Date of Degree

6-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

French

Advisor

Nancy K. Miller

Subject Categories

Modern Languages | Modern Literature | Psychology

Keywords

childhood, French, postmemory, trauma

Abstract

This dissertation examines the adult's endeavor to revisit childhood trauma in four sets of literary texts that are not typically studied together. These works, all published after 1968, address the central problem of revisiting childhood trauma in order to open a potential for mourning and sometimes for healing. I explore connections between individual/family trauma and collective/historical trauma. I argue that the use of objects and/or photographs is integral to the process of touching and representing the buried, embodied wounds of childhood, propelling the journeys and conveying the experience to the reader. Each pairing of literary works concerns a different kind of journey. Saul Friedlander's Quand vient le souvenir and Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener/rue Labat emerge from the experiences of children, both members of the 1.5 generation of Holocaust survivors, who were hidden in France during World War II. Philippe Grimbert's Un Secret and Patrick Modiano's Dora Bruder are suffused with the presence of absence in which the first person narrators, children of Holocaust survivors, who experience feelings of belatedness characteristic of the second generation, try to unravel secrets about people who perished during the Holocaust. Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory and Annie Ernaux's L'Autre fille contrast texts with substantial differences in genre, style, setting and situation, but Danticat's novel and Ernaux's memoir L'Autre fille both focus on central themes of shame and secrecy. Marie Cardinal's Les Mots pour le dire and Marie- Celie Agnant's Le Livre d'Emma explore the theme of hidden truth. Locating embodied trauma and expressing it to an empathic witness is the difficult and liberating trajectory of these two narratives. The analyses utilize a range of theoretical approaches such as theory about testimonial objects, postmemory and traumatic realism. I emphasize the role of the empathic witness as well as literary devices and structures (such as metaphors, homonyms and intertextuality) that are part of this process.

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