At a Distance of Years: The Novel of Aging in the Shadow of Auschwitz
Wexler, Anthony Charles
MetadataShow full item record
ABSTRACT “At a Distance of Years: The Novel of Aging in the Shadow of Auschwitz” considers a group of Vollendungsromane, or novels of old age, written at the end of the twentieth century that all depict the subjective experience of old age so as to reckon with a larger historical development: the end of the “era of witnessing” connected to the aging and death of the community of Holocaust survivors. Contrary to depictions of late life that focus exclusively on the personal or universal aspects of the aging process, the works considered in this study reflect on, and respond to, the ways in which the memory of traumatic events begins to erode or become distorted with the passage of time. In works that disrupt the Vollendungsroman genre, Primo Levi, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and J.M. Coetzee chronicle the exhaustion of testimonial authority in contemporary Holocaust discourse. These post-Holocaust Vollendungsromane, with their marked entwinement of personal and historical categories of experience, anticipate and resist the Holocaust’s fading from memory. At the same time, they self-consciously posit literature’s unique advantages in combatting the potential obsolescence of testimony. While the genre of the Vollendungsroman has not displaced the Bildungsroman in the postwar period, it has proven to be uniquely suited to writers at the end of the twentieth century struggling to make sense of what traumatic events like the Holocaust can and should mean in a world without witnesses.