Comment 13 of 31, added on November 19th, 2008 at 12:01 PM.
In “Face Lift,” the female protagonist, surrounded by showy, glittering and
artificiality of the so-called patriarchal society, suffers from an anxiety
and is apprehensive at the very notion of getting old because with the
passing of age, she will lose her physical charm and will no longer be
capable of alluring her male counterpart. With this end in view, she wants
to keep her beauty intact through the mechanical process of
cosmetic-plastic surgery so that she may avoid masculine aversion of
herself. She thinks that she has no other identity except sex object
without any human identity of her own in the eyes of patriarchal men.
Though frightened within, but willing to conform to traditional image, she
pretends to show a smiling face and says that it is not very difficult to
bear the pain of cosmetic surgery because of modern sedatives in contrast
to previous anesthetic devices regardless of post-surgical side effects.
You bring me good news from the clinic
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana gas through a frog-mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
Under the sedative effects of anesthesia, she visualizes herself moving in
the palace of Egypt and then returning in the hospital ward:
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fist my fingers for me.
The image of Cleopatra has a two-fold significance for the woman in this
poem. Firstly, she thinks that after this surgery, she will acquire a
beautiful face like Queen Cleopatra, but her attitude regarding herself
changes as she thinks that she is a post-operative patient and does not
possess a royal status enjoyed by Cleopatra in ancient Egypt. The nudity of
Cleopatra geminates the seeds of consciousness in her psyche, triggering
her off from the enclosure of perfect image of living doll. She departs
from this filthy world in search of her true self. She initiates into the
dark realm of semiotic where she cannot clearly see her face clearly. The
implication is that in the darkness of womb like situation her false self
of living doll dissolves.
At the count of two
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on blackboard . . .
I don’t know a thing.
In the inner world begins the enactment of psychic drama as she ponders
over her previous life. In the “tapped cask” of her psyche, she feels
“years draining in to my pillow” and she “grow[s] backward” to become a
girl of twenty. She visualizes herself a girl of twenty sitting in her
“long skirts on my first husband’s sofa,” but this time she is not
brainless doll to satisfy male ego; this time she becomes “broody.” Her
previous false self is not skin-deep; she casts off her false self since
“S[skin] does not have roots, it peels away as paper.” She also feels her
“fingers / Buried in the lambswool of dead poodle.” The speaker’s
dissociation from the old body or false image is violent transformation as
she suffers a lot of pain to suspend the false self of her own.
Undoubtedly, her face has been lifted in this poem when she realizes:
Now she is done for, the dewlapped lady
I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror—
Old sock-face, sagged on a darning egg
They have tapped her in a laboratory jar.
Here the old sock face, sagged on a darning egg is the previous face of a
perfect doll she lets “wither incessantly for the next fifty years.” The
psychic death of the false self culminates with resurrection of a new self
“swaddled in gauze, / Pink and smooth as a baby.”