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Narrativity and uniqueness in Canadian women's Holocaust memoirs / by Steve McCullough.

Publication | Library Call Number: P302 .M33 2006

This thesis examines eight memoirs of the Holocaust by Canadian women from a feminist, poststructuralist perspective, and argues that deconstructive notions of meaning as differential, genre-bound, and ultimately ungrounded are essential to grasping the ethical and historical quandary facing Holocaust testimony. Drawing on the work of Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Maurice Blanchot, Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler, the thesis investigates the meanings and legacies of the Holocaust by addressing texts outside the usual canon of Holocaust literature and with a skeptical interest in considering how individual texts incorporate or resist norms that determine the possible meanings of the genocidal past. The Nazi genocide has proved resistant to historiographic narrativity, and the violence inflicted on survivors makes the recollection and representation of their experiences exceedingly difficult. The predominance of normative hermeneutic or generic constraints is problematic for Holocaust testimony not only because survivors' experiences defy norms of verisimilitude, but because similar norms define notions, such as subjectivity, community, and history, by which meaning in general is understood. Each chapter of this study addresses a locus of expressiveness where narrative generality meets individual experience: subjectivity, gender, place, meaning, and mourning. These explorations suggest that the experience of genocidal violence interrupts and reflects quotidian structures of narrativity, both in general terms of communication, morality, and politics, and in the intimacy of temporalized and situated self-conception. By emphasizing, among other things, the presence of the gendered body, the evidential constraints of legal and historical argument, and the violent restructuring of space and time by Nazi power, these texts foreground the perspectival immediacy and authority of the witness, whose only power is the capacity to evoke readerly responsiveness. Readers of Holocaust memoirs are faced with texts that explicitly and implicitly resist normalization; the responsiveness they elicit is not easily turned into the comforting abstraction of knowledge or identification, but rather involves failures of precisely such recuperative generality. The meaning of the Holocaust, then, as expressed in these few memoirs by women who survived, lies in the challenge it continues to pose to each of us in our existential, ethical, particularity.

McCullough, Steve.
Record last modified: 2018-05-25 09:44:00
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