Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tadeusz Borowski

Ruth Franklin's New Republic essay on Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski is now available on Powells website.

But Borowski's suicide can also be read as a final act of rage against a world that turned out, in his estimation, to be little better than Auschwitz itself, a world filled with robbers, swindlers, and murderers, and governed by similarly corrupt codes of conduct. A. Alvarez has famously written that "around Borowski's stories there is a kind of moral silence, like the pause which follows a scream." But the scream, for Borowski, was the essence of his work. If Elie Wiesel was the great mystic of the Holocaust and Primo Levi was its great analyst, Borowski was its angry young man, a pent-up vessel of pressurized fury that could do nothing in the end but explode.

I found his story collection This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen extremely hard to read or even to get into when I read it a few months back. I had written about my bafflement with the book earlier. (That comment by Al Alvarez I think does capture the source of discomfort to some extent.)


sesentaydosvecesdesarmado said...

When I first read your comments on This way... a few months back, I interpreted them as the usual shock/confusion of someone who reads about concentration camp life for the first time, that "not knowing what to do with all of this" feeling. Afterall, I had a similar reaction when I read Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz. However, having read Borowski's book, I completely agree that it's a whole different beast. If one is shocked and baffled by traditional Holocaust narratives, Borowski's is emotionally draining, really heavy reading. For him the camp was not an anomaly but the essence of the human condition taken to its limit.

The last short story in the collection, "World of Stone" seems to me very Sebaldian, what with the melancholic walker and all the ruins.

If you get a chance, you should take a look at Jorge SemprĂșn's The Long Voyage and Literature or Life. Both great works, they are (at least that's how i see them) a reworking of Proust's Recherche.

Alok said...

I am not familiar with Jorge Semprun's works. In fact I hadn't even heard of his name. I will check if i can find any of his books you mention here. thanks.

I read Ruth Kluger's Still Alive early this year. It was also brilliant. More in the Primo Levi mould, but a woman's perspective makes it very interesting. I also want to read Jean Amery who Sebald admired a lot.

antonia said...

Amery is great, alok, one of my few personal heroes. I wasn't so impressed with Semprun and it cannot at all compared with Proust, but then i only read one book by Semprun. I think - if i remember correctly, one figure in that Milosz book on - what was it called again, that one famous Milosz book was Tadeusz B. - oh yes the Captive Mind. When you read Amery you could just as good read this one. Amery wrote the best Proust essay in german language.

Alok said...

I have asked my library for Amery but I think I will have to order it online. He has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I have read Captive Mind. It was the story of "Beta" which was based on Borowski's life.