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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ecriture é/veillée : le traumatisme et la deuxième guerre mondiale dans le roman français contemporain Shilliday, Molleen A.


The primary goal of this study is to analyse the representation of the traumatic instant in four contemporary novels: Claude Simon’s L’Acacia (1989), Elie Wiesel’s L’Oublié (1989), Nancy Huston’s Lignes de faille (2006) and Hadrien Laroche’s La Restitution (2009). The traumatic instant is an experience that provokes an incomplete deconstruction of our ontological understanding, generating traces of the past that dwell as a haunting in the present and are projected into the future. The instant fragments previous knowledge (firm beliefs and notions related to our engagement with the world) and instills a sense of loss and anguish so profound that the event becomes a seismic experience that resonates through time and space, becoming therefore transgenerational. My title ‘writing in the wake’ (l’écriture é/veillée) highlights that these writers are writing in the wake of the Second World War. It also refers to the notion of a wake (veillée) or, in the context of this study, the time spent commemorating the dead through textual representation. Recurrent of states of wakefulness and somnolence point towards the fact that the need to awaken to experience is constantly thwarted by the desire to protect oneself from unimaginable suffering. The importance of keeping vigil (veiller) over a past trauma is also of utmost importance. As World War II continues to maintain a stronghold on literary minds, the ways in which we engage with the traumatic continue to underscore the importance of an empathetic and historically responsible relationship to the past. In these texts, this is accomplished through narrative structures that highlight the intermingling of past, present and future. I demonstrate that is it necessary for the reader to take part in a ternary engagement with the text—aesthetic, historical and empathetic—in order to understand more fully what needs to be decrypted in absences and lacunae. I term this ternary understanding ‘comemory’. The co-presence of survivor and inheritor experiences in the text functions as an invitation to the reader; the text becomes host to the present of readers, their experiences coexist with those on the page in a shared comemorial space.

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