Anne Michaels’s ﬁ rst novel, Fugitive Pieces (1996), is the work of a poet and, as such, is written in a terse and highly troped and melodious style that, like Paul Celan’s Death Fugue,2 raises the doubt ﬁ rst expressed by Theodor Adorno in “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft” about the ethicality of writing poetry “after Auschwitz.”3 The similarity of the novel’s title to that of Celan’s poem overtly directs the readers’ attention to this ethical question, suggesting a conscious intent on Michaels’s part to demonstrate that it is indeed possible and necessary to write poetry after Auschwitz. In this, Michaels may be said to be following the path opened by Adorno himself when, eleven years after this anti-poetry pronouncement, he nuanced his original view on the matter, on the consideration that:
The abundance of real suff ering tolerates no forgetting [ . . . ]. Yet this suff ering, what Hegel called consciousness of adversity, also demands the continued existence of art while it prohibits it: it is now virtually in art alone that suff ering can still ﬁ nd its own voice, consolation, without immediately being betrayed by it. The most important artists of the age have realized this. (2002: 188)
As these words were published in 1962, it seems evident that Adorno was referring to the right of direct survivors of the Holocaust to ﬁ nd consolation and keep the memory of their suff ering alive, not to the right of later generations of poets who, like Anne Michaels, do not even have a familial relation to it.4 In the case of “after-Holocaust” writers like Michaels, the question of the danger of artistic commodiﬁ cation of the Holocaust is even more pressing as there are many who believe that later generations have nothing meaningful to say about the Holocaust, much less so by means of art. However, there are also others, such as the Jewish writer and critic Thane Rosenbaum, who argue that the victims of the Holocaust died twice, in body and soul, and that it is the task of the later generations “to
look even beyond the Six Million” to imagine “the story of the aftermath,” which “is not one of physical death and deﬁ lement but of spiritual loss and soul murder” (492). Similarly, Marianne Hirsch underlines the importance of the imagination in the construction of what she terms “postmemory,” that is, the recollection of the Holocaust “through an imaginative investment and creation” by those who have “arrived too late” to experience it for themselves (22). Michaels’s novel belongs in this category, as Nicola King suggests when she describes “Fugitive Pieces as a novel which attempts to provide a ‘site of memory’ [ . . . ] as a generation which experienced the Holocaust directly begins to die out” (121).