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Title: The Holocaust and the maternal body : an exploration of the diverse deployment of the symbolic maternal body as a discursive trope in Holocaust literature and its impact on the construction and proliferation of collective memory
Author: Stephens, Carmelle
ISNI:       0000 0004 7964 4721
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis explores the significance of maternal symbolism in the examination of Holocaust literature. The majority of the existing research surrounding motherhood and the Holocaust approaches maternity from a specific sociological or cultural standpoint, with the aim of providing further insight into previously marginalised testimony. By way of a departure from this approach, I intend to analyse the significance of maternity as a psychodynamic construct. Whilst I do not go so far as to argue that psychodynamic theory offers a universally applicable maternal archetype, I do argue that a discussion of the maternal influenced by the broadly Lacanian theoretical position that the mother plays a pivotal role in the evolution of subjectivity, lays at the foundation of many of the religious and sociological manifestations of the mother figure that have previously informed analysis of Holocaust literature. Over the course of four chapters I build upon the initial observation that psychodynamic maternal symbolism makes a frequent appearance across multiple genres of Holocaust literature. Using various theoretical models of maternal attachment and identification, I attempt to emphasise the importance of maternal symbolism to the confrontation of many of the over-arcing epistemological and ethical dilemmas that accompany contemporary efforts to confront the traumatic cultural legacy of the Holocaust. The opening chapter explores the use of idealised maternal imagery as a discursive trope in Holocaust memoir. Chapter two examines intergenerational Holocaust memory in terms established by Julia Kristeva's theory of the maternal abject and its appearance in Bernhard Schlink's controversial novel The Reader. The third chapter looks at contemporary engagement with the Holocaust using the discursive framework of projective identification. Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments and Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener, Rue Labat are analysed using Melanie Klein's discussion of the mother's breast as a primary object of attachment. Finally, chapter four uses Melvin Bukiet's short story 'The Library of Moloch' and Norma Rosen's 1969 novel Touching Evil to examine the metaphysical connection between the archive and the body. Having introduced and established this relationship using 'The Library of Moloch,'Touching Evil will be discussed in terms its specific deployment of the maternal body as an archetypal memorial vessel. Ultimately I conclude that many of the issues that arise in attempting to confront the Holocaust (on an individual or collective level,) fundamentally arise from discourse surrounding the politics of identity. I posit that the frequent manifestation of the symbolic maternal in Holocaust writing can be attributed to the thematic resonance that exists between these two subjects. The Holocaust is characterised by the disruption of established cultural social and philosophical paradigms, causing us to question the extant assumptions that influence our conception of who we are and what makes us human. The psychodynamic theory that situates the maternal as a master paradigm that sits at the primal origins of the self, renders it uniquely situated as a rhetorical framework to explore many of the problematic issues that surround the continued presence of the Holocaust as a traumatic subtext in western culture.
Supervisor: Vice, Sue ; Ebury, Katherine Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available