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Quand le bourreau prend la parole: génocide et littérature

(2013)
Author
Promoter
(UGent) and (UGent)
Organization
Project
TRACE
Abstract
This PhD draws on discourse analysis to explore different representations of the perpetrator’s figure in testimony and literature. The corpus consists of testimonies delivered by actors of mass political violence and genocide in Rwanda and during the Second World War, and novels embracing their point of view. Anneleen Spiessens proposes an analysis of three texts on the Holocaust, presenting various degrees of ‘fictionalization’: Rudolf Höss’s edited and translated autobiography; Robert Merle’s ‘fictional autobiography’ of Höss, La Mort est mon métier; and Jonathan Littell’s most controversial novel Les Bienveillantes. The Holocaust corpus will be set against literature on Rwanda, ranging from transcribed interviews (Une saison de machettes by Jean Hatzfeld) to a poetic novel (Le Passé devant soi by Gilbert Gatore) and more hybrid texts (Fest’Africa’s literary festival). The Holocaust and the 1994 Rwandan genocide will be connected both at the level of the events, and of literary memory (Michael Rothberg). The perpetrator’s story is a formally and ethically ‘extreme’ text, given its inconsistency with Michael Riffaterre’s frequently quoted definition of testimony and the moral questions it raises. It is important, therefore, to examine the particular nature of these texts: why does the perpetrator choose to testify, how does he establish his ethos, to whom does he speak, and what are the precise conditions and circumstances of his discourse? Can a perpetrator even be considered a witness in the strict sense of the word? Argumentation theory and discourse analysis as formulated by Ruth Amossy and Dominique Maingueneau recognise the social, political and cultural dimension of discourse and provide a theoretical instrument to tackle some of the most insistent questions. Perpetrator’s testimonies call for a particular mise en scène. The process of ‘relaying’ or ‘mediating’, for example, the Nazi’s point of view, inevitably raises questions of agency and ethical responsibility, compelling mediators to disclose their own moral position and leave traces of their presence in the text. Discursive strategies indeed allow them to inject their own voice into the text, thus producing a critical counterdiscourse that can manipulate the text’s interpretation and possibly even undermine its key positions. The polyphony of the Rwandan corpus constitutes an important cue for drafting a suitable theoretical framework. The thesis also aims to take part in the debate around translation and authorship, looking for possibilities for translators to convey their ‘attitude’ (Theo Hermans) towards the perpetrator’s discourse without jeopardizing the idea of a ‘faithful’ translation. Anneleen Spiessens thus assesses the importance of editorial and translational framing as ethical positioning and argumentation, disclosing the resulting polyphonic configuration of the mediated testimony. The figure of the perpetrator, as well as his narration, will be connected to its literary representation in order to investigate the relation between document and fiction. What does the fictional génocidaire look like? What part does he play in the overall narrative setting of the novel? And what does this character allow us to see or think? While Robert Merle’s fictional autobiography is still firmly-rooted in history, correlating the protagonist with his historical model, Littell and Gatore take a different approach. While they also transform their novels, like Merle, into heuristic tools, their perpetrators are implausible: consumed by remorse or regrets, they think or speak torrentially. The PhD examines the consequences of this resolute choice for fiction, both for literature itself and for our understanding of reality.
Keywords
genocide, perpetrator, testimony, ethics, translation

