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"Born into absence" : transgenerational trauma in Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces Kelly, Patricia A.

Abstract

My research draws on critical theories of trauma, specifically the concept "postmemory" (Hirsch) and the emerging concept "cultural trauma" (Alexander et al). I investigate the representation of transgenerational memory in the aftermath of cultural genocide in the Canadian Holocaust novel Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (1996). These two models, one with polysemous and multivalent influences (Holocaust literature, visual culture, cultural memory, testimony) and one sociological, offer a sociocultural perspective from which to investigate how the individual and the collective respond to cultural trauma and articulate meaning-making for the group. In addition, I draw on the psychoanalytic frameworks of trauma studies to respond to ethical concerns arising in relation to the effects of catastrophic events on the individual and collective (Caruth, Freud, LaCapra). Deploying paradigms from trauma studies, I focus on an undertheorized aspect of Fugitive Pieces—second generation member Ben, the narrator of Part II. I compare traumatic memory, grounded in the geologic and geographic landscape of the child survivor Jakob Beer, narrator of Part I, to Ben's domestic sphere. I argue that in Part II the sites of catastrophe shift from the ground of the bog, the riverbed, the shelf of limestone and relocate indoors to the "ground" of the family home. The sociological conception of cultural trauma contributes to my reading of Ben's postmemory in Fugitive Pieces and establishes Ben as a conduit for cultural trauma—the group's collective memory and collective identity. Ben's importance to the representation of collective suffering lies in the transmission of trauma from Ben's parents to Ben that results in his membership in the collective. Next, I include visual theorists (Barthes, Mitchell, Sontag) and speculate on the presence of the Holocaust photograph in Part II. I suggest that the Holocaust family photograph helps Ben fill in some of the narrative gaps from his past and distinguish his parents' historical losses, as well as his own losses, from ranshistorical absence without diminishing or negating his parents' original traumatic rupture. Finally, following from Hirsch, I discuss the photographic postmemorial aesthetic of Fugitive Pieces, and I identify, in Barthes' language, Ben's familial noeme as "born-into-absence."

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