Tuesday, March 5th, 2013...3:58 pm

After Night: The Power of Language and Memoir

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As a writer, words in my world tend to carry a fair bit of weight. Earlier today during brunch a couple friends and I discussed the frustration felt when others don’t see words as quite so heavy. Needless to say, believers of the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, we are not.

In fewer than 110 pages, the Holocaust memoir Night by survivor Elie Wiesel manages to capture the weight of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in very few words. Wiesel himself suggests he feels “a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory” (Preface to the 2006 edition of Night, p. vii-viii). Luckily his words continue to carry that weight – perhaps most recently through a collaborative project involving 30 teachers, teacher candidates, and teenagers from West Toronto, which is now on display at Hart House until Thursday March 7th.

‘After Night’ is an art project which “uses color and symbol to explore central themes in the Holocaust memoir painted on book pages cut from the text” (After Night press release). I first learned about the project about six weeks ago when I walked into my research supervisor, Rob Simon’s office and got a sneak peak into the artwork that had been inspired by the text. In asking for the background information, Rob told me that it was the beginning stages of the participants’ collective responses to the moving text (one I’d suggest we all read).

While walking through the main hall towards the Great Hall yesterday, I was struck by the visceral power of the artwork. Exploring themes of faith, demarcation, colour and symbol, it becomes clear that this was a testament that moved the participant readers. How inspiring it must have been for them when Elie Wiesel himself responded to their project (his letter is also part of the exhibit)!


And so I feel a sense of peace knowing that for every person who does not feel the weight of words, there is another who understands the power of language. As someone who has the platform to be writing this right now, I am truly aware and thankful for the privilege.

This exhibit is on display until March 7th, in the main hall of Hart House on the University of Toronto Campus. For more information, please contact Dr. Rob Simon: rob.simon@utoronto.ca.

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