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9 The Chain of Testimony do not destroy the cosmos ofwords, do not dissect with blades of hate the sound, born in concert with the breath. -Nelly Sachs After a long hiatus, the narrator of Ida Fink's short fiction "A Scrap ofTime" 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 narrative with the following: I want to talk about a certain time not measured in months and years. For so long I have wanted to talk about this time, and not in the way I will talk about it now, not about this one scrap oftime. I wanted to, but I couldn't, I didn't know how. I was afraid, too, that this second time, which is measured in months and years, had buried the other time under a layer of years, that this second time had crushed the first and destroyed it within me. But no. Today, digging around in the ruins of memory, I found it fresh and untouched by forgetfulness . (3) Although the woman finds her memory ofthat morning "still fresh; its colors and aromas have not faded" (5), although she (re)affirms both the 217 218 The Chain of Testimony validity ofthat memory and her eagerness to share it with her listeners, she has difficulty telling it in a straightforward manner. The story opens with a series of affirmations and denials, of sayings and unsayings , which seemingly run counter to her simple desire to bear witness . She "want[s] to talk," but not in this way and not of this "scrap of time." On the next page, she contradicts herself, calling her story "the scrap of time I want to talk about" (4). She fears the destruction of memory, but finds hers "fresh and untouched by forgetfulness." That she should check memory's inventory and evaluate its contents before beginning her tale should not surprise us. In The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi notes among Holocaust survivors, many years after the event, "a drifting of memory" (32) that works counter to the testimonial impulse. He, too, he tells us, scrutinizes his store of anecdotes , pronouncing them "unaffected by the drifting I have described" before enclosing them in written text. But while Levi recounts with confidence remembered episodes and snatches of conversation (even in languages he cannot understand), the narrator of Fink's story lingers at the edge of narrative. Rather than plunge from contemplation ofmemory directly into remembered event (now affirmed as "untouched by forgetfulness"), the narrator moves into an extended consideration of etymologic distinctions-of "action" and "round-up." The shifting linguistic values convey meaning through indirection: "I don't know who created this technical term [action], who substituted it for the first term, 'round-up'.... Round-ups were for forced labor" (4). And "actions?" The narrator does not specify, but the initiated already understand the term, defined through omission, then negation. "We called that first action ... a round-up although no one was rounding anyone up" (4). The linguistic indirection, contradiction, and circularity mirror the beginning of the narrative and anticipate the disclosure of memory. The missing definition corresponds to the missing "scrap of time," the as yet undisclosed memory. The parallel suggests that both word and memory hover slightly beyond our focus out of neither ignorance nor forgetfulness, but out of consideration for both speaker and listener. Both word and memory enclose horror-the same horror, mass slaughter. At the same time, our grasp of the import of the undefined word implies the paradoxical unfolding of memory also through ellipse. The postponed disclosure, when it finally begins, immediately thwarts our expectations. Although the narrator opens with a promise of a "fresh and untouched" story rooted out from the "ruins of memory "-her memory-we quickly realize she does not intend to tell us her story at all, but someone else's. The Chain of Testimony In the middle of the marketplace ... we were ordered to form ranks. I should not have written "we," for I was not standing in the ranks.... (4) 219 Her "I" becomes a "we" that in turn becomes "not ... we." Misled initially , we may wonder fleetingly whether this narrator, like Levi, can...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438407074
Related ISBN
9780791431290
MARC Record
OCLC
42855116
Pages
276
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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