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Analyse de textes anglophones II

Analyse de textes anglophones II
(Fictionalised) translation, heterolingualism and trauma in
Everything Is Illuminated
N. Nélis
1. Focus of the exercises: the relationship between heterolingualism, fictionalised
translation and trauma literature
Main research question: how can HETEROLINGUALISM and fictionalised TRANSLATION help
3. Aim of the exercises?
Make you talk, think, participate
Use and understand the theoretical concepts rel. to heterolingualism
Introduce you to trauma literature (genre)
Introduce you to works of contemporary literature (Everything Is Illuminated; Maus: A
Survivor’s Tale)
Expected plan of the exercises
A discussion on translation proper
1. The original and the copy, the type and the token: which is which?
2. Between literalism and creative freedom: a question of perspective?
II. The “fictional turn” in translation studies: fictionalised translation
III. Heterolingualism – let’s check your understanding of some key concepts
IV. Translation and trauma: impossible yet necessary tasks (?)
V. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated
VI. Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
Assessment for the exercises
• Reading test: questions of reading comprehension + transversal question(s) requiring
in-depth argumentation.
• Oral presentations with S. Labate.
• In-class participation
1 question on Webcampus every two weeks: to prepare!
 Think of an answer, do a little bit of research if necessary. Write your findings
on the Webcampus forum (answer one another; enter the debate) at least twice!
 Participate in the discussion during the lesson
 Active participation in discussions will obviously help you achieve a higher
final grade…
A discussion on translation proper
1. The original and the copy, the type and the token: which is which?
a) Distinction between “tokens” and “types” (Peter McDonald)
“In disciplines such as logic, metalogic, typography, and computer programming, the
type–token distinction is a distinction that separates a descriptive concept from
objects that instantiate the concept, seen as particular instances of it. For
example, the sentence “the bicycle is in the garage” refers to a token of the type
named “bicycle”, while the sentence “the bicycle is becoming more popular” refers
to the type.” [Wikipedia, “type-token distinction”]
Peter McDonald in Walkowitz (2007: 222-223):
 “Tokens refer to instances of a work (my own copy of a book) while types refer to the
intellectual content of the work. […]
 McDonald regards book editions as “separate artworks,” because they are produced by “a creative process,
involving interpretive decisions that effect and constrain meaning” (224).
 Editions in translation, while they surely depend on a printer’s template and on the creative acts of
designers and typesetters, further complicate the type-token dynamic: translations are tokens of a single
type (the work), however mediated by the printer’s template, and also tokens of different types (the work in
different languages).
 If we allow that the creative process includes the “social, political, critical, and institutional histories” of
readers like Marcel, as Proust, Barthes, and Ishiguro claim, then the distinction between “multiple
instance or type artworks” and “singular artworks” […] begins to seem les apparent.
 Legally, of course, translations are one more instance of the type; but practically they can operate as
originals and copies at the same time.”
What’s your take on this?
 In your opinion, is the translation a “copy” (“token”) or an “original” (“type”)? Why?
 Do you usually tend to favour one above the other? Why?
 Do you think that such a distinction might be becoming obsolete, if we consider the
fact that, due to the globalization of the literary market, writers are starting to “write
for translation”?
b) “Writing for translation” in a globalised literary market: between idea(l)s of
international world literature and fears of homogenization
 How do you think the globalization of the literary market affects the
production, the actual ‘writing’, of books?
 Two examples: David Mitchell, Kazuo Ishiguro
 A counter-example: Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
“I have a very confused sense of the person I am writing for. I think inevitably this
has to do increasingly with a practical thing. When I publish a book, I actually go
around the world doing book events or being interviewed by people. And so, in a
very obvious literal way, I think some impression of all these people that I’ve
talked to somehow remains somewhere in the back of my mind when I’m writing.
[…] All these experiences kind of mass together to create some conglomerate
kind of reader. And this figure is a very confusing and sometimes intimidating
figure, particularly because of what you might call the globalization trend.”
“Let’s say the imagined reader is a Norwegian – and so, immediately a lot of things that I
might write go out the window. I think, I can’t make local references to things in
London that would be incomprehensible to the guy in Norway; I can’t make too many
puns or use that line I was so proud of just because the words are so neat and come out so
beautifully and appropriately – I can’t quite be so proud of that, because by the time it’s
translated into Norwegian, it’s not going to have that surface gloss to it. So I have to
really ask myself, ‘Does the line have substance? It’s not just a clever line, is it? Does its
value survive translation?’”
