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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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Genocide is a complex term, in many ways. Boundless difficulties arise in an attempt to define it, especially one that is more than “massacre of citizens by a State” and points to its causes and nature. Many say the same about the wider, related terms “racism” and “ethnicity”. The causes of genocide fall into several broad categories. If its legal definition is the most dominant in the public and politi- cal space, the ideological and ethical questions remain of why the State decides to destroy a group of citizens that it normally and legally has the responsibility to protect. Many areas of knowledge indefinitely seek the causes without reaching definitive conclusions about the issue. In the same way, many debates have been held on the meaning of the works on genocide. Can literature, fiction, and other narratives become testimonial? Can our aesthetics quests, especially in literature, support efforts to build societies that respect and protect all people? Such has been the subject of this book. My goal has been to show that the fiction and the testimony of a story about genocide have the same function: to bear witness to genocide by creating emotion in the reader. Because of this empathy that the reader focuses on the victims, the stories of the genocide have an ethical function. Thus, fiction and testimony are narrated as testimonials of genocide. I would enumerate five themes that I have analyzed in this study to summarize a topic that remains, after all, open. Nobody has,...

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