Is the Holocaust Literary?

Is the Holocaust Literary?

Is the Holocaust Literary?

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Oct. 14 1999 3:30 AM

Is the Holocaust Literary?

SUBJECT: Günter Grass' "Political" Art

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DATE: Fri Oct 8

Though the critic Adorno admonished that poetry was impossible in the wake of Auschwitz, in a different context he also argued that art was more effectively political the less overt its politics--pace Brecht.

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Now, given the emotional and critical persuasiveness of both positions, the question of how one might produce art "adequate" to the Holocaust is fraught with incommensurability. How can art be both authentically free and at the same time totalize the experience of genocide?

And so Grass, like Michel Tournier in The Ogre and D.M. Thomas in The White Hotel, charts an oblique course as far as historical engagement is concerned (though Thomas cuts loose in his shocking denouement).

If this is, as far as Grass is concerned, a moral failure of literary process, then Ms. Shulevitz, and a notably resentful Jacob Heilbrunn in the Wall Street Journal, need to make sense of their criticism by showing how art can measure the Holocaust and still be art (and not history or politics or philosophy).

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SUBJECT: Shulevitz's Political Criticism

FROM: Roy Edroso

DATE: Fri Oct 8

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The Politicization of Nearly Everything (Literary Division) proceeds apace. First the right-wingers attack the Nobel committee for giving the Lit Prize to a commie--all the while admitting that he might in fact be a good writer (presumably they'll get around to reading him sometime, if they can ever get through that big, fat Tom Wolfe book). What's art, after all, compared to conservative correctness?

Then Ms. Shulevitz gets on Grass for presuming to use an artistic technique, specifically irony, in the context of the Holocaust--for what is art compared to a Holocaust? Shulevitz doubts Grass "saved German literature." I say anyone who writes a masterpiece does a service to literature, just as anyone who tries to make a work of art grist for their political mill does it a disservice.

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SUBJECT: Nixon, the Jews, and Vietnam

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FROM: John Taylor

DATE: Thu Oct 7

I'm the director of the Nixon Library and thus the promulgator of the analysis of the tape opening that Timothy Noah quotes.

Here's what I noticed about the NY Times article: It neglected to mention a principal source of RN's frustration about the Jewish community, which is plenty clear in our analysis and the tapes themselves. Many of the same folks who wanted the U.S. to support Israel against her aggressive foreign enemies did not particularly want the U.S. to support South Vietnam against hers.

Do you or do you not believe this is a legitimate reason for a commander-in-chief in the middle of a war he inherited to be frustrated, particularly when he was still signing 30-40 letters a week to the families of KIA? Add that to the fact that he'd gotten about 20% of the Jewish vote in '68, and what you have is a politician and a President who basically viewed the Jewish community as predominantly liberal, Democratic, and anti-war. He didn't just think they were against him; they were against him.

And that's fine. Blocs of ethnic or religious voters are frequently against certain politicians, and maybe all those politicians get frustrated about it. That's fine, too--except when it's captured on tape. But here's the bottom line: Words are words, and actions are actions. When RN says "Jews" on the tapes, I hear "damn liberals," and I understand it. This is why the points that he saved Israel in 1973 and that his inner circle included Kissinger, Stein, Safire, and Garment are more than aspects of a "some of my best friends ..." defense. These colleagues were politically simpatico! And this was a politician! It's not complicated! Also, find the tape in the new batch where he talks about how impressed he was after a meeting with Arlen Specter--then, I believe, a tough young prosecutor from Pennsylvania.

Anyway, back to the NYT omission. In a whole article about RN and Jews, why leave out the bit about Vietnam and Israel? Doesn't he have the right to have the most immediate source of his frustration even mentioned? Does the NYT want people to think these feelings sprang from him totally unprovoked?

Here's what I think: We're all still tiptoeing around the Vietnam War. We post-Vietnam elites all tend to think that Ellsberg was a great hero and that the war was immoral. We all tend to think that it was okay to be for Israelis' freedom from aggression but to be indifferent toward that of South Vietnamese. And so we still scapegoat RN for all the sins of the era to avoid having to ask tough questions about what really happened to Indochina, and to America, when Hanoi and the Khmer Rouge were permitted to have their way with people whom we'd pledged to protect (and almost succeeded in protecting). Check out Lewis Sorley's new book about Vietnam, for instance. [Read more about the book in this "Summary Judgment."]

Revisionism about the war is inevitable; revisionism about the toughest and best Vietnam commander-in-chief will come next. And the tapes won't stop it. More likely, the tapes will fuel it. Maybe it's a good thing he didn't burn them after all.