“Now, there are all kinds of things that the Norwegians would not understand. They would not
understand a lot of English puns, for instance. By the time you have translated them, they have
disappeared. So the kind of language that relies very much on wordplay, on brilliant use of linguistics,
pleasurable and great as it might be in the English language… you suddenly think: ‘Well, it will just
be nothing in Norway.’ It goes beyond even the linguistic aspect, even for instance when describing
a character in terms of what kind of neighbourhood of London he lives in or the fact that he wears
clothes from a particular clothes designer, say Paul Smith. […] And so you stop using this technique.
You don’t describe your characters in terms of such local signals. And I think it starts to get even
deeper, even the very subject matter, the themes, the kind of humour you use, all these things. You
start to become haunted by the Norwegians.”
And of course this is the very interesting aspect of what you might call the ‘globalisation
of literature.’ Many things are in turmoil, exciting turmoil perhaps, and sometimes
destructive turmoil because of globalisation. […] I think a lot of writers, without ever
having a clear policy on it are starting to write differently, because of the Norwegians!
[…] This must be much more of an issue for – say – a Norwegian writer who has a sense
that in order to have anything like a large significant readership […] they will have to be
translated primarily into English and French and German. They would have to address
their readers through these other, larger languages and this does something quite
crucial and profound to what is actually produced. […]
It is good in a way that writers address the whole world and they don’t look inward, they
perhaps have an outgoing, international viewpoint. But what is very dangerous, of
course, is that something very crucial and vital disappears here, in this homogenization
of literature: some of the very great energies that come out of someone’s knowledge of
their own locale, the language that is used in their own culture. All these things will
perhaps somehow be ironed out. [You see] a McDonald’s kind of effect, even with
serious literary fiction. […] I am very aware of that […] and I think many writers I meet
now are very conditioned by these forces.
 What’s your take on this? Do you think a writer should write with their international
audience in mind, at the risk of discarding local elements?
 Ishiguro’s solution in The Remains of the Day: reworking globally-known local
traditions, myths and stereotypes (‘gentle transgression’); enlarging the local without
negating it.
2. Between literality and creative freedom: a question of perspective?
a) Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” (1923), based on Paul de Man’s “Conclusions” on
Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” (1983)
 “You’re no one in the profession until you have said something about this text.” (Paul de
 “What does Benjamin say? […] In the case of this text, this is very difficult to establish.
Even the translators […] do not seem to have the slightest idea of what Benjamin is
saying; so much so that when Benjamin says certain things rather than simply in one way
– for example he says that something is not – the translators […] put absolutely and
literally the opposite of what Benjamin has said.” (de Man 2000:18)
Benjamin’s theses – in short!
 Rejects any notion of poetry as being oriented in any sense towards an audience or a reader
 Sense that any text is defective because it is written in a finite language (instead of an imaginary preBabel language intelligible to everyone)
 Posits the existence of a “pure language”:
“It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language which is under
the spell of another to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.”
=> The task of the translator is not to transfer content from one language to another, but to reveal the
affinity between languages, thus to translate literally.
Tautology in the title: translation as “aufgabe”, both a necessity and an impossibility. Inevitable, necessary
The poet and the translator differ essentially from one another: the poet “has some relationship to meaning,
to a statement that is not purely within the realm of language” while “the relationship of the translator to the
original is the relationship between language and language, wherein the problem of meaning or the desire to say
something, the need to make a statement, is entirely absent”
Translation rather resembles philosophy, criticism or the theory of literature: “both criticism and
translation are caught in the gesture which Benjamin calls ironic, a gesture which undoes the stability of the
original by giving it a definitive, canonical form in the translation or in the theorization.” (de Man)
 the original is “not imitated or reproduced but is to some extent put in motion, de-canonized.”
 In other words, “the translation does not resemble the original the way the child
resembles the parent, nor is it an imitation, a copy, or a paraphrase of the original.”
 translation “disarticulate[s], undo[es] the original”, it “read[s] the original from a
perspective of a pure language (reine Sprache), a language that would be entirely freed of the
illusion of meaning – pure form, if you want; and in doing so they bring to light a
dismembrance, a de-canonization which was already there in the original from the beginning.”
