Composing the self, communing in silence : voice and identity in poetry of the Holocaust / Jonathan Miller Alexander.
The gross depreciation of human value evident in the Nazi Holocaust contributed to the ineffective quality of descriptors for such inhumane treatment. This study investigates poetry created within—and in the wake of—this human tragedy to examine how the desire for personal testimony and the inability to articulate unite to elicit poetic silences. Such silences prove to be more than by-products of language; they coordinate with words to formulate meaning. Poets seize control of the circumstances of their oppression, grip the silences which had been the lone descriptors of their previous selves, and begin the task of self-representation. Chapter One illustrates how poetry served as an appropriate vehicle for the fragmentation of Holocaust experiences. When forms prove inadequate, events not otherwise explainable are recreated through expressive language. The testimonial audience is not always able to comprehend such expressed content which results in poetic silence. Survivors are further oppressed by the need to articulate such incomprehensible details and the guilt of having lived while so many others perished. Chapter Two identifies the variegated nature of silence. Chapter Three illustrates unintended, passive silences—products of the impotence of language and the inability to communicate suffering. Poets lose faith in fleeting memory, language, humanity, God and the self. In Chapter Four, the focus shifts to controlled applications of meaningful, regenerative silences. Poetic testimony is constructed by employing such silence as a metaphor of being to preserve self-representation and the exposure of information. Chapter Five concludes that language and silence work in tandem to deliver the most effective testimony. Poets attempt less to overcome silence than to embrace it. Survivors are forever linked through the discourse of silence in a community of inexpressibility.
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