restricted access Towards a New Reading of Ida Fink's The Journey
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147 Towards a New Reading of Ida Fink's The Journey Iris Milner Ida Fink, a Holocaust survivor (born 1921 in Zbaraż, Poland), stayed in Poland for twelve years after the end of World War II. Although she had already written some short stories at that time, it was only upon her arrival in Israel in 1957 that she became intensely involved in literary work—always in her mother tongue, Polish. Her first publication, a Hebrew translation of a collection of short stories that came out in Israel in 1974, did not gain her much acknowledgment. However, the original Polish version, published in London in 1976, and a subsequent collection of short stories published in 1983, were well received and gained Fink the Anne Frank Prize. Translations of both these books to English and many other languages were hailed as masterpieces, establishing Fink as a prominent Holocaust writer. Extreme episodes in the life of Fink's protagonists—men, women, and children trapped in the concentrationary universe (although not the Lager itself)—are described in this corpus of short stories within the traditional and well-established rules of the genre: realistic scenes from their tortured lives are constructed into clearly defined and coherent plots, composed of multiple layers of different narrative elements concisely and densely woven together, and are presented in a rich linguistic texture. Obviously, then, the barbarism of the nazi system of annihilation is not reconstructed in Fink's literature in terms of form: no attempt is made to re-create the chaos by means of unraveling overtly the stability of the system's language and structure. Although well aware of the abyss into which it is in the verge of collapsing , the symbolic order within which the literary works function is maintained scrupulously. A representation of the Holocaust in forms and genres that adhere strictly to literary traditions of style and composition is highly controversial. Within the context of the polemic regarding the very legitimacy of transforming the catastrophic events of World War II into artifact, in which such thinkers as Lawrence Langer, Berel Lang, Irving Howe, and Saul Friedländer have been involved, the question arises whether a meticulously well-formed text is effective in achieving the goals 148 Iris Milner of representing the Holocaust. The underlying assumption of such an aesthetic approach —which relies on a correlation between the aesthetic and the moral—is that only texts that are capable of traumatizing severely the intellectual and affective world of the readers, thus echoing the irreversible rupture in human culture created in Auschwitz, are valuable and appropriate. At least some critics believe that not only content but also style and form should be recruited for this purpose, and that it can only be achieved in literary works that imitate the chaos they aim at representing through a fragmented form that subverts and defies classic structures. In addition to conveying effectively the extreme reality of the events, such works can be read as a protest against the smooth continuity of humanistic culture after Auschwitz: "This is not the way to write about the Holocaust," commented an unnamed critic in response to the first 1974 translation of Fink's short stories from Polish to Hebrew, Pisat Zman (A Scrap of Time; qtd. in Bronovski 2). The harmonious form of the stories , this critical view in fact argues, creates an illusion of a secure, continuous world in which the ability to produce a stable narration has not been undermined: "This is the only way to write about the Holocaust," responded the critic Yoram Bronovski [Yohanan Reshet] twenty-five years later on the new Hebrew edition of Fink's stories , Hagan Hamaflig Lemerhakim (The Garden that Floated Away; 2). Implicit in the latter view is a belief that the stories' well-ordered structure does not mar their ability to transmit the unprecedented extremity of the events they portray. On the contrary: the gap between their harmonious form and their horrific subject matter, that of the tormented lives of human beings who, on the way to being annihilated, were denied even the right to define themselves as human beings, is in itself shocking . The dramatic discrepancy between the harrowing events and the minimalist, restrained, and delicately wrought structure through which they are mediated is just as effective in emphasizing their radical deviation from everything that is usually depicted by traditional modes of representation. Such an approach to literary representation can also be seen as constituting an act of resistance against dehumanization. The...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Persecutions -- Europe, Central -- History.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Hungary -- History.
  • Kertész, Imre, 1929- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Europe, Central -- History.
  • Hungary -- Ethnic relations.
  • Europe, Central -- Ethnic relations.
  • Jews -- Persecutions -- Hungary -- History.
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