Testimony : from the poetics of place to the politics of memory / by Violeta Davoliūtė
Includes bibliographical references (p. 198-213)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
This study reveals the formal and thematic continuities among texts authored with the intent of testifying to a traumatic historical experience. The evolution of testimony as a mode of discourse traces from studies of Holocaust memoirs to trauma and Latin American testimonio. The memoirs of Lithuanian wartime deportee Dalia Grinkevičiūtė and the short stories of Russian writer Varlam Shalamov testify to their respective experience of the Soviet Gulag. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah and Emmanuel Finkiel's Voyages represent the testimony of others to the Holocaust. Deutschland im Herbst is the collective work of leading directors of the New German Cinema who testify to the trauma of a generation living self-consciously in the wake of the catastrophe of National Socialism and World War II. Incredible experience is felt by the witness to require new forms of expression, inspired by real life rather than the compromised narrative forms of the past. Paradoxically, while creators of artistic testimony claim that neither word nor image is capable of conveying their unique, traumatic experience, they have canonized a distinctly testimonial mode of representing the traces of the past in the body of the survivor and landscape of the present. The source of testimony in memory rather than the imagination distinguishes testimony from fiction, and accounts for the world-reflecting and world-creating dimensions of testimonial representation. As personal memory of one's own ordeal extends to embrace the commemoration of others' suffering and death, the dynamic of individual and collective memory is raised as a core dynamic of testimonial art. A thematic continuity is found in the representation of place and territory as a repository of memory and site of commemoration. The discourse of trauma as testimony makes a virtue of affect, but the positive connotation given to sympathy becomes problematic when generalized as a model of reception. The presumption that sympathy alone empowers one to experience the original event blinds the listener to signs that the real witness may not be open to this degree of participation. Far from encouraging a open spectrum of interpretation vis-à-vis the represented events, testimonial discourse induces a parochial, exclusive and emotionally charged reception.
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