THE AGE OF ATROCITY: Death in Modern Literature by Lawrence L. Langer

THE AGE OF ATROCITY: Death in Modern Literature

Email this review


Extending the lines of his The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, Langer further investigates how ""the sheer quantity of lives wasted by atrocity has corrupted the redeeming power of tragic insight."" Mass death numbs us; an individual death, while always ""inappropriate,"" is sometimes, by force of will, meaningful--the atrocious death never. So ""what we confront is not the unimaginable, but the intolerable. . . ."" Langer's overview is acute, depending on the writings of Jean Amery and Ernest Becker, with their respective theories of torture as transcendence and ""creatureliness."" The intelligent but tepid literary criticism that makes up the rest of the book is less finely tune tuned. Mann's The Magic Mountain, Camus' The Plague, Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward, French writer Charlotte Delbo's Auschwitz trilogy--Langer plots their ever-growing curve away from metaphor. Though the deepest, intellectually, the Mann is also the most naive; Delbo's works, artistically primitive, are the most philosophically unimpeachable. A good book, then, slowed by its methodology but insightfully drawing us ever closer to what mind and art are least anxious to incur.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1978
Publisher: Beacon