 By reference to “the fiction or hypothesis of a pure language devoid of the burden of
meaning”, translation implies “the suffering of the original language”.
“What are the linguistic reasons which allow Benjamin to speak of a suffering,
of a disarticulation, of a falling apart of any original work, or of any work to
the extent that that work is a work of language? […] The disjunction is first of
all between […] what is meant, and […] the way in which language means,
between logos and lexis. […]”
 Not a copy of the original, yet not an original either, since it cannot be re-translated.
 A sur-vival, a living on of the original, and a literary form of its own – a
“literary form that is pure form, devoid of the burden of meaning”.
 In the superposition of both the original and the translation, the translation
“shines upon” the original, allowing “the pure language, as though reinforced by
its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully”
 Philosophy rather than translation studies
 Founding fathers and great scholars of
translation studies:
Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation
 Anthony Pym (1956 Australia; Spain)
 Michael Cronin (Ireland)
 André Lefevere (Belgium 1945 – USA 1996)
 Dirk Delabastita (Belgium)
 Gideon Toury (1942 – Tel Aviv)
 Rainier Grutman (Belgium – Canada)
 José Lambert (1941 – Belgium)
 James Holmes (coined the term in the foundational
“Neither the word, nor the text, but the
culture becomes the operational ‘unit’ of
translation” (A.L.)
“The name and nature of translation studies” (1972))
 Sussan Basnett (1945 – Warwick Univ.)
 Lawrence Venuti (1953 USA. Seminal work: The
b) Adam Thirlwell’s Multiples: an experiment in translation (2012)
 A collection of “12 stories in 18 languages by 61 authors”
 “Chinese whispers”
 Contradicts Benjamin’s views on both the (un)translatability of translation and the need for literality …
 Mixed reviews
“Multiples seeks to undermine the idea of the original in literary translation.” (The Guardian)
“A global game of Chinese whispers is insufferably smug and utterly charmless. […] Multiples is a chance for
literary types to club together to celebrate their own literariness. […] Smugness is the same in any language.
And experimental fiction (the rule generally holds) is more fun to write than to read.” (The Telegraph)
 Raises some interesting questions though…!
 At first sight, which view on translation would you favour, Benjamin’s or Thirlwell’s?
 Do you think that a translation should be literal or free? Word-for-word or creative? Does your answer to this
question have anything to do with your answer to the ‘ original vs. copy’ question? In other words, do you
believe that a literal translation is a copy and that a freer translation is an original, or is it more complicated
than that? Do you agree with Benjamin’s idea that a translation is the afterlife of the original?
 What do you think is important to keep/erase, to follow/add, in a translation? What is a good translation, in
your opinion?
 Which status would you give to the translation of a translation?
 Do you think translating an academic paper and translating a literary text are different? How/why? How
would you go about translating one or the other?
Write a first draft now (10-15 minutes) and post it on the Webcampus forum by Friday evening at the latest.
c) A question of degree? The example of Tout est illuminé (Everything Is Illuminated)
 “I must eat a slice of humble pie”
 “Je dois m’excuser aplati”
Based on:
Kaindl, Klaus. “Going Fictional! Translators and Interpreters in Literature and Film: An Introduction.”
Introduction. Transfiction: Research into the Realities of Translation Fiction. Ed. Klaus Kaindl and
Karlheinz Spitzl. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2014. 1-20. Print.
“Translation”: a variety of definitions over time
 “Transferre”: to carry across
 < José Saramago: literary writing is itself translation, since “we transfer what we see or feel into
a conventional code of symbols” (1997: 85)
 Homi Bhabha and “cultural translation” to describe transfer and interaction situations found
particularly in postcolonial contexts, but also in globalised contexts in general
 Now considered as not only an “instrument that stabilizes meaning, with the translation process
as a linear movement between two fixed meanings, the source and the target text” but also as “a
mutable mobile which operates within a topology of fluidity” (Cronin 2006: 28)
 Key concept to describe social processes, esp. globalisation:
“‘translation’ has become a kind of master metaphor epitomizing our present condition
humaine in a globalized and centreless context, evoking the human search for a sense of
self and belonging in a puzzling world full of change and difference.”
