Witnessing communities and an ethics of reading / by Sharon Marquart.
Concentrating on the work of Nazi camp survivors Charlotte Delbo and Jorge Semprun, this dissertation examines the relation that testimonial narratives attempt to establish with their readers. Through close readings of Delbo's trilogy Auschwitz et après and of Semprun's L'écriture ou la vie and Quel beau dimanche!, I move beyond trauma theory and argue that witness texts challenge the interpretive practices with which readers initially approach them, in order to educate people in a reflective ethical reading practice that looks for what texts have to say in their own terms. I propose that witness texts do this to thwart the reflexive responses to those events in which readers' societies have conditioned them.Chapter one situates my argument about this reader-text relation within the context of the French government's official commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation. Chapter two considers the understanding of witnessing advanced in Delbo's Aucun de nous ne reviendra. Witnesses in this text act as scribes who record and negotiate the different socio-cultural orders that condition their responses to the events of camp life. In chapter three, I explicate the critique that appears in Delbo's Mesure de nos jours of techniques used to reincorporate concentration camp deportees into postwar French society. I argue that a reassuring form of love in which several of the text's characters engage is renounced in this text as a humble form of Holocaust denial.Chapter four examines how Semprun's text L'écriture ou la vie exposes the limits of literature as a means of representing atrocity by revealing the limits of the text's narrator as a witness. My fifth chapter looks at the problematic relationship between "intellectual" witnesses and the community of survivors for whom they claim to speak in Semprun's L'écriture ou la vie and Quel beau dimanche! I propose that Semprun's witness testimonies point us towards the silences upon which witness writing depends.In my conclusion, I make use of these insights to read photographs of the arrival of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz. I contend that testimonial narratives reveal the inadequacies of any and all interpretive frameworks used to understand atrocity.
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