Gordon, Avery F. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination.
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Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, Madrid: Akal Ediciones, Labanyi, Jo. Amsterdam: Rodopi, Constructing Identity in Contemporary Spain. Theoretical Debates and Cultural Practice. Oxford: Oxford UP, Navajas, Gonzalo. Barcelona: EUB, Richardson, Nathan. Postmodern Paletos.
London: Bucknell UP, Sloterdijk, Peter. Barcelona: Seix Barrai, Toro, Suso de. Calzados Lola.
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Barcelona: Ediciones B, Zizek, Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute. New York: Verso, Memory and Fantasy: The Imaginative Reconstruction of a Lost Past in Las cartas que no llegaron Andrea Colvin University of California, Irvine Since the end of World War II "Holocaust litera ture" has generated an intense debate regarding the relationship between historical reality and its representation through fiction.
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One could even say that representa- tion itself, when faced with the collective trauma of the Holocaust, entered into a profound crisis. As philosophers and thinkers of all kinds struggled to come to terms with the horrors endured by millions in Nazi concentration camps, they began to question the possibilities and limits of representation as well as the problems associated with collective and individual memory.
Adorno's well-known dictum, "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarie" 34 , often serves as a point of departure for this discussion and has provoked different reactions from many, ranging from those who reject any artistic approach to the Holocaust to those who defend fiction as a possible means of overcoming the limits of historical representation. Although it does not necessarily fall within the category of "Holocaust literature," the autobiographical novel Las cartas que no llegaron ' by Uruguayan playwright and novelist Mauricio Rosencof can be read within the context of this debate.
Rosencof is the son of Jewish parents, who emigrated from Poland in the late s hoping to improve their life in Uruguay. In the s, Rosencof became one of the leaders of the National Liberation Army the so- called "Tupamaros" , an urban guerilla group that was overthrown by the Uruguayan army in , leading to his arrest and subsequent imprisonment during the military dictatorship The text is by no means a realistic or mimetic account of his life, but rather joins fact and fiction in such a way that they become inseparable, creating a poetic and imaginative work that enables us to rethink the relation- ship between history, memory, and fiction.
Without a doubt, the Holocaust constituted the traumatic event of the twentieth century, and it has frequently been described as an "inexpressible experience" or an event "beyond words," given that it brought forth a degree of evil and horror that was unimaginable before the era of totalitarianism. When Adorno uttered the afore- mentioned maxim "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarie," he alluded to this alleged "inexpressibility" which was understood by some theorists and critics as a kind of prohibition against art in general, suggesting that artistic representations of any event labeled as "unspeakable" would somehow constitute an ethical violation.
Likewise, in his essay "Unspeakable," Thomas Tresize carefully examines Berel Lang's idea of what constitutes an ethically acceptable representation 40 Andrea Colvin of the Holocaust, concluding that his attitude is excessively restric- tive. One of the definitions of the term "unspeakable" that Tresize offers in the introduction to his essay refers to that which "may not or cannot be uttered or spoken" 39 , either "because it lies outside the profane world and its language" or "because speaking it would be a profanation" This seems to be the definition closest to Adorno's original idea that writing poetry after the Holocaust is "barbarie.
Since then, a number of theorists have tried to find new angles from which to approach the problem of representation, trying to escape the risk of making absolute claims or moral prescriptions by shifting the focus from the question of whether to represent or what can be represented to how it is possible to talk about events such as the Holocaust within ethical and aesthetical bounds. Some have even begun to criticize the notion of "unspeakability" altogether, pointing out that by describing Auschwitz as "inexpressible" we may run the risk of converting it into a "sublime" experience, giving it an almost positive spin in the process.
By not offering the reader a strictly mimetic account of his Ufe and instead emphasizing the artistic use of imagination, Rosencof's novel provides one possible answer to the question of how trauma can be represented through fictional writing. Hartman, for example, has argued that realistic representations often fail because they tend to exceed our human capacity to comprehend and conceptuaHze certain traumatic events In "The Book of the Destruction," he asks whether so-called unreaUstic ways of representing may provide a better ahernative: "In every reaHstic depiction of the Shoah, the more it tries to be a raw representation, the more the Why rises up Hke an unsweet savor.
