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Voicing the Void

Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction

Sara R. Horowitz

Publication Year: 1997

Explores the connections between muteness and the complicated acts of survival, testimony, memory, and interpretation, through focused readings of Holocaust fiction by Kosinski, Wiesel, Tournier, Ida Fink, and others. Through new close readings of Holocaust fiction, this book takes the field of Holocaust Studies in an important new direction. Reading a wide range of narratives representing different nationalities, styles, genders, and approaches, Horowitz demonstrates that muteness not only expresses the difficulty in saying anything meaningful about the Holocaust—it also represents something essential about the nature of the event itself. The radical negativity of the Holocaust ruptures the fabric of history and memory, emptying both narrative and life of meaning. At the heart of Holocaust fiction lies a tension between the silence that speaks the rupture, and the narrative forms that attempt to represent, to bridge it. This book argues that the central issues in Holocaust historiography and literary criticism are not simply prompted by the fictionality of imaginative literature—they are already embedded as self-critique in the fictional narratives. While the current critical discourse argues either for or against the unrepresentability of these events (and thus the appropriateness of imaginative literature), this book develops the theme of muteness as the central way in which literary texts explore and provisionally resolve these central issues. Focusing on the problem of muteness helps unfold the ambivalences and ambiguities that shape the way we read Holocaust fiction, and the way we think about the Holocaust itself.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture

Front Matter

Front Cover

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Half Title Page

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pp. i

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table Of Contents

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pp. v


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pp. vii


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The Idea of Fiction

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pp. 1-32

Although it claims a vast and growing readership, Holocaust fiction goes against the grain. In the ongoing critical discourse about the Holocaust and its representation, the status of imaginative literature as a serious venue for reflections about historical events comes repeatedly under question. Holocaust fiction is seen by many readers as-at best—a weaker, softer kind of testimony when compared to the ...

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The Figure of Muteness

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pp. 33-45

The desire to fix the facts of the Holocaust, for once and for all, grows more urgent as the event fades further and further into the past. While time erodes the remnants of brutality and extermination, survivors of Nazi genocide push against the limits of language and imagination to revisit—in mind or in body—the deathcamps that once constituted their nightmarish world. With eyewitnesses still among us ...

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Voices from the Killing Ground

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pp. 47-69

"What madness is it that drives one to list the various kinds of ''Yizkor, 1943," as the Nazis systematically liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto. Written on the "Aryan side" of Warsaw, Auerbach's lament for the ghetto Jews represents one piece of a vast project to document Jewish life and its brutal destruction. The "madness" that drove Auerbach ...

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The Mute Language of Brutality

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pp. 71-94

In The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski utilizes the perspective of a mute protagonist to put words to something usually kept outside the boundaries of language: the experience of a self undone by atrocity, told from the perspective of the undone self. As an object of ongoing atrocity, the protagonist's narration comes from outside the linguistic system, outside of the self-defining and world-defining power of words. ...

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The Reluctant Witness

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pp. 95-107

In Peter Morley's documentary film, Kitty: Return to Auschwitz, Kitty Felix Hart returns to the concentration camp where she had been incarcerated thirty-three years earlier. Against the backdrop of present—day Auschwitz, Morley films Hart's struggle to describe her experiences there to her adult son who accompanies her. Hart participates in Morley's film for both a public and a private purpose. She returns to ...

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Muted Chords

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pp. 109-156

Tadeusz Rozewicz's 1947 poem, "The Survivor," inspired by his experiences in the Polish underground movement during its struggle against the Nazi invasion, moves from seeming triumph to ironic despair. While the protagonist of The Painted Bird struggles to survive, as Kosinski explains in his Notes, "because he cannot do otherwise, because his is a total incarnation of the urge for self-realization and ...

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The Night Side of Speech

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pp. 157-180

Of all the weapons in the Nazi arsenal, the most deadly by far was the spoken word. In view of the brutalities of the Third Reich, this bald formulation may well strike one as a perverse overstatement. Yet the obsession of Nazi leadership with public speeches and radio broadcasts, with slogans and chants, with word coinage and euphemism, prevents our dismissing it as mere intellectual construct. While the survivors of ...

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Refused Memory

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pp. 181-216

Sounding a counter-note to the mute figures of Shoah literature, primarily victims, novels about collaboration often feature spectacularly articulate and loquacious characters. Rather than relying on the conventions and encoded references of Nazi-Deutsch to selectively exclude from language certain unsavory facts, these consummate talkers develop a private lexicon and highly complex symbolic system that ...

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The Chain of Testimony

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pp. 217-226

After a long hiatus, the narrator of Ida Fink's short fiction "A Scrap of Time" reaches into "the ruins of memory" to narrate the story of her city's "first action"—that is, the first roundup of Jews for mass slaughter. A Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust as a child in Poland (we never learn how), she offers as testimony her recollection of what happened to her and to others on that day. She introduces her ...

Back Matter


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pp. 227-243


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pp. 245-263


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pp. 263-265

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781438407074
E-ISBN-10: 1438407076
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791431290
Print-ISBN-10: 0791431290

Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 1997

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture