Poetry in Auschwitz

"To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." People who think about the Holocaust confront this inevitable dictum of Theodor Adorno. Usually he is quoted to the effect that writing poetry after Auschwitz is impossible, which is not quite what he said. He did say that it was impossible to write poetry "today" (in 1949). It is difficult to know what he could have meant, since good poetry was being written in 1949, including good poetry about the Holocaust. It is also hard to know what he meant by "barbaric," and there is no sign that he gave the term much thought. Adorno made matters more confusing by retracting the remark, not in the form in which he pronounced it ("barbaric") but in the form in which it is quoted ("impossible.")

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