Terrence Des Pres

Terrence Des Pres, while writing about the holocaust

"Finish This Or Die"

Terrence Des Pres circa 1974

Still thinking about the late Terrence Des Pres. When I first knew him (mid-70s) he was spending time with the political poet Carolyn Forche. He finished The Survivor (a struggle, to say the very, very least) and became well known for that book (deservedly, but there was always much more to Des Pres than that book). Later, through a poem by Forche (and in many other ways, of course), I came to learn more about what kind of struggle it was for him to write The Survivor. In the poem, "Ourselves or Nothing," Forche tells us of finding notes TDP had written to himself and, after an all-night attempt at writing, left for himself on his desk for the morning. "you will live and die / under the name of someone / who has actually died." And another message (although not one for which Forche was present): "Finish this or die." Here is a copy of that poem.

Terrence Des Pres: teaching the hard stuff

After teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times aAfter teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the experience of teaching this material. (His approach was that of his book, The Survivor, which was being published around that time.) Here is a link to a PDF copy of the piece as it appeared in the Times. In my own course on representations of the Holocaust (I'm currently teaching it), we use Des Pres' book.

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