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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: French Studies

Staff in the Department of French

Go to the MLAC staff pages.

Publication details for Dr Rebekah Vince

2015 ''Out of Sight but not Out of Mind: Absence as Presence in French Postmemory Narrative'', Journal of History and Cultures (open access) 5, pp. 41-64

Author(s) from Durham


In this journal article I analyse Philippe Grimbert’s Un secret, Henri Racyzmow’s Un cri sans voix and Georges Perec’s W ou le souvenir d’enfance in the context of postmemory, that is the transmitted trauma of the children of survivors or victims of the Holocaust or Shoah. I begin my analysis with an exploration of silence (the absence of family members being painfully present in the absence of words) and voice (the absence articulated in the spoken and written word). I go on to explore how absence is exhibited in objects and photographs, having recourse to Carol A. Kidron’s theory of ‘intersubjectivity’ (2012: 17), Marianne Hirsch’s concept of photographs as ‘memory cues’ (2001: 7), and Froma I. Zeitlin’s warning against over-identification (2001: 147). Finally, I investigate the narrators’ attempts to fill in the gaps of post or ‘absent’ memory through creative investment, by resorting not only to their own imagination and imaginative framework, but also to the authentic memory of remaining eye-witnesses. While Grimbert takes a psychoanalytical approach, Raczymow refers to Jewish tradition, and Perec incorporates autobiographical passages with a childhood narrative of fabulation. Absence, then, is repressed in silence, emerges in objects and photographs, and, to use Dominick LaCapra’s terminology, is finally converted into loss (1999: 704) through the writing process, which becomes a form of working through transmitted postmemory trauma.