Traces of War

BookOpen AccessTraces of War

Traces of War

Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-Century French Writing

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 49


November 28th, 2017


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An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.
The legacy of the Second World War remains unsettled; no consensus has been achieved about its meaning and its lasting impact. This is pre-eminently the case in France, where the experience of defeat and occupation created the grounds for a deeply ambiguous mixture of resistance and collaboration, pride and humiliation, heroism and abjection, which writers and politicians have been trying to disentangle ever since. This book develops a theoretical approach which draws on trauma studies and hermeneutics; and it then focuses on some of the intellectuals who lived through the war and on how their experience and troubled memories of it continue to echo through their later writing, even and especially when it is not the explicit topic. This was an astonishing generation of writers who would go on to play a pivotal role on a global scale in post-war aesthetic and philosophical endeavours. The book proposes close readings of works by some of the most brilliant amongst them: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Charlotte Delbo, Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Louis Althusser, Jorge Semprun, Elie Wiesel, and Sarah Kofman.


'A very significant intervention in the field, likely to be a major point of reference for future work'
Margaret Atack, University of Leeds

'Traces of War: Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-Century French Writing provides a thoughtful and substantive analysis of a wide range of authors, texts, and major debates as it explores the traces of war found in literary works that do not explicitly mention World War II. ... It would make a useful introductory text because of the wide range of key figures and canonical texts addressed, as well as its overview of major debates and key issues present in both areas of study. At the same time, Davis’s discussions on ethics are particularly relevant to scholars in trauma studies, and his integration of archival material and unpublished documents offer thought-provoking ways of reframing texts for scholars in twentieth century French studies.'
Heidi Brown, H-France Review

'Reading Davis is like having secrets revealed by an expert analyst who, simultaneously, casts doubt on whether secrets can be fully revealed and on the truths that they contain. His readings of Sempru´n and Sarah Kofman at the end are fascinating: the relations between writer and text, and history and story, are handled in such a nuanced way that one gets both a profound picture of their lives and works and a sense that any picture is necessarily fictional and incomplete. This book is ‘traumatic hermeneutics’ at its most stimulating.'
Max Silverman, French Studies

Author Information

Colin Davis is a Research Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: Don't Mention the War 9
Section A: Ethics, Trauma and Interpretation17
1. Trauma and Ethics: Telling the Other's Story 19
2. Traumatic Hermeneutics: Reading and Overreading the Pain of Others 37
Section B: Writing the War: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus55
3. Sartre and Beauvoir: A Very Gentle Occupation? 57
4. Camus’s War: L’Etranger and Lettres à un ami allemand 73
5: Interpreting, Ethics and Witnessing in La Peste and La Chute88
Section C: Prisoners of War Give Philosophy Lessons125
6. Life Stories: Ricoeur 127
7. Afterlives: Althusser and Levinas 142
8. Levinas the Novelist156
Section D: Surviving, Witnessing and Telling Tales171
9. Testimony/Literature/Fiction: Jorge Semprun 173
10. Elie Wiesel: Witnessing, Telling and Knowing 201
11. Sarah Kofman and the Time Bomb of Memory226
Conclusion: Whose War, Which War? 242