Fata ’22 Determines the Works of Sylvia Plath to be ‘Zany’
October 27, 2021
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — As a part of her 2021 Eckley Fellowship Project, “_Plath: Confronting
the Tone Policing of Sylvia Plath,” Katie Fata ’22 utilized aesthetic categorization
of ‘zany’ to redefine the tone of Plath in modern terms.
Fata said, “I determined in my research that the best way to describe Plath was an
unexpected way: a modern term works best for a writer that represents a time in the
As an English major and a woman, Fata was interested in the works of and about Plath.
Her initial inspiration came from the critical scholarship and polarized descriptions
of Plath she felt didn’t fully describe her works.
“The reactionary critical pieces have created a discussion of Sylvia Plath that doesn’t
seem to represent her work at all anymore — critics are responding to each other rather
than to her,” Fata said. “My intention with this project was to interact with these
arguments and find out if there is a more comprehensive way to describe the work of
Sylvia Plath that didn’t resort to calling her tone ‘melancholic’ simply because she
was a woman writing about darker themes. To do this, I set out to explore what tone
actually is and the nuanced ways it appears in literary works.”
Through reviewing Plath’s works and researching tone, Fata began her project with
a focus on what the tone of Plath’s works were; however, as her research progressed,
Fata revised her original research question into one focused on aesthetic categorization.
“Once I familiarized myself with tone and aesthetic categories, I returned to Plath’s
poetry, but with an informed and researched question: what can Plath’s work be defined
as? Once I decided on that category, I was able to create a hypothesis and participate
in specific research in order to analyze her work,” Fata stated.
‘Zany’ was the category Fata landed on. The zany is featured in theorist Sianne Ngai’s
book Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Interesting, Cute. Fata defines the zany as embodied by “a worker, someone who is precariously close
to the edge, constantly attempting success and constantly failing.”
Fata continued, “Reading Plath as zany allows for her tone to exist as something more
nuanced than a word like ‘melancholic.’ Her failure to do her jobs — writer, mother,
wife, breadwinner, among others — made her poetry more visceral as it shoves the affect
of failure in front of the reader and doesn’t let them look away.”
Fata is in the final stages of editing and polishing her project which will be formatted
as an article that approximates the length of a graduate dissertation. She plans to
continue her project by pursuing honors research next semester and then seeking publication