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The Alvarez GenerationThom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Peter Porter$
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William Wootten

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789627947

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789627947.001.0001

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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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