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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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10. Shake Hands with the Devil: Humanitarian Rhetoric and Genocide Testimony

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10. Shake Hands with the Devil: Humanitarian Rhetoric and Genocide Testimony Indicibilis The mysticism with which some people took refuge in the thought that genocide is unspeakable or indicibilis, and could not be explained, does not add up. As we have seen in the previous chapters, living to testify seems to be the guiding principle of most survivors and other witnesses to this tragedy. Among the witnesses of the Tutsi genocide, there is a privileged one who fiercely denounced the humanitarian failures: the Canadian General Roméo Dallaire. In his narrative, Shake Hands with the Devil, Dallaire uses both the metaphor of the inferno and the devil, and also the par- adigm of the Holocaust, as ways of integrating the Tutsi genocide into Western civilization. The Holocaust becomes the event that includes other genocides, and by offering this perspective, Dallaire establishes Auschwitz as unspeakable, and also suggests that the indifference towards the geno- cide in Rwanda is proportionately the same as that to the Holocaust, and he calls this indifference indicibilis. In Shake Hands with the Devil, the indicibilis refers to human selfishness that prevents us from seeing the misery of the other. To describe an unspeakable event does not come under a particular semantic problem, but rather from the vast field that convenes the term of the unspeakable itself. All experiences referring to a situation of emo- tional limits in human comprehension are affected by such a designation. How then does one identify the specific field of the unspeakable...

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