By Benjamin Kline
The writing of this new history was not writing; the slow, wintry process was surely more of an amassing. For the estimably (and suitably so) anonymous author, no, nameless binder or compiler, didnt just go at a whim and at once to his or her local stationers and purchase a ream and two and three and more, much more and then sew all them up together between two covers without pagination, introduction, appendixes or indexes or notes or tables or anything at all. Without words, punctuation, characters. No. Each piece of paper he/she saved and arranged, patched together from scraps and bleached and ordered precisely meant and means something, or not. Each face of each piece of paper holds something, is imprinted somehow, or not. And it might mean something or it might not that all of these six million (6,000,000) plus pages are blank. Pure, virgin white, like the snow around Auschwitz. Six million plus pages might as well be greater than or equal to the palest infinity.
All of which is to write that in intent and execution this history without a title, this Untitled by Anonymous, is the best record and commentary on the Holocaust this reviewer has yet encountered; the best in print or out of print produced by, and in, the last half-century. And what does it mean? Nothing, possibly. And what does it say? Nothing, maybe. But it is not mawkish. It is not patronizing. It is not insulting. So, the skeptical reader, and the good reader is a skeptical reader, will think to ask, to challenge: Well then, what is it?
Well, its an obviously enormous volume, very heavy; weighing in at 72 kilos on my bathroom scale. In some editions, the (leather) cover is black and blank and its pages are white and blank. In other editions, this coloring scheme is reversed (white blank cover, black blank pages). But it is not a diary. This is not Anne being Frank. If anything, it is an anti-diary, the opposite of selfish thoughts. Nor is it pornography. The book is free. And its sold nowhere. So how, that reader, my reader thinks, does this reviewer know that its about the Holocaust?
I review books. These books are sent to me in the mail, in papers I reuse to wrap matjes herring and tulip bulbs. About reviewing books, the occupation, my occupation
it suits me; its a firstborn thing to do, to pronounce judgement, and I have primogeniture; Im an only-born. My father wrote books; he wrote a book. We never slay our fathers.
I was born in Amsterdam, city of Spinoza, but some three centuries too late for him, in a time eternally late for any ethica, anything ordine geometrico demonstrata. My parents were from Poland (Kline, formerly Klein), father from Warsaw, mother from Lublin; my father truly was from Warsaw; my mother claimed Lublin but she was from some mud pit on the Ukrainian border she never named for me. My father, name of Josef, not Yosef, if you knew of him (doubtful) you would have to know from his _lepowtarza ludzie of 1936 (the illiterate people, typography intentional), the first and last of his novels; a book Ive never been able to finish for emotional, not linguistic, reasons. From a year in Amsterdam, we went to New York, New Amsterdam. Then we left New York, after three months and letters to variously placed uncles, for America. Where and when my father stopped writing books and started writing about them. Because he had nothing left to say. Because what did anything mean about this: He and my mother married in the Ghetto and the next week were trained to Auschwitz. They survived how they survived. After Auschwitz, they robbed their way to a dead relation in Krakow and then to Amsterdam (refusing to disembark at all through Germany).
Then I was born. My mother was fertile in that year after Auschwitz and infertile for eighteen years in America. My father was alive and already dead. He had nothing to write. Ive decided that my fathers page is what Ive counted out (over six full days and one sleepless night) and numbered in pencil in the upper right imaginary margin as page 3,894,764. Theres a printers error there; a small, almost invisible dark dot is to be found to the pages lower left, very near the binding. Its an impurity, an imperfection; a blemish on the fattened red heifer that is this book. (Another impurity or imperfection, as impurities and imperfections are never alone: The glue is very bad, and I broke the binding of my first review copy within days, scattering countless pages out of order, all over my studys floor.)
And for these very impurities, and for millions of other reasons, Untitled, requiring a shelf unto itself, is the incredible zenith, in the sense of termination, of the literature about and of the Holocaust. It reads or doesnt read like a Tadeusz Borowski story sans plot, characters and dialogue, like one of Mendelssohns wordless songs. It was written somewhere, not here, that the one-hundredth name of God, the word at the beginning, is God, or at least an attribute of Him, and that this name, this word, is unknowable
almost as if it had never existed. This book is my fathers final testament, an ethical will
This is anyone and everyones book or no ones book and it means everything, holds the light of the entire world like the facets of an infinite gemstone. Its substance is Spinozas substance, holding in sheer attributes and modes all that was and all that will be; and it means nothing. I sit on it to eat my cold breakfast off the top of my wardrobe. This review should not exist, now or ever. Untitled in an all-parchment edition (cover and pages) is scheduled for release next spring.
(Entry by Joshua Cohen)