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The Place of Atrocity: Geographical Imaginaries in Delbo, Camus, and Duras

  • Author(s): Brutsche, Vanessa
  • Advisor(s): Sanyal, Debarati
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation brings to light a poetics of space in postwar texts and films that represent the aftermath of historical trauma. I show that the spatial poetics of confinement, deportation, and diaspora in works by Charlotte Delbo, Marguerite Duras, and Albert Camus highlight the unsettling but unavoidable continuity between sites of atrocity and the everyday world. Instead of depicting the concentration camp as an enclosed and impenetrable site of extreme violence – one that must be remembered, while sealed away in both time and space – these works insist on the connections between everyday life and catastrophic violence. This focus on space enriches the critical discussion of traumatic memory, which has predominantly evaluated trauma as a temporal disruption of the psyche. By reading works of literature and film through the lens of space, I show that the ongoing political urgency of this traumatic history was envisioned as the proximity between concentration camps and the pacified, quotidian world. Across texts that range from testimony (Delbo) to fiction (Camus) and experimental film (Duras), the concentration camp comes into direct contact with urban and domestic spaces. As a result, these works radically dismantle the perceived boundaries of the camp, emphasizing its capacity – as site, system, and figure – to contaminate even the most familiar spaces of the everyday, such as the city street, the railway station, or the home.

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