Collected Essays
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 With a highly sensitive but unsparing eye, these essays argue that new moral and linguistic categories are required in order to respond properly and honestly to the reality of the Holocaust. Langer (English/Simmons College), who won a National Book Critics Circle award for Holocaust Testimonies ( 1991), asserts that ``language preserves a semblance of order that disintegrates'' in the reality of the mass slaughter of Jews. Analyzing the ways in which people have tried to understand or represent the Holocaust, he looks at oral testimony, diaries, memoirs, and fiction, including works by writers like William Styron and Bernard Malamud for whom the Holocaust is an important but not necessarily central theme. Langer also examines some portrayals of the Holocaust on American TV, stage, and screen, eloquently resisting attempts to sentimentalize Holocaust victims, resisters, or survivors. Above all, he insists that the Holocaust represents a ``rupture'' in the images and values of modern Western culture, several times approvingly quoting Jean AmÇry's observation that ``no bridge led from death in Auschwitz to Death in Venice.'' Langer's only questionable contention is that ``Auschwitz introduced the realm of the unthinkable into the human drama.'' What, one wonders, of the mass deaths of millions during WW I's trench warfare or Stalin's murder of as many as 30 million in the USSR during the purges? Generally, however, Langer writes superbly. He has a gift for simple yet resonant phrasing: Of fictional survivors such as Aharon Appelfeld's Great Barfuss and Cynthia Ozick's Rosa, he writes that they are emotionally and spiritually ``dead while alive'' and thus ``amputated from time.'' Langer applies his insightful, razor-sharp pen to others' works about an event that, he convincingly maintains, carries neither lesson nor moral but instead overpowers memory, mocks the pretensions of civilization, and leaves an absurd, irredeemable legacy.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-19-509357-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994