The problematic nature of modern Holocaust fiction
: from Holocaust impiety to the suffering body

  • David John Dickson

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis takes issue with Emily Miller Budick’s assertion that Holocaust fiction no longer needs “to establish its legitimacy against the charge that a fictional text is either inadequate, inappropriate or even endangering to the task of representing the Nazi genocide of the Second World War” (2015, p. 1). It argues instead that modern Holocaust fiction – texts written between the year 2000 and the present – demonstrates a particularly reductive and depthless approach to the subject, which is typified by a growing obsession with the suffering body. This stems, I contend, from a specifically Auschwitz-oriented understanding of the Shoah which has gradually been solidified in both commemorative culture and fictional recreations of the event over the last half-century.
    The works utilised span from 1961 to 2018. While the pre-21st century texts are used to establish problematic trends in Holocaust writing, those written from the year 2000 forward are assessed according to Berel Lang’s standard of silence. In contrast to Budick’s position, the thesis argues that a text must be “more probative, more incisive” or “more revealing” (Lang, 2000, p. 18) than silence in order to have societal value. Many modern texts, it argues, do not meet these criteria.Though the thesis utilises the work of several theorists, two particular figures have shaped the central argument: Alison Landsberg and Gillian Rose. Landsberg’s theory of “prosthetic memory” is used to explore the notion that modern fiction has become overly reliant on recreations of bodily suffering as a means of post-memorial connection with the past. Rose’s theory of Holocaust Piety is then used to outline the condition modern Holocaust fiction should aspire to. While pious texts are designed to keep the Holocaust ineffable, by maintaining psychological distance from the victims and perpetrators, impious texts are intended to demystify the Holocaust. For the Holocaust to have continued meaning in the present, I argue, we must come to a more psychologically and culturally particular (or impious) understanding of the victims of the Shoah. We cannot understand them only as suffering bodies.
    Date of AwardSept 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorBen Davies (Supervisor), Christine Berberich (Supervisor) & Mathias Seiter (Supervisor)

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