(Delabastita 2009: 111)
The figure of the translator/interpreter as the perfect metaphor for the
globalised human / migrant:
 They are “individuals who are constantly in motion or create motion due to their constant movement
between languages and cultures”, which “seem[s] to symbolise the deterritorialisation of humankind
perfectly”, their translingualism and transculturality creating a situation of “in-betweenness” (Bassnett
2002: 10) which can be seen as mental deterritorialisation.
 The comparison goes both ways: migrants = translated beings since “they move themselves from their
familiar source environment and move towards a target culture […]; they most likely will have to learn or
perfect their skills in another language in order to function in their new environment; their individual and
collective identities will experience a series of transformations.” (Malena 2003: 9).
Should translation be seen as a homogenizing force?
< Christian Moraru: NO!
Should rather be used to overcome globalization (when understood as homogenization) and
create a cosmodern world with difference as the pivotal point of comprehension and the basis of
human relationships:
“Since relationality is the keystone of the cosmodern and translation is a relational form,
translation scenes and, with them, an entire translational way of seeing the world take up a central
position in the cultural projections of cosmodernism”
 Positive view of translation
Translation and interpreting as a “mundane fact of life”
Increased emergence of translation as a theme and translators and
interpreters as protagonists in literature and film
“Because the vagueness and instability of his location between poles that are no longer
stable in themselves, the translator has become an icon of the fluidity and multiplicity of
modern culture. And with that, the translator has become an even more prominent figure
in fiction.” (Strümper-Krobb 2011: 25)
 Initially, limited to postcolonial literature
 More recently: boom
 Transfiction: the introduction and (increased) use of translation-related
phenomena in fiction.
 NOTE: not a new phenomenon! Rather, a question of scale.
Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605); William Shakespeare (“Shakespeare was
definitely aware of the dramatic mileage there was to be got out of translation”
(Delabastita 2004: 31)); Jorge Luis Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”
Translators as ambivalent beings – questions of identity
Invisible and ubiquitous,
Subordinate and powerful,
Faithful and dubious,
Oppressed and uncontrollable,
They can enable or prevent communication
 Can be very powerful!
The power of the translator is determined by two variables:
 the importance of the message that is to be communicated,
 the distance between the cultures which enter into communication via the
(Delabastita & Grutman 2005b: 19).
Some interesting quotes from Delabastita, Dirk and
Rainier Grutman (eds). 2005. Fictional representations
of multilingualism and translation. Linguistica
Antverpiensia 4: 11-34.
“The increasing use of either translation or other languages […] as a
device in fictional texts does more than just draw the reader’s
attention to their texture and technique […]. Crucially, it also
provides a comment about our socio-cultural values and the state of
the world we live in.” (14)
“The actual quantity of foreignisms in a text is rather less important than the
qualitative role they play within its overall structure, i.e. their potential as
functional elements. Instead of dismissing foreign-language samples as mere
comic relief, or ‘as an irrelevant, if not distracting, representational factor’
(Sternberg 1981: 224), it might be more rewarding to see if and how they
acquire a deeper significance with regard to plot-construction or even become
a controlling metaphor governing character discourse and behaviour.” (17)
“Multilingual writing can be linked to translation in more than one way. First of all, translation
is a welcome tool for writers who feel the need to use foreign languages yet do not want to
exceed the linguistic competence of their presumably monolingual audience. […] When
language is itself one of the topics addressed in a given novel, translations accompanying
heterolinguistic utterances may focus less on referential meaning, and highlight more subdued
cultural connotations. […] Intratextual glossing and the creation of intertextual echoes and
metalinguistic effects […] do not exhaust the range of possible functions of multilingualism and
text-internal translation. Thus, interlingual misunderstandings and mistranslations can be used
for comic effect, too, namely by bringing about what humour theorists would can an incongruity
or conflict between different cognitive schemes.” (17-18)
“The translator’s power can be assessed in terms of two variables: the importance of the
message that is to be communicated, and the distance between the cultures which enter
into communication via the translator. By importance we mean that the translator will
have more power and carry a heavier burden of responsibility inasmuch as the text to be
translated conveys content or serves a purpose of serious consequences. […] By distance
we mean the degree of mutual incomprehension and non-communication that would
follow if it weren’t for the translator’s bilingual or bicultural competence and
intervention.” (19)
Stories involving the multilingual encounters and experiences of individual travellers, immigrants, nomads,
