Life against Death: Review Essay

By Harrison, Bernard | Shofar, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Life against Death: Review Essay


Harrison, Bernard, Shofar


Life Against Death: Review Essay Blooms of Darkness: A Novel, by Aharon Appelfeld, translated from the Hebrew by Geoffrey M. Green. New York: Schocken Books, 2010. 279 pp. $25.95.

Aharon Appelfeld stands virtually alone in the desolating power of his fictional depictions of the Shoah. To some critics, of course, the description "fictional depiction of the Shoah" designates not merely an oxymoron but an outrage. To them, Adornos famous dictum, Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch, applies as much to fiction as to poetry. Others have suggested that Appelfeld "gets away" with writing fiction about the Shoah by, in effect, not writing about it. Those of his books which, like Badenheim 1939, or To the Land of the Reeds, treat of characters on their way to the camps, end with the arrival of the trains: "An engine . . . coupled to four filthy freight cars" (Badenheim), "An old locomotive, drawing two old cars ... it went from station to station, gathering up the remainder" (Reeds). Beyond that point, there is only silence: the action of the novel ends, as if stopped dead in its tracks. The camps themselves remain, it seems, beyond the reach of Appelfeld's imagination.

How far does this objection diagnose a weakness, possibly a fatal one, in his work? One might excuse this aspect of his work as demonstrating merely a decent reticence, entirely proper in the circumstances, despite the general tendency of our culture at present to confuse any kind of reticence with failure of nerve.

But a more positive line of defense suggests itself. The culture of Christian and Enlightenment Europe, the matrix culture from which the Shoah emerged, strikes me, as one of its non-Jewish inheritors, as a culture perhaps overly impressed with death. Judaism is - it is conventional, but also broadly true, to say - a religion of life. Characteristically, it sees death, not as something to be dwelt on, to be studied, a phenomenon from which something might be learnt; but simply as the limit of life: the point at which this life stops. The fundamentally Christian world in which I was brought up seems, on the contrary, at times almost to regard death as the center, the goal, the defining moment of life. One thinks of the old story of the Abbot of Downside addressing his fellow headmasters: "You have all spoken of how your schools educate boys for life. At Downside, on the contrary, we educate them for death." While Spinoza, true in this to his Jewish heritage, taught that the free man occupies himself with life, and thinks of nothing less than death, the belief that there may be something to be learned, some insight to be gained, from meditating on the mere fact of death, continues unabated in the matrix culture.

From that belief it is a short step to the thought that to wield death as an instrument of political power is to wield also its supposed power to draw away the curtain from hidden knowledge, to show us things about ourselves and our world that only the triumph of death could show us. Adorno himself was by no means a stranger to that thought. "Hegel, whose method schooled that of Minima Moralia," he says, in the Dedication of the latter work, "argued against the mere being-for-itself of subjectivity on all its levels." And in the ptevious paragraph he identifies "the concentration camp" as having in effect, demonstrated the historical correctness of this thought of Hegel's. "The overwhelming objectivity of historical movement in its present phase consists so far only in the dissolution of the subject . . . The subject still feels sure of its autonomy, but the nullity demonstrated to subjects by the concentration camp [my italics] is already overtaking the form of consciousness itself."

The alleged "barbarity" of writing a poem after Auschwitz pales into insignificance, it seems to me, when set beside the extreme ambiguity of the attitude to the Nazis betrayed by these remarks. In effect, they credit the Endlösung, and by extension its authors, with having revealed the Nature of Reality and demonstrated it to be in accord with the thought of Hegel.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Life against Death: Review Essay
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.