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Critical Comparative Approaches to Testimonial Literature Emergent from the Holocaust and the Atomic Bombings

University of Sheffield
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  • Communication
  • Linguistics
  • Literature


The thesis offers a critical comparative reading of testimonial literature emergent from the Holocaust and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through identifying aspects of thematic and stylistic commonality between these literatures, this thesis aims towards establishing a series of narrative traits that characterise the testimonial genre. This comparative stance informs the structure of the thesis, in that each chapter deals with examples of testimonies emergent from the Holocaust and the atomic bombings. Chapter one engages with the history of autobiography criticism and genre theory, and through close readings of both testimonial and autobiographical works by Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, posits areas of potential difference between the two forms of life-writing. The traditional understanding of the autobiographical contract, as defined by Philippe Lejeune, is challenged through a comparative analysis of the way in which the self is constructed in Holocaust and A-bomb testimonies. Chapter two focuses on the narrative challenges posed by the encounter with trauma. Informed by structuralist theories of language and critical readings of testimonial writing, this chapter examines the way in which the experience of trauma intensifies the arbitrary nature of the relationship between language and experience, to the extent that language appears to fail. Drawing on Blanchot's theory of the communicative possibilities of silence, the thematic and stylistic representation of silence, in its many forms, is considered in the context of Holocaust and A-bomb testimonies. Chapter three explores the representation of the female experience in testimonial texts. Beginning with Cixous' and Irigaray's theories of écriture féminine and fémininité as an interpretative lens with which to approach women's narratives, this chapter considers the way in which women's testimonies are influenced by both a poetics of gender and a poetics of trauma.

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