26 Nov 2014 2:30pm - 4:30pm Room SG2, Alison Richard Building


Due to unforeseen circumstances this seminar has been cancelled, we were unable to replace her at such short notice.
Apologies for any inconvenience caused.


Holocaust Novels as Places of Amnesia: Trieste by Daša Drndić and Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

Elena Zezlina (Clare Hall, University of Cambridge)

W. G. Sebald’s last novel Austerlitz and Croatian author Daša Drndić’s Trieste display a number of similar characteristics, from the most evident similarity in layout – the long, complex paragraphs with sparse punctuation, the absence of chapters and the interspersing of photographs within the text – to the focus on more marginal (albeit certainly not less heinous) aspects in the history of the Final Solution: the Kindertransport for Sebald and the Lebensborn project for Drndić. In both novels, damaged memory and amnesia play a central role, pointing at the difficulties in remembering traumatic events and to the tension between personal testimonies, with their poignant but limited (and possibly unreliable) memories, and documentary history, with its ‘official’, impersonal, supposedly objective memorial accounts. Simply stated, then, our question is: where does ‘truth’ reside in Holocaust writing – testimony, historiography, fiction writing? In fact, can any writing about something as fundamentally unspeakable – and in fact as unsayable and unmentionable – as the Holocaust ever be desirable, or even possible? Is fictional writing about the Holocaust ethically acceptable? As Sarah Kofman asks, ‘is testimony not impaired by the introduction, with fiction, of attraction and seduction, where ‘truth’ alone ought to speak?’[1] And as James Young observed, does fictional Holocaust writing not run the risk of making it impossible ‘to discriminate between autobiographical [or testimonial] and fictional narrative’ in the text?[2] And yet, how can we speak of the unimaginable without resorting to the imaginary?


[1] Sarah Kofman, Smothered Words (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998), p. 36.

[2] James Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 84.



Open to all.  No registration required

Part of Places of Amnesia Research Group seminar series

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