The Presence of Absence: Coming to Terms with the Holocaust in Contemporary European Literature
40th Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) Feb. 26-March 1, 2009 Hyatt Regency — Boston, Massachusetts
“To keep silent is forbidden, to speak is impossible.” This quote by Elie Wiesel contains the paradox that the survivors face after an atrocity such as the Holocaust. It is necessary and impossible to talk or write about the event. Impossible, because language eludes the reality that was experienced and at the same time necessary, as it seems to be the only possibility to remember, witness and survive. The witness, the writer, must talk and write even though he knows it will be disappointing. Language cannot encapsulate and retrace the reality of the event but language has to convey the memory, the witnessing. The necessity prevails and one must speak and write knowing that language is not adequate, knowing that it is impossible.
Maurice Blanchot also reflects on the possibility of writing after the Holocaust. A quote from The writing of the disaster, clearly articulates this impossibility which carries a necessity: “And how, in fact, can one accept not to know? We read books on Auschwitz. The wish of all, in the camps, the last wish: know what has happened, do not forget, and at the same time never will you know.” It is necessary to know and it is impossible to know. Writing seems to contain the impossible memory; fiction indeed allows this impossible retranscription. Fiction, by the way it functions, gives presence to absence. Fiction thus seems the most adequate of inadequate mediums to convey the necessary impossibility.
This panel seeks to explore the different ways in which writers in contemporary Europe address, directly or indirectly the paradox, the impossible necessity, the necessary impossibility to witness, to talk and write about the Holocaust.
Deadline: September 15, 2008
Please include with your abstract:
Name and Affiliation
A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee)
Emmanuelle Vanborre, Ph.D. and Gregor Thuswaldner, Ph.D.
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