Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Her Name in the Water

I'm three chapters into The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlín R. Kiernan, which is around a fourth of the book. I'm enjoying it a lot, the comparisons it's drawn to the work of Shirley Jackson seeming rather appropriate for the tone of the first person narrative. It's different from Caitlín's other novels in this, the protagonist seems less angry, more contemplative. There's a lot in Jackson's work where the first person narrator spends time telling you about herself or the world, thereby incidentally revealing things about herself in a very organic way. I've seen the novel described as post modern, though I wouldn't describe it that way so far myself. It seems pretty firmly modernist to me, but, again, I have a ways to go yet.

But the contrast with Caitlín's previous protagonists in terms of Imp's relative tranquillity is something I find rather pleasing. Where previous characters had digested their fear of the strange as a hostility towards themselves and others, Imp seems to inhabit the strange world and at times accept the inexplicable with only a little concern. She somewhat resembles Caitlín's character Dancy in that both, more than most of Caitlín's other characters, come off as being themselves manifestations of the supernatural. But there is an ethereal placidity or grace to Imp that Dancy doesn't have.

I thought of this again to-day when my web browser, which opens to a randomised Wikipedia page, opened to this article on a 1924 psychology book called The Trauma of Birth by Otto Rank which the article describes as "the beginning of a series of books in which Rank argued that birth is an interruption of blissful uterine life from which people spend the rest of their lives trying to recover."

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think about the frequency of dead women in bodies of water in fiction though I can't find anything about it googling to-day. But when I was sitting on my bed reading The Drowning Girl a few days ago, I looked up and saw my randomised wallpaper was displaying this;

This is a relatively famous image of Laura Palmer, the character from Twin Peaks, who washes to shore dead, naked, and wrapped in plastic in the pilot episode of the series. The cover of The Drowning Girl looks like this;

I was struck by the similarity of the images. I thought back to meeting the woman at Comic Con who photographs women in water and I remembered remarking on how Neil Gaiman had also recently released a novel featuring a woman in water on the cover. I remembered another of my randomised wallpapers is this one;

Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Immediately, other examples of dead women in water came to mind--Shelley Winters in Night of the Hunter, the song "Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning" by Morrissey.

Always looking for attention
Always needs to be mentioned
Who does she
Think she should be?
The shrill cry through darkening air
Doesn't she know he's
Had such a busy day?

Tell her sshhh
Somebody tell her sshhh
Oh, no way, no way, there's no movement
Oh, oh, hooray

It was only a test
But she swam too far
Against the tide
She deserves all she gets
The sky became marked with stars
As an out-stretched arm slowly

Oh hooray
No, oh, oh, oh, there's no movement
No, oh, hooray
Oh, hooray

Please don't worry
There'll be no fuss
She was nobody's nothing

(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)

When he awoke
The sea was calm
And another day passes like a dream
There's no no way

(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)
(What's your name?)

I recognised a few things in common among Ophelia, Laura Palmer, Shelley Winters, and the Morrissey song. All of them are women whose deaths are related to apathy, neglect, or malevolence on the part of men in their lives. There's an implication of mishandled responsibility on the man's part. I also thought of Patti Smith's "Redondo Beach", though that song is less clear about the lover's role in the dead girl's suicide.

The reason The Trauma of Birth brought this thought to mind was that, as I thought about the choice of drowning as a means of suicide, it occurred to me it might be reflective of a desire to return to the womb. The Morrissey lyrics, with lines like "Who does she think she should be?" and the repeated "What's your name?" seem to reflect the idea of a dissolved identity. One might say Ophelia's suicide was related to an inability to accept an identity for herself alternate to that of Hamlet's lover--she couldn't "get thee to a nunnery" as he advised. Certainly Shelley Winters' character's attachment to her role as wife contributed to her demise and while her death may not have been a suicide the film may have been commenting on the suicide of her identity.

I'm looking forward to seeing how much The Drowning Girl reflects these ideas or deviates from them.

I tried to find statistics on how suicides by drowning break down by gender but I couldn't find anything other than the usual statistic that women generally choose less immediately lethal or violent means of suicide than men. But I did notice Wikipedia's entry on suicide features this image of a girl in the subsection on drowning.

Twitter Sonnet #546

Sleeping orbs crack in a thoughtless desk art.
Cocoanut lime chipped paint plagues the AC.
The drunk housefly sips sweet string like a dart.
Shredded reports make the dustbin lacy.
Possessed paper clips puke on the Word doc.
Solidified sunlight stabs through the blinds.
Pocket calendars pull down an epoch.
Paste filled watering cans rain on these minds.
Pencil shavings strangle in an iris.
Holes in ceiling tiles dry in the dark.
Racks of known numbers torture papyrus.
Here on the wall there is never a mark.
Wire mesh baskets squeeze the bloodless tree.
This world's too small for Godzilla to see.
Tags: caitlin, david lynch, death, hamlet, kiernan, laura palmer, morrissey, ophelia, suicide, the drowning girl, twin peaks

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