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Narrating Itsembabwoko

When Literature becomes Testimony of Genocide

Josias Semujanga

The tenacious belief in a disjunction of genocide and art has risen a persisting polemic in literary cricism. Narrating Itsembabwoko challenges this dichotomous thinking by assuming that a narrative about genocide is both a work and a testimony because the sense-making in work is a shared construction between writing, reading, and meaning to the point that artistic expression seems to be the irreplaceable nature of art to ensure the memory of events. The main assumption is that the aesthetic process brings together the forms, motifs, or themes already available in the vast field of literature and art, which are known to the reader, and integrates them in a particular text; however, the axiological process is an argumentative level, which governs and shapes the enunciated values in the work. This book shows how through their works writers seek forms – language or genre – that allow them to represent the horror of extermination, making the reader think about the moral range of narratives about genocide – fiction or testimony – using words that communicate the values of humanity, in opposition to the macabre deployment of absolute evil.


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Preface and Acknowledgments


This book is about the idea of a testimony of genocide by narratives including fiction and storytelling and testimonies about the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. The title is a methodological tool that takes up the question of how to recount genocide and thus orient the debate in another direction by focusing on the philosophical component of narratives, which seek to communicate the common truths of human exist- ence.1 I shall discuss some concepts that have been used to understand the Holocaust, namely the idea that the unspeakable character of genocide is a rhetorical tool used to arouse emotions shared between the writer and the reader. I call this shared raw emotion a basic human truth. I suggest that the reader, regardless of how he came to these emotions, can identify and understand how they were presented in both fiction and storytelling narratives of the Rwandan genocide or Itsembabwoko. I will discuss how this human truth is different from the truth of historians, which is based on real conditions of existence and sets out to explain the roots of social events, while the narratives aim to frame events in order to bridge emo- tions between the reader and the author. I will show that these basic human truths can be found throughout the narratives of genocide. They are made apparent in themes such as denial, love, violence, hate, death, rape, and solidarity, which, although they can be presented in many different ways, are emotions and experiences that...

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