- Series: Norton Lecture
- Hardcover: 128 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 039305795X
- ISBN-13: 978-0393057959
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,136,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Writer's Voice (Norton Lecture)
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From Publishers Weekly
Based primarily on lectures given at the New York Public Library in October 2002, this slim, erudite guide is intended to help aspiring writers achieve an authentic voice and readers to recognize it. Veteran author Alvarez (The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, etc.) adopts the preachy tone of a learned sage discussing the rigors of style, the role of literary infatuation and the merits of literary emulation. In the first chapter, Alvarez cites Sylvia Plath as an example of a poet who found her authentic voice only in the last months of her life. He goes on to discuss how to avoid mannered rhetoric and cliché, and to outline the difference between writers who "carve" their work with extensive revision and those who "model" it (a distinction he borrows from Auden). The second chapter concerns the writer's (and reader's) ear and sense of rhythm, with examples from John Donne, Andrew Marvell and Shakespeare. The final chapter centers on how the reader places a writer in his or her historical context and on combating fads and trends in criticism. Here Alvarez rails against the anti-intellectualism of the beat generation, the rise of theory and the present day's "terror of elitism." Alas, Alvarez overcompensates, to the point where his own voice seems old-fashioned: full of truisms, predictable in its tastes and advice, and rather patronizing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
How does a writer create his or her literary voice? How does an attentive reader hear that voice? What developments in modern culture often stifle that voice and stop up the reader's ears to its resonance? Alvarez ponders these questions as he probes, for instance, the imaginative magic through which Sylvia Plath discovered her powerfully disquieting voice in her final works. He then addresses these vexing perplexities from a different angle as he enacts the kind of careful reading that distinguishes between Marvell's polished but superficial verse translation of Seneca and Wyatt's rough but genuinely poetic translation. Too often, Alvarez complains, both writers and readers mistake mere style for voice. Worse, in a culture debauched by the resurgent Romantic Cult of the Artist, readers pay more attention to the writer's psychopathologies--often deliberately self-inflicted--than to his or her works. By probing enduring cultural issues in language mercifully free from jargon and shibboleths, Alvarez invites general readers into a serious critical dialogue too long monopolized by theoretically blinkered specialists. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
I tumbled into deep admiration for A. Alvarez from the first few pages as he was obviously writing a subject he knew intimately from first hand experience.
This title started as a series of lectures and grew into a lively word-discussion for the reader. Alvarez uses plentiful examples from poetry, prose and the lifestories of the famous authors he gleans from throughout the text.
From Cole Porter to Sylvia Plath to Shakespeare to T.E. Hulme, I felt like a guest at a literary party. The most entertaining chapter was #3 - The Cult of Personality and the Myth of the Artist", which dives headlong into Romanticism, Criticism and the impact of Eastern European writers and cold war politics.
I will write differently because of this book - I will hear the voice of A. Alvarez beside me as my pencil scratches the page.
When a writer is not ashamed of being a human being with a unique history and reality, fully alive in relation to subject and reader, a book sings! So Alvarez approaches words on a page in terms of music, sound, rhythm, pace. When immersed in music or deep conversation, we lose ourselves yet are wholly present. The reader need not be consciously aware of an effective author's voice. Nevertheless, awareness can increase pleasure.
What Alvarez and other literary critics call "voice" is not primarily the words; it is beyond the words. His examples come mostly from the classics, but voice can enrich any type of writing. Einstein is used as an example of someone who realized the best thought comes without words first, through a more intuitive physical awareness. To me voice is the difference between an Einstein and an ordinary scientist who can't get beyond thinking that being human is an obstacle to his/her work.
Freud, though usually taken at his "word" to be a conventional scientist, reveals himself in his writings as deeply immersed in the imaginal world, hence his works endure. Paradoxically, words are secondary, and must not be allowed to get in the way of one's writing, one's awareness, one's communication. Simply put: trash words that don't work, no matter how perfect they seem. '
According to Alvarez, a writer's voice is not the same as style; style often smothers voice. The student who excels in her field must finally break out of all the perfect cages of knowledge and skill to discover new territory or be a dead mouthpiece for the past. Sylvia Plat is the sad but meaningful example of this when she wrote perfectly but without an authentic voice until just before her suicide. (Joyce Carol Oates is an example of the perfect student of literature who goes on develop her own strong voice and presence--and to live!)
This book is evocative and thought provoking, an exploration in human consciousness. My book's cover pictures a writer staring at the back of his head in a mirror--rather than his face. A writer avoiding his own presence and voice?
If you feel the pull of both your right and your left brain, this book is perfect for you. Even if you don't read much in the classics, Alvarez' examples are interesting and enjoyable in themselves. And you'll feel you've taken a personal tutorial from a highly sensitive and talented writer, teacher, and human being.