Journal of Romance Studies

Historical trauma and literary testimony: writing and repetition in the Buchenwald memoirs of Jorge Semprun

Journal of Romance Studies (2004), 4, (2), 1–19.

Abstract

This essay discusses the nature of literary testimony in three autobiographical works by the Buchenwald survivor Jorge Semprun, written over a period of twenty years. By tracing the variations and carefully orchestrated contradictions of a single episode recounted in all three books (Quel beau dimanche!, L’Écriture ou la vie and Le Mort qu’il faut), the essay explores the function of repetition as well as of literary artifice in the working-through of traumatic experience. I argue that Semprun’s use of inconsistent repetition can be read as an allegory of testimony and of the failures of memory, as well as of the relation between testimony and history.

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Suleiman, Susan Rubin