Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction

By Sara R. Horowitz | Go to book overview
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4
The Mute Language of Brutality

You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

-- Czeslaw Milosz,
"Dedication"

In The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski utilizes the perspective of a mute protagonist to put words to something usually kept outside the boundaries of language: the experience of a self undone by atrocity, told from the perspective of the undone self. As an object of ongoing atrocity, the protagonist's narration comes from outside the linguistic system, outside of the self-defining and world-defining power of words.

A grotesque turn of the picaresque, The Painted Bird traces the desperate meanderings of a six-year-old Eastern European boy during the war years. Entrusted in 1939 by his anti-Nazi (and hence, endangered) parents to the care of "a man traveling eastward" (1), the boy-- whose name remains undisclosed--soon finds himself alone and on his own in a hostile, dangerous countryside. He wanders from village to benighted village, seeking shelter from the harsh elements and refuge

-71-

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