Theodor Adorno's often cited pronouncement that "To write poetry after Auschwitz is an act of barbarism" has to be taken as true in two ways. It is true, first, because what happened at "Auschwitz" (taken both literally and metonymically, standing for itself, for the other death camps, and also for what has occurred at numerous other atrocity sites throughout this century) is (and must remain) incomprehensible (literally unthinkable) and therefore, in the most vicious way, "meaningless"—that is, it is not possible to make or discover meaning anywhere in the context of Auschwitz and moreover, ever since Auschwitz (i.e., henceforth in human history) everything exist in that context. All possibilities for meaning have been suspended or crushed. But Adorno's Statementncan be interpreted in another sense, not as a condemnation of the attempt "after Auschwitz" to write poetry, but, on the contrary, as a challenge and behest to do so. The word "barbarism", as it comes to us from the Greek barbaros, means "foreign"—that is, "not speaking the same language" (barbaros being an onomatopoeic imitation of babbling)—and such is precisely the task of poetry: not to speak the same language as Auschwitz. Poetry after Auschwitz must indeed be barbarian; it must be foreign to the cultures that produce atrocities. As a result, the poet must assume a barbarian position, taking a creative, analytic, and often oppositional stance, occupying (and being occupied by) foreignness - by the barbarism of strangeness.
Poetry at this time, I believe, has the capacity and perhaps the obligation to enter those specific zones known as borders, since borders are by definition addressed to the foreignness, and in a complete sense, best captured in another Greek word, xenos. It, too, means "stranger" or "foreigner", but in a sense that complicates the notion as we find it in barbaros. The xenos figure is one of contradiction and confluence. The stranger it names is both guest and host, two English terms that are both derived from the single Greek term and are thus etymologically bound in affinity. The guest/host relationship is one of identity as much it is of reciprocity. Just as a visitor may be foreigner to a local, so the local will be foreign to the visitor; the guest coexist as a host, the host as a guest.
The guest/host relationship comes into existence solely in and as an occurrence, that of their meeting, their encounter. The host is no host until she has met her guest, the guest is no guest until she meets her host. Every encounter produces, even if for only the flash of an instant, a xenia—the occurrence of coexistence which is also an occurrence of strangeness or foreignness. It is a strange occurrence that, nonetheless, happens constantly; we have no other experience of living than through encounters. We have no other use for language than to have them.
[cfr. Lyn Hejinian, Barbarism, in Ead., The language of inquiry,
University of California Press, Berkeley-Los Angeles, 2000, pp. 318-336: 325-326]