While colouring last night, I started listening to the audiobook version of The Bell Jar, and so far I like Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance of the material, though I think she sounds a little too sarcastic sometimes when she's describing the ludicrous deluge of 1950s feminine prettiness heaped on the young women by a magazine sponsoring their stay in New York. The beginning of the book has the heroine, Esther Greenwood, staying in a hotel occupied entirely by women as she's treated on a daily basis to fashion shows, programmes, and presents from various clothing and makeup companies. There's an absurd decadence to it that perfectly compliments Greenwood's inexplicable emotional remoteness. I suppose a sarcastic tone isn't strictly inappropriate for reading the material, but I imagined something colder.
I have a few mp3s of Plath herself reading her poetry, and it's hard to imagine that sepulchral and precise voice saying some of the very colourful and sharp things said about people by The Bell Jar's narrator--I'd forgotten how surprisingly companionable the voice is, particularly compared to Plath's poetry which moves from intensely cold and meticulous in her early work to the sort of archly furious cleavers of beautiful imagery in her later works. The Bell Jar is like hearing someone incredibly articulate and funny describing ennui in New York in intimate detail. It's wonderful stuff--though I don't mean to disparage Plath's poetry. It's just I find I love the two facets of Plath very differently.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the link between comedy and morbidity. Maybe my favourite thing about The Howard Stern Show these days is Artie Lange, who's gotten much funnier since his sort of overtly, and somewhat artificially, angry standup comedy evolved, mostly by his work on the Stern Show into something more conversational and confessional. He sort of performs a balancing act, though, as he goes from revealing something horrible about himself or his past and making it funny by how unexpected it is, to simply being sad when it's not so unexpected, or funny because it is expected. You can perceive him trying to weed out the funny threads in his extremely open narrative, and you can also perceive how damaged he is by the words he chooses and the shame that manifests and he sometimes represses a moment later. This NPR interview with him is one of the more amazing things I've heard lately. Terry Gross's reaction to him seems to be affection tempered with fear, as seems to be the case with a lot of people interviewing Artie. To intentionally make someone laugh, the construction of your joke has to in some way resemble the way your audience thinks, so it's intimate that way. Telling a joke puts someone at ease because it makes you seem familiar. So interviewers who aren't shaken by interviewing murderers or dictators actually might be more disturbed by interviewing Artie--it's like being forced to see yourself inside someone frightening. And you can hear Artie perceiving this reaction, too, which, you have to think, probably contributes significantly to his depression.