expatriates, explorers, refugees, exiles and the like [and] the growing body of stories set in multicultural,
cosmopolitan settings [often] take place at the margin of ‘official’ or ‘canonised’ culture, involving outsiders,
subcultures and minority groups. Their success and topicality is to be linked with a range of factors which may be
subsumed under the umbrella term of globalisation – growing physical and intellectual mobility; the
internationalisation of trade, industry, media, communication, politics, terrorism, and warfare; migration and the
growth of cosmopolitan centres around the world; the rapid spread of English as the world’s lingua franca; colonial
and postcolonial relations – and the resistance, bewilderment and anxieties that these processes seem to be
engendering in many quartets, all the more so since our grand utopian narratives – religion, democracy, liberty,
reason, progress – have for many of us stopped providing all the reassuring answers. Like (and often along with)
‘travel’, ‘translation’ has thus become a master metaphor epitomizing our present condition humaine, evoking our
search for a sense of self and belonging in a perplexing context of change and difference.” (22-23)
“The crisis of representation has enabled metafictional narratives modes to occupy an
increasingly central position in the literary system, and these very same circumstances
have provided the perfect hotbed for narratives staging translation and its attendant
questions of fidelity, truth, directness, originality, and its opposites unfaithfulness,
manipulation, mediation, dependence.” (26)
“Something like a ‘fictional turn’ […] is taking place in translation studies. […] There is
no denying that there has been a growing number of fictional representations of
translation and multilingualism, as well as an upsurge in their study.” (28)
“‘The very borderline between fiction and nonfiction has become more and more
blurred’ (Pagano 2002: 97). Wim Tigges (1999: passim) tells us that Brian Friel was
inspired by George Steiner’s After Babel when he wrote his play Translations
(1981). Well then, if translation scholars in their turn tap fiction as sources of
knowledge and understanding, might we not be travelling towards the point where
the distinction between translation and translation studies – or between fiction and
fiction studies, for that matter – appears to have been an illusion all along?” (29-30)
Question: try to find examples of books or films that, in some way,
fictionalise translation or interpreting?
Possible answers:
 Books: Brian Friel’s 1991 Translations, Claude Bleton’s 2004 Les Nègres du
Traducteur, Jean Kwok’s 2010 Girl in Translation, Max Davidson’s 1990 The Greek
 Films: Alejando Gonzáles Iñárritu’s 2006 Babel, Sofia Coppola’s 2003 Lost in
Translation, Sidney Pollack’s 2005 The Interpeter
III. Heterolingualism: let’s check some key concepts
Free direct discourse
 The character’s discourse ‘interrupts’ that of the narrator: no reporting verb, no quotation marks
 Typical of first-person interior monologue, e.g. He laid down his bundle and thought of his
misfortune. And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?
Direct discourse
 The character’s discourse is quoted literally, with explicit narratorial mediation (reporting verb etc.)
 He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I
came into this world?” he asked.
Free indirect discourse
 Blends the voices of character and narrator: features of direct discourse combine with features of indirect discourse
 He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this
Indirect discourse
 Full grammatical integration of a character’s utterance or thoughts into the narrator’s speech
 Content and style of the original utterance remain
 He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into
the world.
Narrative report
 The narrator reports only the gist of the character’s speech, with various possible degrees of precision
and completeness and never pretending to do justice to the original formulation
 He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune, wondering about pleasure and other such
Overt refusal to report
 The narrator mentions that the character has spoken, but makes it clear that s/he refuses to quote,
paraphrase or even summarize his/her discourse
 He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune, wondering about things that are of no interest
to us here.
 Interlingual errors
 Result from interference: elements, patterns, rules... from one’s source language are wrongly
transferred to the target language (e.g. false friends)
 Intralingual errors
 Cannot be traced back to another language causing interference
 Contains all instances where an error simply results from the language user’s incomplete or
wrong knowledge of the target language
 Form of negative transfer between languages: features or structures of L1 are transferred to L2, resulting in
“unnatural”, “unidiomatic”, “deviant” or “wrong” utterances
 May be observed at various levels:
 Writing (alphabet, typeface, punctuation, spelling) e.g. “English” vs. « French »
 Sound, e.g. pronunciation with a foreign accent
 Lexicon, e.g. loans, calques, false friends …
 Grammar, e.g. literal translations resulting in ungrammatical word order
 Style, e.g. the over-use of long and grammatically complex sentences in English by native speakers of
 Information provided about the language that is being used
 Can play an important part in identifying a speech act as taking place in another language
In metalingual comment (speech attribution)
She said in French: “shut up”.
