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Journal Article

The Banality of the Document: Charles Reznikoff's "Holocaust" and Ineloquent Empathy

Todd Carmody
Journal of Modern Literature
Vol. 32, No. 1 (Fall, 2008), pp. 86-110
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25511793
Page Count: 25
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The Banality of the Document: Charles Reznikoff's "Holocaust" and Ineloquent Empathy
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Abstract

This essay argues that Charles Reznikoff's "Holocaust" is a response to the controversy that broke out among Jewish intellectuals in the wake of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. I demonstrate that Reznikoff's documentary poems, drawn from transcripts of the Eichmann and Nuremberg trials, work to undercut the politicization of survivor testimony in the Israeli prosecution's case against Eichmann. Reznikoff implicitly sides with Hannah Arendt against the sentimental Zionist cause for which his wife Marie Syrkin and Attorney General Gideon Hausner fought. My central claim is that "Holocaust" appropriates survivors' language in order to demonstrate the limits and political dangers of appropriating emotion. As such, Reznikoff's objectivist approach offers an alternative to recent work on historical trauma, models that often call on us to identify with survivors in order to understand the Holocaust.

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