Reflecting on his relatives’ deaths in the Shoah, Leonard Michaels lets their story unfold through a meditation on how not to tell it. He resists both the consolatory aestheticism he finds in Jorge Luis Borges and the teleological closure of Hegelian-Marxist history. Both modes press something positive out of Auschwitz’s absolute negativity. Yet Michaels finds he cannot do without Borges and Marx. As his standpoint emerges from theirs, light falls on what both tacitly teach: the necessity of alienation. Enabling a new reading of this key Marxian term, Michaels’s story complements and challenges the revisionary Marxism of Theodor W. Adorno. Adorno’s late works convey the awareness that a certain alienation inheres in subjectivity and that emancipation requires us to accept our own self-estrangement. In Michaels’s story, Borges and Marx appear as figures for the “nonidentity,” the internal contradiction, that every self must own in order to achieve an identity. By foregrounding the mismatch between narrative forms and their content, Michaels affirms narrative itself as “nonidentical.” Only through the alienation implicit to literature as self-conscious artifice, he finds, can one hope to grasp an experience in either its singularity or its universality.

You do not currently have access to this content.