Lawrence L. Langer is Alumnae Chair Professor of English Emeritus, Simmons College, Boston. He is also the author of The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (ISBN 0 300 02121 6, pb. #13.95) and Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (ISBN: 0 300 05247 2, pb. #10.50), both published by Yale University Press.
"Langer has become a conscience, demanding that we grapple with the real implications of the Holocaust, its evil. This compelling book is a significant contribution to the field of Holocaust studies." Michael Berenbaum, former president, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation "An essential work on one of the central historical moments in history." Kirkus Reviews "Langer's achievement is to insist obdurately that even the most terrible things said about the Holocaust do not plumb it...How valuable is the protest he...put[s] up." Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
"Anyone teaching [the Holocaust] must be willing to confront behavior that cannot be explained by prior notions of why we do what we do." In this collection of essays, most of which were delivered at Holocaust conferences, Langer, author of the NBCC prize-winning Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, challenges our tendency to push aside the uniquely horrible reality of this event to make room for the uplifting, the rationalizing, the triumphal versions, whether or not they convey the truth. Describing the Nazis as mindless bureaucratic killing machines rather than sadistic murderers or insisting that the establishment of Israel in 1948 somehow makes up for the death of two-thirds of Europe's Jews are examples of our inability to deal honestly with a historical event that undermines all religious and humane assumptions about people's relations to one another and to God. Langer finds a disquieting truth in the work of Primo Levi, Samuel Bak, Cynthia Ozick and Art Spiegelman, but criticizes artist Judy Chicago's Holocaust Project and theologian Tzvetan Todorov's writing for seeking falsely to universalize the experience of the Holocaust, thereby distorting and reducing it. "There is simply no connection between our ordinary suffering and their unprecedented agony, nor do our trivial inclinations toward sin resemble in any way the minds that devised such terminal torture." Langer's own experience interviewing Holocaust survivors has profoundly branded him, and his deep sympathy and outrage on behalf of the innocent victims of humanity's most horrendous crime permeates these somber and alarming essays. (Oct.)
Most of the essays in this collection by award-winning Holocaust literary critic Langer (Admitting the Holocaust, Oxford Univ., 1995) were originally presented as conference papers, and several have previously been published elsewhere. Unlike "exemplarists" who try to pull something positive from the ashes of the Holocaust, Langer is a literalist who believes that the focus should not be shifted away from mass murder. He argues firmly that "we learn nothing from the misery" that we find there, and, indeed, suffering is an undercurrent that runs through all of the essays. Among the people whose work he discusses are Tzvetan Todorov, Primo Levi, Cynthia Ozick, Art Spiegelman, and artist Samuel Bak. One of the most interesting essays (published here for the first time) is a discussion of the various responses to Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower over the past 29 years. Both general readers and academic specialists will find Langer's writings timely and thought-provoking.‘John A. Drobnicki, York Coll., CUNY