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Fri April 25, 2014

Book News: Polish Poet With Mission To 'Create Poetry After Auschwitz' Dies

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Polish poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz, who was a member of the resistance during Germany's occupation of Poland in World War II, has died, according to reports in the Polish press. He was 92. Writing in The Guardian, the British-Hungarian poet George Szirtes called him "one of the great European 'witness' poets whose own lives were directly affected by the seismic events of the 20th century." Różewicz's older brother was killed by the Gestapo in 1944, and Różewicz made it his mission to refute Theodor Adorno's dictum that it is barbaric to create poetry after the atrocities committed at Auschwitz. Różewicz wrote, "at home a task / awaits me: / To create poetry after Auschwitz." Czeslaw Milosz wrote in an anthology of Polish poetry that Różewicz's "first poems published immediately after the war are short, nearly stenographic notes of horror, disgust, and derision of human values. Long before anybody in Poland had heard of Samuel Beckett, Różewicz's imagination created equally desperate landscapes." Różewicz's bleak poem "cobweb" begins:

four drab women
Want Hardship Worry Guilt
wait somewhere far away

a person is born
grows
starts a family
builds a home

the four ghouls
wait
hidden in the foundations

  • The novelist Mary Gaitskill turns an essay about Celine Dion into a reflection on authenticity and vulnerability — and why sneering at Dion's earnestness is so pointless. The essay, published in Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, is reprinted in Slate. She writes, "Newsflash: Real humans are connected with one another whether they like it or not. They are awkward and dumb and wave their arms around if they get upset enough; real humans all have personal touchstones that are 'off the map' because there is no map. We are so maplessly, ridiculously uncool that whole cultures and subcultures, whole personalities even, have been built to hide our ridiculousness from ourselves. These structures are sometimes very elegant and a lot of fun, and fun to talk about, too. But our ridiculous vulnerability is perhaps the most authentic thing about us, and we scorn it at our peril — yet scorn it we do."
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes about gay Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people: "The best-known Kenyan writer of his generation, he felt an obligation to chip away at the shame that made people ... die in silence. By publicly and courageously declaring that he is a gay African, Binyavanga has demystified and humanized homosexuality and begun a necessary conversation that can no longer be about the 'faceless other.' "
  • The finalists for the Orwell Prize, which goes to "the work which comes closest to George Orwell's ambition 'to make political writing into an art,' " were announced this week. The frontrunner is Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher, a choice that got some observers riled up. "Orwell would have cutting words about a prize for daring polemic heaping laurels on establishment figures who write about fashionable establishment subjects," reads one essay in The Independent. But prize director Jean Seaton told The Guardian that she has "lost count of the number of people who come up to me and wag their fingers and say they know Orwell would be turning in his grave about this or that." She added, "I think [Orwell] would say that the book is incredibly adept and sharp and astute about her." (Full disclosure: I reviewed it and thought it was great.)
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