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Max Silverman (University of Leeds, UK)
Trauma, Testimony and Memory After Auschwitz

What happens to the memory of the Holocaust when it is seen through the optic of post-structuralist theory on testimony? And how it the Jew represented in this vision of Auschwitz? This paper will address these questions by considering Georges Perec’s W ou le souvenir d’enfance (1975) and Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah (1985).

The dominant view of trauma and testimony is proposed by the American critic Shoshana Felman in her book, co-written with Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (New York and London: Routledge, 1992). Felman aligns testimony with the post-structuralist lesson on language – that is, writing which dramatized its own limitations representing reality – and sees in Lanzmann’s Shoah leaves the viewer with no framework within which to contextualize the atrocity and therefore renders us speechless and emotionally overwhelmed before the open wound. The Jew, in this portrayal, appears as the abjected victim of apocalyptic violence. Perec’s text, on the other hand, also recognized the limitations of languages to speak the event. However, instead of leading us back incessantly to the point of trauma beyond words (like Lanzmann), Perec dramatized the way in which signs (as a continual displacement of the original wound) are also a means of ‘working through’ trauma.

I will refer to works by Giorgio Agamben, Saul Friedlander, Dominick LaCapra and Paul Ricoeur to propose that memory is perhaps best served by a ‘working through’ of trauma which maintains that difficult balance, in any testimony, between recognition of the open wound (which no language will heal) and its framing within some explanatory framework.

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