Surviving figures : romantic rhetoric and post-Holocaust writing / by Sara Emilie Guyer.
My dissertation, “Surviving Figures: Romantic Rhetoric and Post-Holocaust Writing” provides a rhetorical reading of romantic and post-Holocaust works and argues that lyric figures effect life as survival. The project recognizes that prosopopoeia, apostrophe, and anthropomorphism, which animate the inanimate and give voice to the voiceless, inform post-Holocaust writing; it asks how this recurrence should be understood. While critics have analyzed these figures as restorative or as privative devices, I argue that they do not merely disfigure the living, nor do they successfully recover a loss. Rather, romantic lyric figures maintain the devastated as devastated, the destroyed as destroyed. I argue that post-Holocaust texts rely upon these figures for testimony and thus recapitulate a romantic structure of survival. The first section of my dissertation considers the extent to which a structure of survival already constitutes British Romantic writing. The project rereads William Wordsworth and Mary Shelley, as well as the most important rhetorical analyses of their works. I trace the figure of “flesh and blood” in Wordsworth's “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” and demonstrate how incarnation paradoxically bears the non-living as non-living, marking not a failure on poetry's part, but rather a form of acknowledgment. Close readings of his sonnets “O gentle Sleep” (1802) and “Mark the concentred hazels” (1815) lead me to argue that apostrophe is a mode of vigilance and commemoration that allows a limit to be witnessed, but not overcome. Upon analyzing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) as a critical redeployment of romantic figuration, I articulate the figurative condition of witnessing the unbearable. I then turn to Paul Celan's 1964 translation of Shakespeare's “No longer mourn for me when I am dead” (Sonnet 71) and Robert Antelme's 1947 L'espèce humaine: texts that rely upon reworked versions of romantic lyric figures. For Celan, the apostrophic address becomes an interruption for silent breath, for a life that may or may not endure. For Antelme, anthropomorphism becomes the condition and the effect of testimony; it indicates that the human endures even in destruction. This double reading of romantic and post-Holocaust texts leads me to argue that prosopopoeia, apostrophe, and anthropomorphism allow the unspeakable to be spoken as unspeakable. They render persons defined by the ends they witness and survive. The recurrence of these figures in post-Holocaust texts signals both the end of romanticism conceived as a discourse of redemption and the endurance of a romantic rhetoric that acknowledges life as it is sustained in destruction.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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