La littérature et la mémoire des camps nazis chez Jorge Semprun, Marguerite Duras, et Charlotte Delbo / by Laura Arrobas Gilbert.
Jorge Semprun's L'Ecriture ou la vie, Marguerite Duras' La Douleur and Charlotte Delbo's Auschwitz and after are deeply personal accounts of concentration camp experience. Each one of them raises questions about the limits of what is collectively seen and understood. Documentary evidence, for example, does not tell all the story. Knowledge, these authors claim, is beyond the visible. Things seen and felt and understood as deportees (or as a deportee's wife, as is the case for Duras), and the struggle to describe the indescribable make up the substance of these books. Charlotte Delbo's experience is depicted in horrific details. She explains that she tried “to show [the horror] for what it was,” and for all to see. In L'Ecriture ou la vie, Jorge Semprun resolves not to do the same. He manages more than a compulsive repetition of harrowing detail, more than a helpless retelling of the trauma. Yet, few images have caught the horror of the camps so graphically as that of Semprun's “Le Christ du Kaddish,” an account of death traversed. Mindful of the reader's intolerance for lengthy horrific depictions, the author follows what he calls “the studied disorder” of his account. So the narrative breaks, and crematorium smoke and SS voice break in on the time before and after Buchenwald. The work's shifting practice becomes systemic, there is no avoiding it, and that is precisely its metaphoric task. It is, Semprun tells us, “memory's ducking and dodging.” Moments and aspects of daily life are Semprun's lifeline, a strategy for survival. What concerned him was not the obscurity of his experience but the language the experience called for. At an even deeper layer stands a plea for the reader's attentiveness and compassion. In La Douleur, Marguerite Duras' narrative tells of the anguish and the isolation of a woman waiting to hear of her deported husband. In a world where information abounds, where the sights and sounds of the war overwhelm, the silence of suffering is missing, and so Duras' literary method combines conciseness to solemnity as an insurance against the deafening of that silence. For these authors, literature, fiction and art serve as means to overcome the deadlock involving the unreality of concentration camp experience and reality itself. Each narrative, it must be noted, progresses by way of memory, by way of various acutely felt recollections only a literary form could render. So that silence, we will argue, may become audible. Thus, literature becomes the recall of forgotten faces, names and utterances forever preserved in memory. A narrative method, in other words, which means a different kind of recording. Because it articulates the intimate moments and stories of deportees, literature manages to hold onto what nazism tried to erase: rooted identity and humanity. The three chapters of this study are devoted to the understanding of the relationship between the memory of concentration camp experience and the literary form Jorge Semprun, Charlotte Delbo, and Marguerite Duras chose in an attempt to write about it.
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