She said: “shut up”.
She said in French: “tais-toi”.
She said: “tais-toi”.
More detailed metalingual glosses may also be provided:
The textual representation or reproduction of “reality” in a way which is conventionally believed to be faithful and
Includes the linguistic reality that is supposed to be conveyed by a text  different possibilities:
 Referential restriction: monolingual text < monolingual fictional world
 Homogenizing convention: a monolingual text describes a multilingual reality
 Discursive interference: the text selectively reproduces heterolingual material, presents instances of linguistic
interference or introduces conceptual irregularities in such a way as to represent at least part of the linguistic
strangeness of the represented discourse (can be subtle or more obvious)
 Vehicular matching: different languages are allotted to speakers in accordance with what we know about the
linguistic reality which is represented
 Vehicular promiscuity: multilingual textual means are used to express what we may believe to be monolingual
Discursive interference:
IV. Translation and trauma: impossible yet
necessary tasks (?)
Trauma Literature – A Definition
Common definition: (psychology) a powerful shock that may have long-lasting effects (Collins Dictionary Online)
In literary studies, Cathy Caruth (1995):
“The event is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one
who experiences it” (4-5, emphasis in original).
 Trauma [. . .] evoke[s] the difficult truth of a history that is constituted by the very incomprehensibility of its
 About the past that keeps haunting the present, and the present that cannot move forward.
 Turns the experiencing subject into someone ill, anxious, depressed
 Developed as a literary genre (with “trauma theory” etc.) in the 80s, 90s
 Obviously existing before: see literary accounts / depictions of WWI (shell-shock)
E.g. Ford Madox Ford’s Parade's End (1924-1928), Rebecca West’s 1918 The Return of the
Soldier, Virginia Woolf’s 1925 Mrs Dalloway, Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy (1991-1995) and
Another World (1998) + Wilfred Owen (Dulce Et Decorum Est, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Futility
et Strange Meeting), Ivor Gurney, Sigfried Sassoon …
 But back then, mostly included Shoah/Holocaust Literature
 Today: broader term; current focus on 9/11
 Is it possible to write about trauma? And, most importantly, should it be written
 Theodor Adorno: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Cultural Criticism and
Society, 1951)
 Primo Levi: “Our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of man”
(Primo Levi, SA, 22)
 “the writer’s task is not to represent Auschwitz but to testify to its unrepresentability, to
the limits of representation” (J.-F. Lyotard)
How to pass on trauma in a narrative?
Representation of a character that has been through trauma – although it is not always obvious what ‘traumatic
event’ is referred to
 Identification: the reader identifies with the character – but still in a distant, respectful way (trauma cannot be
Use of symbolic elements, obsessive images and metaphors that keep coming back. Idea of conveying sth inbetween the words and images (see Atonement)
Peculiar use of language(s) (// idea that trauma cannot really be written about, conveyed in writing, and yet that
using language differently might be worth trying)
Still an open question!
POSTMEMORY (Marianne Hirsch) as trauma passed on from generation to generation
“’Postmemory’ describes the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the personal, collective,
and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they “remember” only by means of the
stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them
so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory´s connection
to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and
creation. To grow up with overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded
one´s birth or one´s consciousness, is to risk having one´s own life stories displaced, even evacuated, by
our ancestors. It is to be shaped, however indirectly, by traumatic fragments of events that still defy
narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension. These events happened in the past, but their
effects continue into the present.”
II. Holocaust literature
 Literature and the Holocaust: a complicated relationship
Representation, appropriation, artistic amplification in literature vs. the immutability of the Holocaust
vs. our duty of remembrance
Good literature makes artistic demands, flexes and contorts narratives, resists limpid morality, compromises reality's details.
Regarding the Holocaust, this seems unconscionable, even blasphemous. The horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald need no
artistic amplification. (Menachem Kaiser, 2010)
 The memoir (testimony) as the apotheosis of the form (history vs. story, but thin line …)
Cf. Adorno, Lyotard, Levi
BUT the Holocaust still resists comprehension  can literature play a role?
