Ghostwriters : remembering the Holocaust in America / by Judith Nysenholc.
This dissertation studies how the American literature of the Holocaust both reflects and responds to conflicting influences: popular American commodifications of history; and normative discourses on the inadequacy of language to represent the horror and on the risks of aestheticizing it. American collective memory tends to integrate the Holocaust into its civic, optimistic culture. The writers I examine dramatize their dilemma of writing after Auschwitz within this culture in texts centered on a writer-protagonist and project on these personas their own anxiety of participating in the Americanization of the Holocaust. Following Philip Roth, I call the ethical post-Holocaust aesthetics worked out by these writers "ghostwriting," a balancing act between self-reflexivity and narrative, and between nihilism and sentimentalism, in which they simultaneously write on someone's behalf and from a distance. Each chapter focuses on a distinctive mode of "ghostwriting." Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick turn The Ghostwriter and The Messiah of Stockholm into palimpsests over a murdered writer's work as they struggle against simplistic forms of remembrance and with their own faith in the creative powers of literature. Writing as displacement is highlighted by the bilingualism of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Enemies, a Love Story and Raymond Federman's The Voice in the Closet; translated by the authors from, respectively, Yiddish and French, the English versions of these texts tame their representation of history to adapt to the pressures of collective memory. William Styron's Sophie's Choice and Art Spiegelman's Maus explore the difficulties of transmitting a survivor's testimony in America; they transform the popular genres of Southern Gothic fiction and comics by turning their texts into self-conscious performances that openly debate the relation between aesthetics and ethics. Aligned on a spectrum from realism to postmodernism, these texts, which are concerned with how to remember the Holocaust and how to live after it, constitute successful models of remembrance because they avoid dehumanizing: they heed to the complex connections between individuality, historical specificity, and shared humanity. Overall, this dissertation situates itself in critical debates concerning the contribution of literature and the place of a revised humanism in a post-Holocaust world.
Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:47:00
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