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Jorge Semprún

Memory’s Long Voyage

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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 3: Memory and Writing in L’Évanouissement and L’Écriture ou la vie

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← 104 | 105 → CHAPTER 3

Memory and Writing in L’Évanouissement and L’Écriture ou la vie

The difficulty surrounding the representation of the Holocaust discussed in the last chapter raises questions regarding the transcription of memories into writing and the creative process which forms part of it. In order to explore the interplay between memory and writing more thoroughly this chapter will focus on L’Évanouissement (1967) and L’Écriture ou la vie (1994). These works are separated by more than twenty years, yet it will be argued that both deal, albeit differently, with the writing process, and therefore trace the evolution of Semprún’s attitude towards writing over time. In L’Écriture, which is much more overtly autobiographical than L’Évanouissement, Semprún revists his experience of Buchenwald, as the news of Primo Levi’s death prompts him to re-examine his memories. He discusses the difficulties associated with writing about trauma and reflects on the writing process in general. Whereas the later work, L’Écriture, is permeated by meta-literary remarks and, not least because of this, came to be highly popular with critics, L’Évanouissement, Semprún’s second publication, is the only one that is out of print nowadays, and has been largely forgotten. Bearing in mind the polysemy of the title,1 it will be argued that the text implicitly deals with the writer’s difficulty in putting his memories down on paper. The novel is set on the day of the Hiroshima bomb and focuses...

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