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This article is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

A Prospectus for Remembering Frederic Raphael


"Les formes s'effacaient et n'étaient plus qu'un rêve,
        Une ébauche lente à venir,
Sur la toile oubliée et que l'artiste achève
        Seulement pour le souvenir."


Certain important books are missing from the world's shelves. If it is not easy to say who should have written them, their lack lames our intelligence and excuses our frivolities. The weight of existing literature diverts, if it does not determine, the attention of societies. Unwritten books underwrite our want of searching curiosity. Can anyone doubt that The Holocaust And Modern Memory should be a central volume in the contemporary library?

Such a book would, if it were properly civil, be badged with applauding adjectives: unforgetting and generous, implacable and comprehensive. Major, it would neither denounce nor simplify (denunciation is always simple, if simplicity is not). I look for uncivility, and dismissal. After a scrutinizing preamble, my author would analyse and tabulate the indigestibility of the Shoah. (He might note that what happened to the Jews has again and again had to be re-titled, a sombrely comic echo of the nominal difficulties of those who, hoping to be like other people, were faced with the golf-club question 'Name of father, if changed?'. The unspeakable and the petty are embarrassingly proximate.) Societies which engendered or acquiesced in genocide both have and have not acknowledged the scandal. Grammarians, with academic severity, have even sought to deny a capital letter to Holocaust; etymologists have become rigorous ...


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