Sunday, September 11, 2011

`There is Nothing More Important Than This Wound'

Two American writers, one a Jew, the other a sort of Quaker, both veteran observers of the twentieth century and its barbarisms. One flirted with Marxism in his youth, the other spied for the Soviet Union. Both recanted, the latter turning his witness into a literary masterpiece. Both presciently understood that terror would not die with Hitler and Stalin.

In the January 1949 issue of Partisan Review, Isaac Rosenfeld writes of the Holocaust in “The Meaning of Terror” (The Age of Enormity, 1962):
“It is impossible to live, to think, to create without bearing witness against the terror. But once we do so—behold, our great theme and occupation, our role, our language, our tone, and our audience—for what else is worth hearing today? This is the ground we have to defend against the terror, and on which we may hope to make joy come alive.”
In a letter to William F. Buckley dated Oct. 8, 1956 (Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker Chambers’ Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr. 1954-1961, 1969), Chambers writes:
“The age is impaled on its most maiming experience, namely, that a man can be simply or savagely—above all, pointlessly—wiped out, regardless of what he is, means, hopes, dreams or might become. This reality cuts across our minds like a wound whose edges crave to heal, but cannot. Thus, one of the great sins, perhaps the great sin, is to say: It will heal; it has healed; there is no wound. There is nothing more important than this wound.”

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