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Monday, March 23, 2009

Nicholas Hughes



A. Alvarez's The Savage God is one of my favourite books. I am especially grateful for its prologue, which details the life of Sylvia Plath and the way in which despair stalked her, leaving its black trace everywhere in her writings. At a time when I was somewhat disturbed it helped me achieve a certain clarity of mind I could not have afforded otherwise. The essays treat suicide as the real course of action of real people. Alvarez stares the monster straight in the face rather than cajoling it or calling it bad names, avoiding the mistakes of less knowledgeable authors.

Now, to be completely honest I have only read snippets of Sylvia Plath -- The Bell Jar, and sundry poems forwarded by disreputable acquaintances. I have heard more intelligent individuals berate Plath's works extensively. Though I am not exceptionally sophisticated when it comes to literature in general, I reject such critiques. Plath's oeuvre is heavy with a sense of existential pain to which every human being should be sensitive; to put aside such sensitivity, even for the sake of higher criticism, is to make humanity subordinate to academia. It is an aesthetic fallacy.

I would rather we abolished most of those "discriminating standards" in literature. The Sylvia Plaths might still die, leaving vast empty wastes in the wake of their brief and brilliant lives, but perhaps their deaths would appear less futile, and-- we can only hope -- become less frequent.

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