The Conflagration of Community
Fiction before and after Auschwitz
“After Auschwitz to write even a single poem is barbaric.” The Conflagration of Community challenges Theodor Adorno’s famous statement about aesthetic production after the Holocaust, arguing for the possibility of literature to bear witness to extreme collective and personal experiences. J. Hillis Miller masterfully considers how novels about the Holocaust relate to fictions written before and after it, and uses theories of community from Jean-Luc Nancy and Derrida to explore the dissolution of community bonds in its wake.
“As much a literary memoir as a project in critical theory, The Conflagration of Community is masterly from beginning to end. Through Kafka, Miller conjures an Auschwitz of the Imaginary with global, nondenominational dimensions. His chapters are rich literary and cultural explorations, and they bespeak the combination of fluidity and deep concerted meditation of critical commentary at its best. A magnificent achievement.”
“With The Conflagration of Community, J. Hillis Miller demonstrates why criticism matters, and why there is no substitute for good reading, reading which takes time, which is open and responds to the other, and which takes responsibility for its ethical acts. This profoundly moving and politically urgent, eloquent study offers both an invitation to attend to our most pressing concerns with all seriousness, while issuing on every page an injunction that we take literature seriously. Far from being barbaric or impossible to write poetry after Auschwitz, as Adorno claimed, Miller lets his community of readers know why, now more than ever, such writing is necessary, and its reading an implacable necessity that befalls us all.”
“This book, published 53 years after his first, is extremely powerful, and perhaps his most powerful. It is powerful in its subject matter, in the acuteness of its analysis and in the anguish that burns on every page. . . . There is no ‘cool and amused insouciance’ here, but an angry and tenacious demand to pay the closest attention to literature, and to the reading of literature, because of its importance in showing us, in detail, the political storms in which we are living.”