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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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4. Murambi, The Book of Bones: Polyphonic Voices and Testimony


4. Murambi, The Book of Bones: Polyphonic Voices and Testimony Testimony is a project that seems, in the eyes of the survivors, questiona- ble for various reasons: they fear not being believed when they recall what they have lived through since the genocide; survivors also fear their nar- ratives will revive their suffering. They often conclude that to tell a person who has not had the same experience is not only unnecessary, but also morally vexing. The world has now entered the age of the witness, whose ethical aim is to give women and men the opportunity to speak, even if they have neither the desire nor the capacity to write the narratives of their own lives; through this process, they attain an identity that releases them from anonymity. It seems as if the use of the testimony35 has supplanted other types of narrative in the long process of the transmission of tragic events. One can say, however, that if it raises honorable feelings – such as compassion, piety, indignation, and even revolt – then testimony dif- fers from the narrative of the historian, and does not replace it. The latter requires, in its very foundations, rigor that cannot be reached under the pressure of the emotions of the personal account narrative. Even if the testimony is socially valued, it only results in a juxtaposition of individual narratives and not in historical knowledge. If facts about events constitute the only viable traces of memory, then talk about genocide fiction may seem paradoxical....

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