“Literature is supplementary, not antithetical, to history: it allows, and in the best instances demands readers to
universalize, empathize, to visualize and imagine, not merely to be informed. […] [It] affects us in ways that even the
most brutal history cannot. It vivifies and propels an event, however geographically and temporally and psychologically
removed, towards the personal and immediate. If history teaches and (harshly) informs, then literature rouses and
intimately disturbs. Literature is an emotional chronicle, a history of the intangible, a quest to impart sentiment, not
information. Conveyance of the Holocaust is an impossible but necessary appeal to our imagination; and literature is
the pathos to history's logos. Not merely learning about, but identifying with. Knowing the history isn't enough:
literature—and humanism in general—is […] the spiritual retort to the Nazis' crazed and brutal program of
dehumanization. It's more than memory that we must keep alive. Literature reminds us that significance isn't timedependent, that empathy isn't delimited by proximity, that victims aren't statistics. For the role of Holocaust literature—the
eternal role of literature, period—is to make it new again, to make it real, to make it felt.” (Kaiser, Menachem. “The
Holocaust's Uneasy Relationship With Literature.” The Atlantic, 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.
 BUT once one does write about the Holocaust  limited by a particular set of ethical
“The question of who owns the Holocaust and can legitimely speak about it must be considered
along with the ways in which they speak” (Strakosch 2011)
Conservative view: “‘degrees of access’ govern an author’s ‘relative claims to authenticity and
artistic license’ (2004: 53). This view posits that imaginative responses become less valid as an
author’s distance from the Holocaust increases”
 Questions:
“Does a familial link to the Holocaust lend [one’s] work an ethical validity missing from other contemporary
Holocaust fiction?”
“For third-generation writers, is their connection to trauma so remote that it no longer impacts the reading or the
writing of their fictions? In this case, perhaps, is familial connection no longer a prerequisite for writing ‘worthy’
or ‘authoritative’ Holocaust fiction?” (Strakosch 2011)
testimonies / memoirs)
Primo Levi’s If This Is a
Man (1947)
Elie Wiesel’s Night
familial link / ‘devoir de
Art Spiegelman’s Maus – Bernhard Schlink’s The
Jonathan Safran Foer’s
A Survivor’s Tale (1986- Reader (1995)
Everything Is Illuminated
W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz John Boyne’s The Boy in Edmund de Waal’s The Hare
the Striped Pajamas (2006) with Amber Eyes (2010)
Alison Pick’s Far To Go
H. G. Adler’s Theresienstadt Eva Hoffman’s Lost in
1941-1945 (1955) and
Translation (1989)
Panorama (1968)
Jonathan Littell’s Les
Bienveillantes (2006)
Julie Orringer’s The Invisible
Bridge (2011)
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a …
Young Girl (1947)
Daniel Mendelson’s The Lost:
The Search for Six of Six
Million (P.S.) (2013)
Open question: is there a difference between contemporary Holocaust fiction and 2nd/3rd-generation
Holocaust fiction as to the way in which the Holocaust is represented/trauma conveyed?
• Foer’s magic realism and linguistic inventiveness (< broken English)
• Spiegelman’s graphic novel, mouse and cats, broken English …
Are 2nd and 3rd generation writers more “creative” than other holocaust writers?
Could it be argued that they’re trying to convey actual, real trauma while the others are mostly using history to
write a story without being personally, intimately concerned? What can each add to the story / to history?
Could it even be argued that Holocaust survivors’ descendants are trying to convey trauma while the others are
merely conveying horror? (the former being unrepresentable, the latter being representable)
YET: controversy as to the trauma’s actual impact on the 3rd generation.
What’s your opinion?
“An injunction to remember can become an injunction not to think, not to grapple with the past: such an injunction
seems to me to verge on bad faith.” (Eva Hoffman)
Strakosch suggests that “Foer’s metafiction is ethically valid not despite but because of its author’s generational
distance from the Holocaust. Foer uses distancing techniques in the language of the text to highlight his twicemediated knowledge of the atrocity. By drawing attention to his remoteness from the Holocaust, Foer enables
readers to compare their own dormant knowledge of the atrocity against the version being presented in the text. In
this way, he leads the reader away from a passive or complacent reading of history towards a more active
one. Foer’s model suggests that an author’s very distance from the Holocaust, whether they are personally
connected to the event or not, is in fact a necessary and productive ingredient of contemporary Holocaust fiction.”
A way to prevent “compassion fatigue”?
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