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SUBJECT: In Defense of the Torah Codes

FROM: Michael Drosnin

DATE: Fri Oct 8

Your article that posted late yesterday about the Bible code would not have been published if your reporter, or your editors, had taken the time to check out the facts.

As author of The Bible Code, I've spent the past seven years checking out all the claims and counter-claims. Here are two basic facts your article ignores:

a) The data for the original Bible code experiment were chosen by an independent scholar, Dr. Shlomo Havlin of Bar-Ilan University, who did not know how the data would affect the outcome of the experiment. That alone absolutely refutes the new accusation that the data were "tuned" or "fitted to the tests."

b) The original Bible code experiment was replicated by an American codebreaker, Harold Gans, for more than 25 years a senior National Security Agency crypto-analyst. He not only re-did the experiment from scratch, but also confirmed the code using entirely new data.

That alone absolutely refutes the new claim that the results of the Israeli experiment can't be replicated. I understand your reporter's false relief in not having to believe in the Bible code any longer. I'm also secular.

But this new attack by the same old critics does not let Wittes off the hook. He, in fact, has done what he accuses those who believe in the code of doing--he has taken on faith the false claims of the critics.

Had he actually checked the facts, he would know the critics have not "solved the Bible code puzzle"--they told a lie.

They knew that the esteemed scholar who chose the data had stated in writing that he did not know how the data would affect the experiment. They knew that the NSA codebreaker had publicly confirmed that he replicated the experiment. These critics even lied about the results of their own experiments--which did not "debunk" the Bible code.

In fact, the critics' first experiment confirmed the Bible code. So they ran a second experiment rigged to fail, and then hid the positive results of their first experiment by lumping them together with the fixed experiment.

All of us who are not religious think we know that the Bible code simply cannot be real. When I first heard about it, that was my entire reply--"I'm not religious."

But then I learned Hebrew, obtained a copy of the computer program used by the world-class mathematician who discovered the code, and worked with it myself every day for years. And then I found in the code a warning that Yitzhak Rabin would be assassinated, and told the Prime Minister--a year before he was killed.

I still don't believe in God. I'm still not religious. But I can assure you that the code is real. Your reporter perhaps too quickly, too easily embraced the Bible code--and has now, like many a disappointed convert, too quickly, too easily embraced the critics.

I'm surprised that you and your editors have followed him without even trying to check out the facts.

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SUBJECT: Re: In Defense of the Torah Codes

FROM: Benjamin Wittes

DATE: Fri Oct 8

Both Professor Havlin's role in assembling the data for the rabbi's experiment and Mr. Gans' work on the codes are discussed at length in the rebuttal paper. In fact, the central point of that paper, as I noted in the article, is that the criteria Prof. Havlin applied in creating his list of appellations was insufficiently well-defined before the dataset was assembled to be scientifically valuable. Far from ignoring this, I described it as "the core of [the] critique."

While my article does not discuss Mr. Gans' experiments, that is chiefly because they were never published in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal to begin with. The fair-minded reader will agree that the McKay paper devastates the Gans experiments completely.

It is also false to say that I ever embraced the Bible Code or am now a disappointed convert. Rather, I always believed--and still do--that the codes would, if demonstrated to be real, propel a scientifically minded person towards Orthodox Judaism. I have, at the same time, also always believed they would ultimately be debunked. Hence, they did not change my religious convictions at all, though they shook them.

Consider, by contrast, Drosnin, whose work constitutes the least scientific and most intellectually shallow end of the Torah codes discussion. He regards the codes as a proven fact, yet somehow still professes non-belief. How is it possible that such a future-predicting code embedded in such an impenetrable form in an ancient document could be the work of something less than God? How can one believe in the codes and not in God?

It is not McKay and his co-authors who "told a lie." That dishonor, rather, belongs to Drosnin himself for publishing a work that grossly transcends even the now-discredited science on which it was purportedly based.

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SUBJECT: The "Math of God"

DATE: Fri Oct 8

Faith means that you don't have to have proofs of the existence of God, oh ye of little faith. Anyone whose faith depends upon mathematical letter sequencing in War and Peace or any other inspired writing is grasping at straws.

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SUBJECT: Re: The "Math of God"

FROM: Reader

DATE: Fri Oct 8

Benjamin Wittes says that the loss of the Torah codes is a relief. But would it not be sensational to find proof, by way of the rational mind, for a God with continuing interest in our well-being?

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