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The terror of our days : Sylvia Plath, William Heyen, Gerald Stern, and Jerome Rothenberg poetically respond to the Holocaust

Author: Harriet Abbey Leibowitz Parmet
Publisher: 1998.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Lehigh University, 1998.
Edition/Format:   Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript   Archival Material : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
The Holocaust remains incomprehensible to the world at large and without a compelling claim on most people's lives. By contrast the term "Holocaust" occupies a central place in Jewish vocabulary, and it is kept current in American letters and film. This dissertation reflects on and analyzes poetry by four contemporary Americans, Sylvia Plath, William Heyen, Gerald Stern, and Jerome Rothenberg, none of whom directly
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Details

Genre/Form: Academic dissertations
Named Person: Sylvia Plath; William Heyen; Gerald Stern; Jerome Rothenberg
Material Type: Thesis/dissertation, Manuscript, Internet resource
Document Type: Book, Archival Material, Internet Resource
All Authors / Contributors: Harriet Abbey Leibowitz Parmet
OCLC Number: 39350898
Notes: Includes vita.
Description: iv, 273 leaves ; 29 cm.
Responsibility: by Harriet Abbey Leibowitz Parmet.

Abstract:

The Holocaust remains incomprehensible to the world at large and without a compelling claim on most people's lives. By contrast the term "Holocaust" occupies a central place in Jewish vocabulary, and it is kept current in American letters and film. This dissertation reflects on and analyzes poetry by four contemporary Americans, Sylvia Plath, William Heyen, Gerald Stern, and Jerome Rothenberg, none of whom directly experienced the war of annihilation directed against European Jewry. Thus they are denied the survivors' truth; their direct pain and suffering, their personal mandate to tell the story. For these poets, who must accommodate what they cannot ignore or deny, writing becomes a moral obligation as commemoration, catharsis, atonement, history, insistence on human sensitivities, resistance to brutalization, indifference and flight from consequences. Plath attempts to work herself out of her private turmoil by using the Holocaust as a metaphor for this pain. While God and the Holocaust are equally impenetrable and unfathomable, Plath's recourse is to be found in Christian symbolism. Heyen, whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1928, leaving behind members of the family who became Nazis, felt driven to confront history as part of his own background. He, a non-Jew, struggles to learn why swastikas were painted on the doorpost of his Long Island home. Stern, whose early manhood was spent in middle-class American safety, must expiate this guilt by envisaging and transposing himself into the victims in a highly familiar manner. His work is closely and carefully circumscribed to Judaic ritual with the Kaddish (Jewish Memorial prayer) an inescapable element of his Holocaust poetry. Rothenberg must return to where it all began for him by exploring the awesome locale of his familial roots. He visited Poland and realized that his immigrant parents' native town was only 15 miles from Treblinka, where nearly all of his relatives were murdered. The silence of the death camp created for Rothenberg "a vacuum in which the dead are free to speak."

An age is known by the books it produces as well as by those it labors to preserve and pass on to succeeding generations. Holocaust poetry on both counts--that of-original creation as well as that of vital cultural transmission--must be counted among the most compelling writings of our day. If the late T.W. Adorno's proposition--"to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" (109)--were to be taken literally, it would undermine the validity of this endeavor as well as the vast body of existing literature. But poets from time immemorial did not permit their world to collapse because of catastrophe and calamity.

The study includes an introductory chapter addressing the issue raised by Adorno as well as a survey and interpretation of the components of the Holocaust genre followed by chapters on each of the poets. Questions to be probed include the particularity of suffering juxtaposed on the universality of human pain; the validity and effectiveness of history recounted in the poetic genre, the poet as advocate and witness, the paradox of remoteness; the compulsion to write and rewrite Holocaust history and the uniqueness of the artists' approach to Holocaust material. To what extent does the poet's autobiographical self surface? Does God figure in any consideration of the Holocaust? (Abstract shortened by UMI.).

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