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Teaching and Editing at Worlds’ End

Collective Trauma and Individual Witness in American Holocaust Poetry

Cary Nelson

Pages 221 - 244


American poetry movements have regularly sought to solidify their collective self-image and public face as aesthetic and political communities by producing movement anthologies. Later generations often seek to codify the past in the same way. Such anthologies are inherently topical, but one topic—the Holocaust—has not served well to instantiate a literary community. It was in the nature of the death camps to obliterate all human meaning and all vestiges of community. As a result, a collection of Holocaust poetry cannot embody contemporary community; if anything, it represents a kind of anti-community. Teaching Holocaust poetry consequently presents severe challenges to the humanistic expectations of students and faculty alike—and defines the humanities at their most fierce.


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