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

  • Leona Toker


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.


Aesthetic Experience Critical Ethic Slave Labour Condensed Milk Reader Response 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leona Toker

There are no affiliations available

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