WRITING INTO THE WORLD: Essays: 1973-1987 by Terrence Des Pres

WRITING INTO THE WORLD: Essays: 1973-1987

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Twenty-two posthumous essays on literature, fate, and the Holocaust by the former Colgate professor of English. Des Pres (The Survivor, 1976; Praises and Dispraises: Poetry and Politics, the 20th Century, 1988) is both profound and tedious in this collection, which begins with an essay on writing as a worldly act and ends, fittingly, with a elegiac essay on youth. In between, the politics of literature and the literature of politics are favorite subjects. Des Pres's knowledge of Holocaust literature and history is vast; it informs his reverent readings of writers like Auden, Orwell, and the Turkish poet Hazim Hikmet, each a sort of hero and model for writing that is engaged, into the world. In "Into the Mire: The Case of Bertolt Brecht," Des Pres praises the playwright's relentless activism but reprises the old lament about his refusal to adequately denounce Stalin. Less successful as political commentary is his assault on Bruno Bettelheim; responding to attacks against his own work by the psychologist, he questions Bettelheim's self-avowed credentials as a "survivor of the camps," inadvertently turning the Holocaust into a platform for private revenge. In other pieces, Des Pres misses completely: he oversimplifies and misstates the ideas of Harold Bloom and Thomas Pynchon, and is at a kind of pedantic worst in a long rumination on the nature of "accident," using the motorcycle death of John Gardner as test case. More successful is "Self/Landscape/Grid," a reflection on the dissolution of language in the nuclear age and an homage to the American tradition of faith in the power of words. Elie Wiesel's foreword says it best about Des Pres: "Obsessed by truth, intoxicated by poetry, an impassioned defender of victims." Despite the flaws here, Des Pres meets those words of tribute, adding quiet, dignified intelligence to his own literary legacy.

ISBN: 670-80464-9
Publisher: Viking
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