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Jorge Semprún

Memory’s Long Voyage


Daniela Omlor

Jorge Semprún is a leading writer from the first generation of Spanish Civil War exiles, yet studies of his work have often focused solely on his literary testimony to the concentration camps and his political activities. Although Semprún’s work derives from his incarceration in Buchenwald and his expulsion from the Spanish Communist Party in 1964, limiting the discussion of his works to the autobiographical details or to the realm of Holocaust studies is reductive. The responses by many influential writers to his recent death highlight that the significance of Semprún’s work goes beyond the testimony of historical events. His self-identification as a Spanish exile has often been neglected and there is no comprehensive study of his works available in English. This book provides a global view of his œuvre and extends literary analysis to texts that have received little critical attention. The author investigates the role played by memory in some of Semprún’s works, drawing on current debates in the field of memory studies. A detailed analysis of these works allows related concepts, such as exile and nostalgia, the Holocaust, the interplay between memory and writing, politics and collective memory, and postmemory and identity, to be examined and discussed.


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Chapter 2 The Importance of Guilt and Testimony for the Evocation of the Holocaust in Le Grand Voy


age, Quel beau dimanche! and Le Mort qu’il faut In the previous chapter, it should have become evident that what is por- trayed by Semprún as taking place before the trauma is actually imagined after the trauma, and is therefore imbued with a retroactive nostalgia and forebodings of the catastrophe to come that give this idyllic childhood a far-reaching meaning. Due to the recurrence of Buchenwald in Semprún’s writing, this chapter traces how memories of the concentration camp are assimilated into dif ferent types of texts, ranging from the more fictional to the autobiographical and testimonial. While Le Grand Voyage was partly inspired by a Marxist vision, Quel beau dimanche! employs memories of the concentration camp as a harsh critique of Communism and juxta- poses the concentrationary systems of Nazism and Stalinism. Le Mort qu’il faut interprets the concentrationary universe in a new light and acts as a response to interpretations such as that illustrated in Agamben’s Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, a book which Semprún views as an attack on survivors like himself. Before concentrating on Voyage, Dimanche and Le Mort, however, some basic considerations concerning Holocaust literature need to be made. We should also note that, since L’Écriture and L’Évanouissement are more concerned with meta-literary ref lections than the three works discussed here and use a dif ferent take on Semprún’s Buchenwald experience, they deserve more detailed attention and will be dealt with separately in the next chapter. When...

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