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Going to Extremes

Going to Extremes

(p.131) Chapter Nine Going to Extremes
The Alvarez Generation
William Wootten
Liverpool University Press

This chapter first considers A. Alvarez's assessment of the poetry and suicide of Sylvia Plath. It argues that Plath's suicide was an eventuality neither Alvarez's theories, nor Alvarez himself had predicted when he first admired Plath's work, but was something with which they had to come to terms. Alvarez's criticism changed in order to account for the unmistakably thanatopic themes in Plath's extraordinary last bursts of creativity and for their possible connection to the death of the author herself. The chapter then turns to Alvarez's extremism. For him, ‘extremism in the arts ends not so much in anarchy as in a kind of internal fascism by which the artist, to relieve his own boredom, becomes both torturer and tortured’. It is ‘ruthless, destructive, deeply self-involved, wildly self-gratifying’. By this Alvarez was advocating a stripe of Western art that, set beside his descriptions of the poetry of Eastern Europe, appears morbidly decadent.

Keywords:   A. Alvarez, extremism, essays, Sylvia Plath, poems, poetry, Western art

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