Reflections, Prompted By Sunday, 11 August 2013 Issue of The New York Times Book Review

The review of Dossier K., Imre Kertesz’s latest book and his first nonfiction, is by Martin Riker, an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis.  His review begins:

Two of the great pessimistic proclamations of 20th-century literature —  Adorno’s “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric” and Beckett’s “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” —  have at least one thing in common.  They both address the inadequacy of language to articulate reality.

At the end of that first paragraph, Riker writes:

In fact it is not too much to claim, of Holocaust literature, that the struggle to say what is unsayable has paradoxically yielded some of the most extraordinary literary works we have.

2nd paragraph:

There are the firsthand accounts by Levi, Wiesel, Borowski and others.  There are the formally innovative novels of writers like Perec, Bernhard and Sebald, works written in the shadow of the Holocaust that take their subjects memory, absence, how we perceive history and how our lives are continually reshaped by past events.

Levi and Borowski, after serving as unflinching witness to the horrors of the concentration camps, both killed themselves, decades after the war.  Self has never ceased asking Why?  Why?  Why?

This morning, coincidentally, self decides to continue sorting through her piles and piles of old teaching material.  She comes across a binder for a freshman survey course she once taught in Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.  The paper was on the Tadeusz Borowski short story “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.”  The student’s name was Victor Gonzales.  Here’s the first page of his paper:

There is a sickening beauty to industrialized killing.  The German system to organize, account, exploit, and murder “undesirables” was a very efficient one —  indeed, some entrepreneurs were making money off the the industry of killing.  It was simple, efficient, and profitable —  all the things that a businessman would want.  Humanity itself was reduced to a tool, having camp workers keep their mouths shut while interacting with the “undesirables” as a final act of kindness and cruelty.  Kindness in that for many, ignorance was bliss; cruelty because kindness was deliberately being used to maintain order, to keep the “undesirables” under control.

One of the reasons why there seems to be so much emphasis on the Nazi Holocaust as compared to the Soviet Terrors or the Chinese Communist Revolutions can be explained in this analogy: the Russian and Chinese democides (state-planned murders to maintain control) were machine guns sweeping into a crowd, while the Nazi Holocaust was systematic, aimed shots to an individual.

Very, very interesting!

The paper was dated April 10, 2003.

Stay tuned.

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