dossier K.


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. Better to say nothing, they both say, or at least that’s the first half of what they say. If Adorno leaves off the productive half of the equation — “I’ll go on” — other writers have supplied it for him, in the form of a very large body of work concerned with the Holocaust that is not only ethically accountable but also incredibly rich and inventive. 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. 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 as their subjects memory, absence, how we perceive history and how our lives are continually reshaped by past events. More recently there are novels like Joshua Cohen’s “Witz,” a satirical attack on the kitschification of Jewish experience that can also be read as an earnest concern for the legacy of the Holocaust, as we quickly approach the time when there will no longer be any living witnesses. What’s remarkable about the Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian author Imre Kertesz is that his body of work spans all of these subjects.

more from Martin Riker at the NY Times here.