The Language of Suffering: Writing and Reading the Holocaust Open Access

Leshem, Dan (2009)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/dn39x233w?locale=en
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Abstract

The tremendous rupture the Holocaust forced on contemporary consciousness has helped it become one of the most thoroughly researched and documented periods of history. In recent years, the concentration camps, their victims and their executioners have become fertile ground for minds trained in a wide variety of disciplines. Competing claims about the contemporary usefulness of the Event - using the victims to understand subjectivity, biology, psychology, etc. - obscure the victims' suffering. In many ways, the cacophony of voices addressing the ever-evolving complexity of Holocaust scholarship and memory has allowed contemporary subjects an alibi that protects them from hearing the voices of the victims.

These critical appropriations of Holocaust experience abound in the interpretation of Holocaust testimonies. This dissertation argues that testimony forms a genre unto itself, typified by traumatic silences, lacunae and constant shifts in tense, person and space. Without distinguishing testimony from parallel genres such as memoir or historical narrative, these interruptions in narrative continuity and literary expectations cannot be read. Therefore, this text argues in favor of a novel hermeneutics of testimony that can attend to these traces of the survivors' battles with language, memory and trauma. Drawing from Emmanuel Levinas's notion of ethical subjectivity - through discussions of works by Primo Levi, Aron Appelfeld, Jean Améry and Levinas himself - these chapters argue that only such a hermeneutics can respond to testimony's ethical demand.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Gravity of the Abyss: The Holocaust in Translation........................................................1

Chapter 1
Unmastered Narratives: Ethics and Testimonial Speech.................................................11

Chapter 2
Water Fierce Dream: Primo Levi's Poetic Fugue............................................................42

Chapter 3
More Than Memory: Aharon Appelfeld's Literary Survival...............................................68

Chapter 4
The Body in Testimony: Jean Améry and the Problematic Duality of a Tortured Body..........103
Chapter 5
Surviving in Hebrew, Thinking in Greek Emmanuel Levinas's Testimonial Philosophy..........140
Conclusion
The Ethics of Testimonial Speech................................................................................173

Appendix
The Translated and Transcribed Testimony of Frida Ephrati.............................................179

Bibliography..........................................................................................................248

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