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Volume 12 , No. Abstract : There are many testimonies preserved in archives that recount the horror of the Holocaust and that have become resources for historical and social research.
In addition to testimonies produced with descriptive intention or in the full awareness of becoming documents for historians, some testimony writers have signed their books with a literary intention, but the very nucleus of their work is to explain the nature of their experience in the concentration camps without resorting to describing their own cases. These works blur the boundaries between history and literature, because, while they present themselves as works of fiction, they feed on testimonial autobiography.
The testimony writers want to explain the horror that they experienced by fictionalizing their own experience. These are works which contain truth and which are narrated with a literary intention, works which reach a general audience and have a profound impact. His autobiographic-novelistic testimony is situated in the ambiguous no-man's-land of autofiction.
Autobiography and Autofiction: Testimonies and Questions of Truth. The representation of the Holocaust has always been a problematic issue. After the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the survivors realized the intrinsic difficulties that the narration of their experience would involve:. How were we to resign ourselves to not trying to explain how we had got to the state we were in? For we were yet in that state.
And even so it was impossible. No sooner would we begin to tell our story than we would be choking over it. The discovery of the horror of the Nazi extermination passed virtually unremarked in the post-war years and only had a significant impact on exiled Jewish intellectuals.
These ideas about the representation of the Holocaust notably marked its representation, above all in the era in which it was infrequently represented, given that no term had as yet even been defined to differentiate the genocide of the European Jews from the rest of the horrors of the Second World War.
Little by little, representation of the Holocaust has begun to emerge. Today, more than sixty years after the liberation of the camps, the silence has been overcome and the Holocaust has been globalized as a potent image of evil.
But in spite of the abundance of publications, the problem of how to represent the Holocaust has been present since the very beginning. This is because the Holocaust was a limit event: the sort of event that "before it happened, was not—perhaps could not have been—anticipated or imagined, and one does not quite know what is verisimilar or plausible in its context" LaCAPRA, , p.
The fact that it had been so unforeseeable meant that it was particularly resistant to the attempts to represent it. The historian Dominick LaCAPRA establishes a useful triple distinction of different ways in which an event as traumatic as the Holocaust can be represented. The three approaches he defines are testimony, fiction, and history. They may share certain features, for instance on the level of narrative, but they also differ, notably with respect to claims to truth and the way that an account is framed.
Still, the most difficult and moving moments of testimony involve not claims of truth but experiential 'evidence'—the apparent reliving of the past, as a witness, means going back to an unbearable scene, being overwhelmed by emotion and for a time unable to speak.
History makes claims of truth about events, their interpretation or explanation, and more tenuously, about experience. History can use testimonial documents like oral reports, diaries and memoirs, but all of these are clearly different from testimony. Fiction also explores the traumatic experience and the emotional dimensions of that experience: it talks about its emptiness or its fragmentation. There are many examples of each text type and they differ widely in relation to who writes them, ranging from the obvious emotive proximity of testimony to the "objective" distance necessary for historical discourse.
My objective is not to make a complete analysis of these three types, but to use this typology to discuss a genre where testimony and fiction meet. This genre is autofiction: the domain of the author-eyewitness who, instead of recording his memories, decides to fictionalize his experience in the Nazi camps. The intention of this article is to contribute to an approach to life-history research using autofictional literary texts.
Autofictional texts are vindicated by literature but give a social response to a specific event, which happened at a particular time and from an individual point of view.
Many survivors have written about the camps, but few of them have done so from the position of the author of fiction, that is, from the position of a witness who does not want to sign an autobiography but chooses autofiction, a fictional narration of his own biographical experience.
But before exploring this ambiguous concept in more detail, let us recap what I have said so far. The origin of autofiction is related to autobiographical theory. LEJEUNE defines autobiography as a "retrospective prose narrative written by a real person concerning his own existence, where the focus is his individual life, in particular the story of his personality" p.
LEJEUNE subsequently revised his definition of autobiography although this same text also establishes two sine qua non requirements for a text to be considered an autobiography: the name of the author, the narrator, and the main character must be the same and must be verifiable; and the author must sign the work, either with his real name or with a pseudonym. Moreover, in the autobiographical pact , the author constructs his work on the premise of being honest about his own life.
The reader must also perceive in the paratext certain truthful elements related to the author's identity. Identity is essential to the definition of biographical text, whereas the truth is not. Writing about one's own life admits the existence of a gulf between the lived life and the written life. While we are living our lives we do not write about them; when we do write about them, we remember and select what we will tell.
This is why, at the very moment when someone writes about their past, they are reconstructing it by means of their memory; even if they mean to be entirely honest, they will not always explain exactly how things happened.
