THE HOLOCAUST AND THE LITERARY IMAGINATION by Lawrence L. Langer

THE HOLOCAUST AND THE LITERARY IMAGINATION

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Adorno thought that to write poetry after Auschwitz would be a barbaric act: the lyric spirit had been slaughtered once and for all in the concentration camp. Yet Professor Langer, in his thoroughgoing study, demonstrates ""that art's transfiguration of moral chaos into aesthetic form"" is neither as presumptuous nor as callous as one might suspect. In fact, if one is to humanize the world again, to salvage culture, then an attempt at understanding the ""incomprehensible,"" at paying homage to the Jewish victims of the ovens and the torture chambers, is a dire necessity. The examples of ""the literature of atrocity"" that Langer analyzes here range from the nightmarish romances of Kosinski to the black humor of Jakov Lind, from the coolly diagrammatic irony of Boll to the existential anguish of Wiesel. Of course these men, and the other writers studied, are not of equal artistic merit, yet each knows that in ""the literature of atrocity, no fiction can ever be completely that--a fiction,"" for the surviving artist ""can never totally conceal the relationship between the naked body and the covering costume, the actual scars of the Holocaust and the creative salves that often only intensify pain."" And what surprising jolts such pain can give. Hear this chilling bit of dialogue between two inmates who now ""work for"" the camp in a short story by Tadeusz Borowski: ""So, you're still alive, Abbie? And what's new with you?"" ""Not much. Just gassed up a Czech transport."" ""That I know. I mean personally?"" Langer often has a ponderous academic style. Nevertheless his book is extremely moving, principally because he is an apt quoter and knows how to extract the apposite passage which best illustrates his dreadful subject. It is not a subject, certainly, from which, as he says, the reader ""can ever return the same.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1975
ISBN: 0300021216
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press