Testimony as Art: Varlam Shalamov’s ‘Condensed Milk’

  • Leona Toker

Abstract

In a 1973 discussion of the artistic accomplishments of Solzhenitsyri s Gulag fiction, Victor Erlich echoed Irving Howe’s remark on the impossibility of registering a ‘purely’ literary response to material that presents ’the belated revelation of a long-denied nightmare’.1 At issue was ‘respect for the autonomy of literary criteria’ and a recognition that it was impossible to separate the literary analysis of ethically-oriented fiction from its moral-philosophical consideration. Though Erlich concludes that it would be wrong to inhibit one’s literary response and to underestimate the heroic writer’s actual effectiveness ‘out of an excessive distrust of our own motives’,2 the examination of one’s motives is as relevant as the examination of the structural and stylistic ‘effectiveness’ of the works discussed. Studies of the literature of atrocities must involve ethical self-reflexivity, though not necessarily explicit breast-beating. This is particularly true in the case of the literary critical examination of documentary prose — memoirs, autobiographies, and related genres.

Keywords

Clay Crystallization Amid Dementia Tate 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Victor Erlich, ‘The Writer as Witness: The Achievement of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’, in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, ed. John B. Dunlop, Richard Haugh and Alexis Klimoff (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1973) 19.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Heather Dubrow, ‘The Status of Evidence’, PMLA 111 (1996) 7–20 (16).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Bernard Harrison, Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) 1–8.Google Scholar
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    Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays (Cambridge University Press, 1976) 188–9.Google Scholar
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    T. W. Adorno, Noten zur Literatur III (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkampf, 1965) 125.Google Scholar
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    Varlam Shalamov, ‘Condensed Milk’ Kolyma Tales, trans. John Glad (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994) 80–5.Google Scholar
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    See Varlam Shalamov, ‘O moei proze’ (On my prose), Novyi mir, 12 (1989) 58–71.Google Scholar
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    Gilbert Harman, The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) 111.Google Scholar
  11. 38.
    Varlam Shalamov ‘The Chess Set of Doctor Kuzmenko’, Kolymskie rasskazy, ed. I. P. Sirotinskaya (Moscow: Sovremennik, 1991) 456–9.Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey Hartman, Minor Prophesies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991) 131.Google Scholar
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    Wolfgang Iser, The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) 296–303.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leona Toker

There are no affiliations available

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