From remembering accurately towards a hermeneutics of memory : representations of the Holocaust in contemporary fiction / by Stefan Gunther.
This dissertation investigates various literary modes of representing the Holocaust. Until recently, critics and writers alike have championed realist, quasi-documentary representational approaches over other generic forms, which typically are deplored as a morally questionable slippage of a traumatic historical event into literary trope. However, recent fiction on the Holocaust has displayed an interest in examining the hermeneutics of memory, rather than in documenting the accuracy of memory: Maus affirms the need for testimonial grounding when narrating the Holocaust, while at the same time problematizing the notion of writing history and historical fiction with conclusive interpretations. How German is It demonstrates how a text does not have to be explicitly “about” the Holocaust to reveal the traces, physical and psychological, of the event in a German post-World War II society only too eager to gloss over the questions of individual and collective culpability. The discussion of The White Hotel focuses on the novel's instrumentalization of the Holocaust for a rhetorical framework primarily constructed to explore questions of psychosexual pathology. The Emigrants represents a text in which the Holocaust is an event that can barely sustain direct mention but informs the present, indelibly and without the potential solace of sublimation or Freudian working-through. Finally, A Blessing on the Moon is an example of a novel by a third-generation Jewish American writer that attempts simultaneously the depiction of the terrors of the Holocaust and the need to balance a tremendous sense of loss with the desire to demonstrate that Jewish life after the Holocaust is not only possible but viable and vibrant. All these texts, despite their formal, narrative, generic, epistemological, and representational differences, interrogate the consensus about realism as the only appropriate form of emplotment for the Holocaust. While attempting to eschew establishing another dichotomy between desirable and undesirable representational frameworks expressed in these texts, this dissertation will nevertheless argue that some emplotments are more gratuitous than others. It thus analyzes to what degree each text succeeds in foregrounding the question of presenting the unpresentable, i.e., that which only proves its unreachable presence whenever we attempt to talk about it.
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