Sunday, July 08, 2007

On Wiesel

To understand who Elie Wiesel is as a writer is to understand a man who wakes up everyday almost with a feeling of being nothing but a worthlessly guilty son of a bitch. I use such candor only to point out the intensity of what this man has survived, and how his grappling over what he calls a “miracle” (and what others would call luck) consumes his entirety and inevitably spills out in his writing.

In understanding all of this through reading his piece, “Why I Write: Making No Become Yes,” the question of why he writes becomes arbitrary, a fly hovering around a wounded man. Writing becomes nothing but a tool for his own personal healing, which he shares with the world in hopes of empowering us in strengthening ourselves.

“I can imagine” is conveniently overused. But it’s a cliché I’ll apologetically employ, because the horror of the Holocaust is something I won’t ever wish to experience firsthand. Often, we just read about this in books, see it in films or documentaries. But Wiesel has lived through it, and perhaps this is an even greater horror than having been killed.

Wiesel’s having survived the Holocaust now makes him a sacrificial child of sorts—for the millions of lives lost. And he truly believes this: that he is now obligated to testify about the horrors of those times, to remind humanity how dehumanized man can become.

“I believe that, having survived by chance, I was duty-bound to give meaning to my survival, to justify each moment of my life.”

Take note of the last part of the quote: “to give meaning to my survival, to justify each moment of my life.” It’s a tiresome mindset to uphold—perhaps even self-defeating. But that’s what the experience of the Holocaust has made Wiesel: a man who flirts with feeling almost unworthy of life. Therefore, when Wiesel writes, “Not to transmit an experience is to betray it,” I believe it is a statement meant to point out who is to gain from his writing: (1) the readers—as a ways to not only honor the dead but also to understand the issues the Holocaust brings to light; (2) himself—as a means towards acceptance, towards peace.

“I write to understand as much as to be understood.”

Writers, or writer wannabes, often wax philosophical about the constant need for a muse. In a deranged way, I wonder if Wiesel wished he could get rid of his. While many a writer find inspiration from persons and places of beauty, Wiesel is inspired by having survived hell in its ugliest light here on earth—a deafening inspiration of muffled screams and “primitive,” animalistic cries.

“Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad. Or, on the contrary, to touch the bottom of madness.”

A peaceful life for Wiesel would perhaps see him do something else instead of writing—if it were to mean not having lived through the Holocaust. Or maybe he catches himself at times in solitude wishing he had never made it through at all—instead communing safely with the others who died, in a place away from the world that allows such atrocities to happen. But that is not reality. That’s not what luck—some say fate—had in store for Wiesel.

I’m guessing that there’s been a lot of accepting on his part, and a lot more of it to be done. But in what little I know of him, and it’s really only through his writing, I see that he’s done well—not that the Nobel Prize winner needs my affirmation. Still, his is a position I wouldn’t trade places for, no matter how great of a writer it might have made me.
Oo, writing assignment 'to para sa isang class. Naka-post dito para mukhang matino 'tong blog ko.


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