Friday, July 26, 2013

writing against writing

Whenever I notice that someone has written a work of fiction set during the Holocaust, I flinch. Adorno's complex statements about no poetry after the Holocaust return to me on such occasions, and I apply them, in my own way, to the possibility of fiction.

I think such writers of fiction about the Holocaust should be cautious. Especially about that subtle thing Adorno considered: culture has become diffused into a totalizing, therefore leveling, of consciousness. Everything is equal to everything. The vertical pitch of the unspeakable would get flattened into the horizontal frequency of the mundane. 

So...writers of fiction about the Holocaust should almost be writing against the very act of writing. And against the way reception of writing has also become totalized, leveled, conventional. That way any cheapening, dramatic, careerist, ironic, gratuitous effects would be canceled out in advance. 

What would be left over? I have no idea. But what happened back then is, at least for me, beyond the power of fictional imagining.

Side note --W.G. Sebald found a way to background the Holocaust. But are his books mostly fiction or mostly autobiographical? That leaves the question of fiction as such still not fully addressed. Nonetheless, he did manage to write towards the subject in a subtly artistic manner. The unspeakable remains at a safe distance from clumsy attempts at verisimilitude and drama. It's implicit in the moods, circumstances, and words of the characters. It looms powerfully that way. Sebald's way was a respectful way.

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