On Becoming a Part of Leslie Jamison’s Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain

By Dana Dawud

I dreamed that I wanted to write about my life with my brother, that he hit me and instead of feeling pain I exclaimed “Ah, I need to write about this!” and my sister told me that I should stop exploiting other people’s stories for my own writing. But it’s my story and mine alone, and it’s my writing, my reading of my story. Does that mean that the story has been already “written” and I’m simply reading it? does that mean that I am after all, exploiting the stories of “others”? I’ve actually dreamed that my brother fell from his room’s window and that I saw him sitting on the window sill with his face towards mine, he closed his eyes and then dropped back. I couldn’t save him, I went to the window and he was down, I told him to move his legs and he did. I realized I was still dreaming, nothing really happened. In my dream I exclaimed “Ah, I need to write about this!” and my sister told me that I should stop exploiting other people’s stories for my own writing. But I need to tell this story and I don’t care about it’s origin. I’ve always thought that writing about (my) life and (my) pain would entail exploiting the people I live with and around, and that it would turn me into someone who keeps dwelling over her own suffering, that it would turn me into a show. But pain is not mine alone, I feel it because I am a part of a large mesh of criss-crossing pain, and because I can give my pain over to others, like a gift, even if they can’t “see” it.
Yesterday, I’ve written for the first time in Arabic. Arabic is my (mother) tongue, this is how “native language” is translated to in Arabic. They have told me that I have a mother tongue and I’ve laughed in their faces, a menacing laugh and walked away. I had no idea that going back to it, getting closer to it, would be so painful. The distance language entails is painful, and I gasp for words, The reader would sense the heaviness that drenched every word I tried to conjure up. It was hard but I had to feel pain in order to write.

I fell in love for the first time when I was fifteen years old, he broke my heart. I stopped eating, I cried for weeks and I remember telling the story of this breakup to everyone I’ve talked to. Over and over again, I repeated how much hurt I feel and how much pain he had caused me. I think I’ve done that not as a mechanism of healing, but more to tell people that I am a person with deep feelings who has the ability to suffer, I did it to feel better about who I am. I had no idea back then that this repetitive showcasing of pain, might have repulsed everyone around me, that it had been a cliche. I just knew, and still think that I had a right to my pain and that everyone should listen to me, LISTEN TO ME. My pain is grand and it’s real and it deserves the attention of the world.

I happen to ruthlessly defend the poetry of Sylvia Plath, and every time I do that I feel that I’m doing something as rebellious as starting a revolution. The other day, a friend of mine posted that Sylvia Plath is a “Tragedy of a woman who committed suicide, nothing more.” I was so enraged and I honestly felt like crying. He hadn’t even read her. “Would Sylvia Plath be as famous today if she hadn’t committed suicide?” Sylvia Plath’s suicide has taken the status of being almost a part of her oeuvre. She has indeed written many poems on and about her suicide attempts, she has written Ariel shortly before her death. We can’t reduce anyone to their suicide, but why view her suicide as a reduction? It is a “tragedy” in one sense, but in another it’s a culmination point of pain. It’s a protest of a writer who has been locked inside a repetitive day-to-day routine: between writing poetry, taking care of her kids and doing her chores. Her suicide is a part of her ongoing story, it’s not her reduction point, it’s a point opening to infinity. “I have done it again/ One year in every ten/ I manage it–” One year in every ten.

In Ariel, she had already turned her I into grains of wheat, an infinite landscape. “And now I/ Foam to wheat” The devotedness with which Van Gogh had repeatedly kept painting fields of wheat, populating them with dream worlds, reapers, sunflowers with the “unheard of power of the sunflower seeds” as Deleuze describes the becomings in Van Gogh paintings, houses, a rising moon, and crows. He painted from the Asylum window, framing these wheat fields when he was losing his ability to utter “I.” “And now I/ Foam to wheat” Deleuze had written that “A sunflower seed lost in a wall is capable of shattering that wall.” Van Gogh broke the walls of the asylum with his wheat fields. In Ariel Sylvia writes “The child’s cry/Melts in the wall/ And I/ Am the arrow” Her “I” is an arrow which goes beyond the wall, beyond, and reaches the red of the sun. Pain ad infinitum, pain as liberation.