Paul Auster: On "Holocaust"

The success of Testimony becomes all the more striking when placed beside Holocaust, a far less satisfying work that is based on many of the same techniques. Using as his sources the U.S. Government publication, Trials of the Criminals before the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the records of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Reznikoff attempts to deal with Germany's annihilation of the Jews in the same dispassionate, documentary style with which he had explored the human dramas buried in American court records. The problem, I think, is one of magnitude. Reznikoff is a master of the everyday; he understands the seriousness of small events and has an uncanny sympathy with the lives of ordinary people. In a work such as Testimony he is able to present us with the facts in a way that simultaneously makes us understand them: the two gestures are inseparable. In the case of Holocaust, however, we all know the facts in advance. The holocaust, which is precisely the unknowable, the unthinkable, requires a treatment beyond the facts in order for us to be able to understand it--assuming that such a thing is even possible. Similar in approach to a 1960s play by Peter Weiss, The Investigation, Reznikoff's poem rigorously refused to pass judgement on any of the atrocities it describes. But this is nevertheless a false objectivity, for the poem is not saying to the reader, "decide for yourself," it is saying that the decision has already been made and that the only way we can deal with these things is to remove them from their inherently emotional setting. The problem is that we cannot remove them.. This setting is a necessary starting point.

Holocaust is instructive, however, in that it shows us the limits of Reznikoff's work. I do not mean shortcomings--but limits, those things that set off and describe a space, that create a world. Reznikoff is essentially a poet of naming. One does not have the sense of a poetry immersed in language but rather of something that takes place before language and comes to fruition at the precise moment language has been discovered--and it yields a style that is pristine, fastidious, almost stiff in its effort to say exactly what it means to say. if any one word can be used to describe Reznikoff's work, it would be humility towards language and also towards himself.


Title Paul Auster: On "Holocaust" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Milton Hindus Criticism Target Charles Reznikoff
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 25 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "The Decisive Moment"
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