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We describe but cannot explain what happened. Could 'unreahstic' depictions, then, alleviate the disparity? Instead, he insists that the excess of evil which characterizes the concentration camp experience can only be communicated "con un poco de artificio" ; in other words, by stimulating the audience's imagination and putting reality into perspective in such a way that our mind becomes open to the unimaginable In order to accomplish such a task without distorting historical truth, the artist, then, should ideally "present without representing, [.
The real issue for him is not "what can be told" but rather how the experience of the Holocaust can be narrated "while stimulating rather than crushing the sensitivity and imagination of one's audience" When telling the readers about his encounter with terror under the Uruguayan mili- tary regime or about his relatives' experience in a Nazi concentration camp, he opts for a blend of "real" and "imagined" memories, which speak powerfully for the importance of imagination in artistic repre- sentations of traumatic events. Las cartas que no llegaron is divided into three parts, each of them constitutes a different angle from which the author attempts to reclaim 42 Andrea Colvin a lost past, first by returning to his childhood and employing the voice and perspective of a young boy, and later through a reconstruction of the imaginary conversations he has with his father while being in soH- tary confinement.
Throughout the text, writing and the use of fantasy in particular play a privileged role, given that the narrative constitutes an effort to reconstruct a rather "blurry" image of a past that is only partially accessible through distant and fragmented memories. Thus, faced with the insufficiency of his memories, the use of his imagination becomes the only way to fill in the gaps and to "make up" for the emptiness left behind by his relatives' disappearance as well as the absence of human contact during his years in prison.
One must only look at the book's dedication in order to realize that memory plays a special role in this text. Henee, the motivation behind the text becomes clear: it is meant to ensure that the family history will not be lost, that memory will be preserved, not simply because remembering those who suffered is an obligation which is a declaration quite common in Holocaust literature , but also because sharing our family's memories strengthens our sense of who we are.
In fact, the cali for "more memories" in the citation above 69 and the attempt to reconstruct a lost history can be interpreted as essential steps in a search for identity which, according to Rosencof, is always rooted in our family's past. As the title of the novel indicates, the letters possess a special significance, mainly because one day they stop coming, creating a void that haunts the Rosencof family for years. The most important aspect of the first part of the book is that the narrator, rather than looking back and commenting on the events as an adult, takes on the voice and perspective of a child, a procedure that can also be found in some examples of Holocaust literature i.
Whitehead focuses her attention on the effects that this technique has on the reader, pointing out that "the limited insight of the child creates a hiatus in the text, which relies on the knowledge or imagination of the reader to fill in the gap and make sense of the narrative" Rosencof's novel certainly challenges the reader to take on such an active role in order to reconstruct the meaning behind the innocent and nai've voice of the child.
Andrea Reiter, another critic interested in the use of the child's perspective in literature dealing with traumatic experiences, suggests that the impact on the reader is especially power- ful because the child's outlook tends to change our view on things we thought we understood: "It is the gaze of the child that allows us to see in a new way that which we already know" Later in the same essay, Reiter points to the problems associated with memory, specifically early childhood memories which tend to be extremely fragmented and full of gaps 86 , The same problem is evident in Rosencof's text from the very first page.
By pointing out rather than covering up his insecurity with respect to the accuracy of his memories, the author directs our atten- tion toward the problematic nature of memory, giving more importance to the act of remembering itself than the accuracy of the facts. In this fashion, Rosencof emphasizes that the past can never be recovered "as it was" and that retelling it means converting it into fiction.
In addition to the already mentioned objects, the parents' house also occupies a privileged space within the narrator's recollections. According to Nathan Wachtel's essay, "Remember and Never Forget," the home is often given an important role in Holocaust testimonies, where it represents a kind of lost paradise: "In the beginning was a familiar place: a home, a refuge, warm affectionate surroundings. This original space appears in memory as the ideal of all happiness; it is recalled with longing" Though this may be true to a certain extent in Rosencof's novel for example, the mother is lovingly associ- ated with the patio, and the narrator recalls with nostalgia the times in which the whole famiiy would gather around the kitchen table , the feeling of happiness and unity is overshadowed by the never-ending wait for letters that never came.