Autobiography consists of writing a work about one's own existence, and it is the reader who accepts the facts narrated as real. Philippe LEJEUNE created a table to define autobiography in relation to reading pacts and the type of character depending on the name they are given. In this table, autobiography occurs in three cases: 1.
So, LEJEUNE's table defines autobiography, but also leaves two boxes empty because he cannot find examples to illustrate this ambiguity: "Can the hero of a novel which claims to be such have the same name as the author? There is nothing to prevent it happening [ The title of the work is closer to the title of a novel than an autobiographical title. The identity of the author, the narrator and the character are true, but inside a fictional illusion conjured up and provoked by the act of writing.
Autofiction, then, is a particular case not of traditional or modernist autobiography, but of the inscription of the biographical inside the text. In autofiction the author is omnipresent: either under a real name, a pseudonym or a homonym. The characters are real, though they appear in disguise. Finally, autofictional texts are always dominated by the novelistic pact rather than the autobiographical pact: that is, they are more like a novel than an autobiography.
This is a crucial element to distinguish autofiction from novelistic autobiography, and it must be evident. Autofiction exists in a no man's land between "fiction" and "truth," a land between novel and autobiography.
ALBERCA shows that one of the most important obstacles to accepting autofiction is that it challenges some of the most widely-held ideas about literature:. Now, autofiction has logic of its own, with other mechanisms, and uses autobiographical experience consciously, explicitly and sometimes deceptively" , p. The author searches for confusion, contradiction, insinuation: at the same time, he or she is, and is not, the main character.
But, despite the reader's curiosity, it is not important to delimit the autobiographical truth. In classic autobiography the subject rummages through his or her past, and writes the story of his or her life, ideas, and experiences, using his "inner look. The evidence of the erosion of memory has been the object of the reflections of several Holocaust survivors and writers. Autofiction can provide an answer to the complex question "how can one write a truthful text about oneself?
He was a significant intellectual in Spain and France, his country of origin and his host country respectively. He uses a multiplicity of first persons, and what he writes is between autobiography and novel. He considers his survival in Nazi camps as the basic constitutive element of his identity: first and foremost, he is "a deportee to Buchenwald.
But his identity as a writer was also important. He brings literature into the camp and believes that its positive effects will also be healing in the future. In "La escritura o la vida" a  his most important work, he explains the dichotomy he encountered after his liberation.
I must fabricate life with so much death. And the best way to achieve this is through writing. That is what I am doing. I can only live by accepting this death through writing, but writing literally forbids me to live" p.
Memories of the camps brought anguish, emptiness, and death rather than life. The tremendous difficulty that writing entailed even brought him to attempt suicide:. It was a miserable local train, in fact: there was nothing significant or heroic about it. But had I actually fallen off that ordinary train, packed with people, or had I deliberately thrown myself off? There were divergent opinions about this; not even I really knew for sure. A young woman, after the accident, said that I had thrown myself out of the open door" p.
Only by leaving his memories to rest could he recover his will to live; in fact, he was silent for so many years that some of his closest friends knew nothing about his past. One day he started to talk and to write about his experience:. Perhaps because no one asked anything of me, because no one asked me any questions, because I was answerable to no one.
Is living not transforming a personal experience into consciousness? But can one assume any experience without more or less mastering its language? That is, history, stories, recollections, testimony: life? Text, the same texture, the fabric of life? Their value will be the value of the acuteness, the perspicacity of the witness Later, historians will collect them, compile them and analyze them, and will write learned works Everything will be said, everything will appear there And it will all be true But the real truth will be missing, the truth that no historical reconstruction, however accurate and all-embracing, can achieve The others look at him, nodding, apparently relieved to see one of us able to formulate the problems so clearly.
Or rather, it is only transmissible through literary writing. But what we imagine is not only the Holocaust, it is also "the ethical consequence of the Holocaust reflected in the universal conscience" p.
He asks: "What do you do with the memory of the smell of burned flesh? Only literature and its imagination can come close to the focus of the horror. This means that his books about Nazi camps are absolutely truthful, even though he uses fiction to accommodate reality to narration. In reference to his book "El largo viaje"  he states that everything is true, even what he had invented.
The Long Voyage
Volume 12 , No. Abstract : There are many testimonies preserved in archives that recount the horror of the Holocaust and that have become resources for historical and social research. In addition to testimonies produced with descriptive intention or in the full awareness of becoming documents for historians, some testimony writers have signed their books with a literary intention, but the very nucleus of their work is to explain the nature of their experience in the concentration camps without resorting to describing their own cases. These works blur the boundaries between history and literature, because, while they present themselves as works of fiction, they feed on testimonial autobiography. The testimony writers want to explain the horror that they experienced by fictionalizing their own experience. These are works which contain truth and which are narrated with a literary intention, works which reach a general audience and have a profound impact.