'Black Phones'

Postmodern Poetics in the Holocaust Poetry of Sylvia Plath

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Salford m.boswell@leeds.ac.uk
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Sylvia Plath’s Holocaust poetry and the frequently impassioned critical responses to it illustrate why Sue Vice characterises Holocaust fictions as ‘scandalous’, in the sense that ‘they invariably provoke controversy by inspiring repulsion and acclaim in equal measure’ – the only qualification being that this critical divide was not split particularly evenly when Plath’s best-known Holocaust writing was first published in the mid 1960s. In fact, it took the scales of critical opinion several decades to reach any kind of equilibrium, with the ‘repulsed’ response tending to prevail for the quarter century following its initial publication, but with the critical temper noticeably softening in the 1990s: a shift in critical attitudes that reflects the way that notoriously scandalous texts (here one might include some of Plath’s favourites, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses) often end up normalising once controversial subject matter.

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