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In the absence of letters or any written proof of what in fact happened, fantasy takes over, substituting for "reality" and filling the silence with the voices of those who iacked the chance to teli their story. In Las cartas que no llegaron, Rosencof invents letters to take the place of those that never came, imagining what might have happened, beginning with the arrival of the Gestapo in the relatives' village to the deportation to Treblinka, a Nazi concentration camp, even imagining a kind of rebellion led by the prisoners in the camp.
Porque han comenzado a acumularse grandes cantidades de cenizas" I shall briefly discuss the use of the word "cenizas" "ashes" , in order to underline its suggestive power. There is no doubt that Rosencof chooses this word carefuUy with the intention of stimulat- ing the reader's imagination and evoking disturbing images in our mind without having to describe anything directly. Used as a type of synecdoche, the word cenizas alludes to the horrors of the concentra- tion camp without explicitly talking about them.
Turning now to the second part of the book, entitled "La carta," we find a temporal leap in the storyline, bringing us face to face with a young man, trapped in a prison cell and desperate for human con- tact. The entire prison experience is summarized quite effectively through the repetition of the word sin, suggesting that the experience of solitary confinement is primarily characterized by the absence of things or beings that make life worth living.
Faced with loneliness, endless days, and the complete lack of human interac- tion, the imaginary conversations with his father, which the narrator reconstructs in this part of the book, become not only a way to pass the time but also a seemingly necessary task for survival. They are marked by two central themes: an obsession with his family's past and its connection to the narrator's own identity.
Throughout this section of the novel, Mauricio continually "converses" with his father about the past, trying on the one hand to 46 Andrea Colvin imagine his parents' iife in Poland before their emigration and on the other hand to reconstruct an obviously crucial moment in his child- hood: The day "the letter" arrived, a document presumably containing notification of the relatives' death, though its content is never actually revealed to us. The narrative returns to this moment again and again, implying that the arrival of this letter constituted a turning point in the Iife of the Rosencof family, stealing their last hope with respect to their relatives' survival.
The silence surrounding this only "real" letter in the novel forms a stark contrast with the imagined letters of part one, emphasizing once more the role of imagination in the novel as well as the author's determination not to tell that which may exceed the reader's limits of conceptualization and empathy. In order to fully understand the obsession with an inaccessible past I will establish a connection between the narrator's attempt to reconstruct the past through memory and to establish an identity that is rooted in family history.
As I carefuUy examine the text it is possible to see that Mauricio appears to have gone through a twofold identity crisis in his Iife. First of all, it is evident that Mauricio has always felt distanced from the rest of his family. Being the only member of the family to be born in Uruguay, he does not share the same attachment to Poland, for example. In addition, he is more comfortable with Spanish than Yiddish 69 and prefers the Tango o ver traditional Jewish songs The sense of estrangement becomes stronger after the death of his older brother, whom he adored and who served as a kind of "bridge" between Mauricio's world and that of his parents.
In response to the loss of her first-born son, their mother distances herself emotionally from Mauricio, producing feelings of inferiority, guilt and separation at the same time. The second aspect of the crisis has to do with the narrator's experience in prison and points to the idea that an encounter with radical evil tends to threaten even the very core of humanity — our identity. Memory and Fantasy 47 This double identity crisis, then, can be seen as the reason why Mauricio goes in search of his family's roots; it is a quest that will later lead him to Poland in order to explore his origins and to visit the concentration camp in which his relatives died.
His fixation with the past impHes hope — the desire to find his own lost identity through the act of remembering and coming to know his family history. As Anne Whitehead points out, Young has been able to show that "the gathering of fragments is central to the process of Holocaust memo- rialisation, particularly in Poland" According to Whitehead, Young recognizes a fascination with and even fetishisation of the remaining objects and indicates that Holocaust museums tend to dis- play them as if "the debris of history" could serve as "an encounter with history itself" The problem is that the object's power or ability to signal beyond itself is gravely overestimated: For, by themselves, these remnants rise in a macabre dance of memorial ghosts.
Armless sieeves, eyeless lenses, head- less caps, footless shoes: victims are known only by their absence, by the moment of their destruction.
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