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"Estimate your distance from the Belsen heap" : acknowledging and negotiating distance in selected works of Canadian Holocaust literature

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"Estimate your distance from the Belsen heap" : acknowledging and negotiating distance in selected works of Canadian Holocaust literature
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Statement of ResponsibilityJordan Anthony Berard.
Summary"In his 1987 essay 'Canadian Poetry After Auschwitz,' Michael Greenstein argues that A.M. Klein's mock-heroic poem, The Hitleriad (1944), ultimately fails to portray the severity and tragedy of the Holocaust because 'it lacks the necessary historical distance for coping with the enormity' of the event. Greenstein's criticism is interesting because it suggests that in order for a writer to adequately represent the horrors of a traumatic event like the Holocaust it is 'necessary' for him to be distanced from the event. While Greenstein specifically addresses historical (or temporal) distance, Canadian authors writing about the Holocaust have also, inevitably, had to negotiate their geographical and cultural distance from the historical event as well. Not surprisingly, their works tend to be immensely self-reflexive in nature, reflecting an awareness of the questions of authority and problems of representation that have shaped critical thinking about Holocaust literature for over half a century. This dissertation examines the role that distance has played in the creation and critical understanding of representative works of Canadian Holocaust literature. It begins with an extensive analysis of the poetry and prose of geographically-distanced poet A.M. Klein, whose work is unique in the Canadian literary canon in that it mirrors the shifting psychological state of members of the Canadian Jewish community as news of the Holocaust slowly trickled into Canada. This is followed by a discussion of the Holocaust texts of Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, both of whom experimented with increasingly graphic Holocaust imagery in their works in response to the increasingly more horrifying information about the concentration camps that entered the Canadian public conscience in the 1960s. The dissertation then turns its attention to the uniquely post-memorial and semi- autobiographical works of two children of Holocaust survivors, Bernice Eisenstein and J.J. Steinfeld, before focusing on the Holocaust works of Timothy Findley and Yann Martel, both of whom produce highly metafictional novels in order to respond to the questions of appropriation and ethical representation that often surround works of Holocaust fiction created by non-Jewish writers. The dissertation concludes with an analysis of Anne Michaels' novel Fugitive Pieces—a text that addresses all three types of distance that stand at the center of this dissertation, and that illustrates many of the strategies of representation that Canadian writers have adopted in their attempts to negotiate, highlight, erase, and embrace the distance that separates them from the Holocaust." —Abstract
ContentsIntroduction - "Distance Matters"
  • Distance from the Holocaust: From Individual to Cultural Trauma
  • "After Auschwitz": Distance from Adorno
  • "Shearing Away Part of the Horror": Moral and Aesthetic Debates After Adorno
  • Acknowledging and Negotiating Distance in Selected Works of Canadian Literature
  • A Note on the Texts
Chapter One - "His Stuttering Innocence a Kind of Guilt": A.M. Klein and the Effects of Cultural Trauma
  • Klein as a Victim of the Holocaust
  • "The Darkest Hour is at Hand": Klein the Editorialist
  • Klein's Early Holocaust Poetry
  • "Double-Jointed Rhetoric": The Hitleriad
  • "Where Shall I Seek You?": The Elegiac Meditation
  • "Bound to Canada": The Second Scroll
Chapter Two - "Make Clear for Us Belsen": Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, and the (R)evolution of Canadian Holocaust Literature
  • Layton's Latency: The Indirect Response to the Holocaust in Layton's Early Poetry
  • Layton's Revolutionary Manifesto: The "Foreword" to Balls for a One-Armed Juggler
  • "It Would Be a Lie": Further Contradictions in Layton's Holocaust Writing
  • "Deliberately Ugly": Leonard Cohen's Flowers for Hitler
  • "What Did You Expect?": The Banality of Evil in Flowers for Hitler
  • Hitler the Sadist: Beautiful Losers
Chapter Three - "Beyond My Reach": Bernice Eisenstein, J.J. Steinfeld and the Burden of Second-Generation Postmemory
  • Defining the Second Generation
  • Acknowledging Distance
  • From Trauma to Postmemory
  • "The Inked-In Shapes of Line and Word": Bernice Eisenstein' I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors
  • "The Past Completely Vanished the Present": J.J. Steinfeld and the Danger of Acting Out
Chapter Four - The "Proper Subjects of Holocaust Fiction: Cultural Distance and the Issues of Holocaust Representation
  • "Seeds of Fascism" in Timothy Findley's The Butterfly Plague
  • Findley's "Defining Obsession"
  • The "Innocent Watcher": Witnessing the Holocaust in The Butterfly Plague
  • "We Didn't See Them": The Holocaust at Alvarez Canyon
  • Race: "This Damnable Quest for Perfection"
  • To "Live in the Terms of Today": (Meta)Fiction, Allegory, and Games in Yann Martel's Beatrice & Virgil
  • "The World Upside Down": The Metafictional Opening of Beatrice & Virgil
  • "Little Actual Fiction": Martel's Reading of the Holocaust
  • A 20th Century Shirt: "What's the Symbolism There?"
  • "I Needed More Distance": Henry the Taxidermist
  • Games for Gustav: "What Action Do You Do?"
Conclusion - Measuring Distance in Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces
  • "Born Into Absence": Ben as Second-Generation Survivor
  • "The Role and the Responsibility of the Listener": Cultural Distance in Fugitive Pieces
  • Coda: "Distance Matters"
Physical Description 1 online resource (vi, 296 pages) : PDF file
Carrier Typeonline resource
PublisherOttawa : University of Ottawa
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)—University of Ottawa, 2016
  • Includes bibliographical references
URL, Access the freely available full text from the University of Ottawa