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Orgel, S. (1973). The Savage God: A Study of Suicide: By A. Alvarez. New York: Random House, 1972. 299 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 42:132-138.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:132-138

The Savage God: A Study of Suicide: By A. Alvarez. New York: Random House, 1972. 299 pp.

Review by:
Shelley Orgel

The Savage God is an impressive attempt to join approaches of literary criticism, intellectual history, biographical sketches, and psychological explanations, especially psychoanalytic ones. It includes a moving personal memoir of Sylvia Plath; a lucid review of attitudes toward suicide through the ages, focusing on literary figures and their works; a thumbnail review of psychological explanations of the phenomenon; a penetrating essay analyzing the ubiquity of suicide among literary artists in the twentieth century; and a final chapter describing the author's own suicide attempt some ten years ago.

The form and personal tone of the book suggest that it is an attempt at self-analysis, and the last chapter is better seen as a preface. The author's need to understand the obsessional temptation in order to contain the desire for self-extinction, and then to exhibit these discoveries to as wide an audience as the mass media enable him to reach, has an analogy in the analytic situation. Thinking something, saying it out loud, and then knowing someone is listening—are three stages toward giving the thought real existence and binding truth.

To estimate the success of the book, then, requires a judgment of the depth of self-knowledge achieved; of Alvarez's ability to apply adequately formulated psychoanalytic explanations contributing to this self-knowledge; and his use of this introspective understanding in giving insights into the biographical, sociological, and literary material he has chosen.

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