting one, that precluded sympathy.”  Though I don’t know about the latter quote, I think I have to agree with the former.  Any thoughts?

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