Milton Hindus: On "Testimony"

Testimony should be a specific against what a fatuous public official once described as "the optimism of the American historical vision." This is not because Reznikoff believes America is worse than the rest of the world, but because he sees no reason to think it much better. Vice, drunkenness, greed, murder, and sadism produce results no different in America than they once did in Dostoyevsky's Russia or Dante's Italy.

[. . . .]

When Reznikoff resumed writing Testimony in the 1960s, there loomed up before his imagination out of "the dark backward and abysm of time" realities dwarfing the great economic Depression of the Thirties (the Second World War, the Holocaust, Hiroshima), yet he still felt that the horror of such grand historical abstractions could most effectively be brought home by the minute particulars of individual cases, which he had first begun to read extensively while working for a living on the encyclopaedia of law for lawyers, Corpus Juris. Later, he continued to read these reports for the sheer human interest of them and because he felt challenged to create for strangers (by selection, arrangement, and a clarified, chastened style) the feelings which some of the cases had aroused in himself. Litera scripta manet. The written record remains, but what good is it if it is unread? The law reports of the various states were for Reznikoff what Holinshed's Chronicles and Hakluyt's Voyages were for earlier poets, quarries out of which to dig materials that could be shaped into new literary artifacts.

Details

Title Milton Hindus: On "Testimony" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Milton Hindus Criticism Target Charles Reznikoff
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 24 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "Epic, Action-Poem, Cartoon: Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony"
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