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Citation

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Chicago
Spiessens, Anneleen. 2013. “Quand Le Bourreau Prend La Parole: Génocide Et Littérature”. Gent: Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
APA
Spiessens, A. (2013). Quand le bourreau prend la parole: génocide et littérature. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, Gent.
Vancouver
1.
Spiessens A. Quand le bourreau prend la parole: génocide et littérature. [Gent]: Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte; 2013.
MLA
Spiessens, Anneleen. “Quand Le Bourreau Prend La Parole: Génocide Et Littérature.” 2013 : n. pag. Print.
@phdthesis{4407713,
  abstract     = {This PhD draws on discourse analysis to explore different representations of the perpetrator{\textquoteright}s figure in testimony and literature. The corpus consists of testimonies delivered by actors of mass political violence and genocide in Rwanda and during the Second World War, and novels embracing their point of view. Anneleen Spiessens proposes an analysis of three texts on the Holocaust, presenting various degrees of {\textquoteleft}fictionalization{\textquoteright}: Rudolf H{\"o}ss{\textquoteright}s edited and translated autobiography; Robert Merle{\textquoteright}s {\textquoteleft}fictional autobiography{\textquoteright} of H{\"o}ss, La Mort est mon m{\'e}tier; and Jonathan Littell{\textquoteright}s most controversial novel Les Bienveillantes. The Holocaust corpus will be set against literature on Rwanda, ranging from transcribed interviews (Une saison de machettes by Jean Hatzfeld) to a poetic novel (Le Pass{\'e} devant soi by Gilbert Gatore) and more hybrid texts (Fest{\textquoteright}Africa{\textquoteright}s literary festival). The Holocaust and the 1994 Rwandan genocide will be connected both at the level of the events, and of literary memory (Michael Rothberg).

The perpetrator{\textquoteright}s story is a formally and ethically {\textquoteleft}extreme{\textquoteright} text, given its inconsistency with Michael Riffaterre{\textquoteright}s frequently quoted definition of testimony and the moral questions it raises. It is important, therefore, to examine the particular nature of these texts: why does the perpetrator choose to testify, how does he establish his ethos, to whom does he speak, and what are the precise conditions and circumstances of his discourse? Can a perpetrator even be considered a witness in the strict sense of the word? Argumentation theory and discourse analysis as formulated by Ruth Amossy and Dominique Maingueneau recognise the social, political and cultural dimension of discourse and provide a theoretical instrument to tackle some of the most insistent questions.

Perpetrator{\textquoteright}s testimonies call for a particular mise en sc{\`e}ne. The process of {\textquoteleft}relaying{\textquoteright} or {\textquoteleft}mediating{\textquoteright}, for example, the Nazi{\textquoteright}s point of view, inevitably raises questions of agency and ethical responsibility, compelling mediators to disclose their own moral position and leave traces of their presence in the text. Discursive strategies indeed allow them to inject their own voice into the text, thus producing a critical counterdiscourse that can manipulate the text{\textquoteright}s interpretation and possibly even undermine its key positions. The polyphony of the Rwandan corpus constitutes an important cue for drafting a suitable theoretical framework. The thesis also aims to take part in the debate around translation and authorship, looking for possibilities for translators to convey their {\textquoteleft}attitude{\textquoteright} (Theo Hermans) towards the perpetrator{\textquoteright}s discourse without jeopardizing the idea of a {\textquoteleft}faithful{\textquoteright} translation. Anneleen Spiessens thus assesses the importance of editorial and translational framing as ethical positioning and argumentation, disclosing the resulting polyphonic configuration of the mediated testimony.

The figure of the perpetrator, as well as his narration, will be connected to its literary representation in order to investigate the relation between document and fiction. What does the fictional g{\'e}nocidaire look like? What part does he play in the overall narrative setting of the novel? And what does this character allow us to see or think? While Robert Merle{\textquoteright}s fictional autobiography is still firmly-rooted in history, correlating the protagonist with his historical model, Littell and Gatore take a different approach. While they also transform their novels, like Merle, into heuristic tools, their perpetrators are implausible: consumed by remorse or regrets, they think or speak torrentially. The PhD examines the consequences of this resolute choice for fiction, both for literature itself and for our understanding of reality.},
  author       = {Spiessens, Anneleen},
  keyword      = {genocide,perpetrator,testimony,ethics,translation},
  language     = {fre},
  pages        = {346},
  publisher    = {Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {Quand le bourreau prend la parole: g{\'e}nocide et litt{\'e}rature},
  year         = {2013},
}