Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
Chapter Nine: Those Left Behind: The Non-Endings of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and Aharon Appelfeld’s The Immortal Bartfuss
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Those Left Behind
The Non-Endings of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and Aharon Appelfeld’s The Immortal Bartfuss
In her seminal text On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross notes the fear and aversion surrounding death: “When we look back in time and study old cultures and people, we are impressed that death has always been distasteful to man and will probably always be” (16). She continues: “Death is still a fearful, frightening happening, and the fear of death is a universal fear” (19). While this anxiety surrounding death exists regardless of time and place, the Holocaust distinguishes itself as a period in world history characterized by death. Thus, discussing and representing the Holocaust has been, and continues to be, problematic and controversial. The magnitude and sheer horror of the Holocaust make it a particularly sensitive subject to approach and attempt to represent or depict, particularly for its survivors.
Of the numerous scholarly works surrounding Holocaust testimony or survivor writing, the subject of memory is one of the most discussed topics. Psychoanalysts since Freud have been concerned with the interrelationship between memory and trauma. Although this essay will not address the psychoanalytical aspects of survivor testimonies, I am particularly concerned with the debates surrounding traumatic memory that spill over into the literary field. For a survivor attempting to recount his or her experience of the Holocaust, memory plays a primary...
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