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Archives: Literary Perspectives On The Intersections Between History and Fiction

Issue 3, Fall 2016
Issue Editors:
Vered K. Shemtov, Marie-Pierre Ulloa, Anat Weisman

The new issue of Dibur Literary Journal includes contributions from Julia Kristeva, Michal Ben-Naftali, Yotam Popliker, Marie-Pierre Ulloa, Jean-Michel Frodon, Eli Friedlander, Dina Stein, Keren Mock and the author Yael Neeman.
"By looking at the relationships between art and archives, the articles in this issue of Dibur discuss the role that literature and cinema play today in being a residency for archives and in providing a space for selecting and reflecting on the archive’s substance": Introduction by editors Vered Karti Shemtov, Anat Weisman and Marie-Pierre Ulloa.

The essay develops the notion of “the deleted archive” on the basis of Derrida’s Archive Fever(1995) and through looking at several literary works: a short story by Alice Munro, a memoir by Amnon Shamosh, a diary by Annie Ernaux, and a novel by Yehoshua Kenaz. These works, which observe from different subject positions elderly people in an acute condition of illness, mostly Alzheimer’s disease, variously challenge the concept of the archive or the patriarchive. Oblivion, degree zero of symbolicity, deleted poetics, and the nursing home as a heterotopy are several ideas the essay tackles in order to analyze the literal-literary engagement with archive fever.

“A poetics of the archive” has been preliminarily defined by critics as a poetics of re-collection and re-membering, a poetics in which the so-called proofs are subject to re-vision. The aim of this essay is to elaborate this definition and to argue, referring to Derrida’s conceptualization of the archive, that the poetics of the archive is in fact a “process of recording,” a poetic mechanism of consigning repeated memory impressions to a mnemotechnical supplement—a recording device. Focusing on the Diasporic Hebrew and Yiddish poet Gabriel Preil, this essay suggests that the process of archivization can be understood in his verse as a metaphor for his Diasporic ruptured self. The recording device in Preil’s verse functions as an “interior prosthesis” of memory that allows him to “record” and bring closer voices from distant spaces and different times, to collect impressions of the “ancient,” to re-member, to re-arrange the past as well as institute the future in order to re-create and re-produce an inherent structural Diasporic “loss.” This essay endeavors to show how this mechanism of the poetics of the archive works, indicating Preil’s Diasporic condition and recorded state of affairs: lacking a spontaneous memory or source of identity, existing and writing always already in the second degree.

This article explores the status of the Jeanson archives. Sartrian philosopher Francis Jeanson (1922–2009) was the leader of the most prominent network of metropolitan French nationals who actively supported the Front de libération nationale (FLN) during the Algerian War (1954–62). Three dates are seminal when it comes to the Jeansonian trajectory, the Algerian War, and the issue of collecting archives: 2009, 1966, and 1965. In November 2009, three months after Jeanson’s death, his house was severely damaged in a fire that destroyed part of his archives. The year 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the law of June 17, 1966, that granted amnesty to the members of the “Jeanson network.” The amnesty involved an attempt at national reconciliation by trying to erase controversial historical traces of his role during the war. In 1965 Jeanson produced an epistolary novel, Lettre aux femmes (Letter to women), which draws on his experience during the Algerian War but without any of the specifics. Hence, the novel can be understood as a space of both memory and forgetting and constitutes an archive in its own right.

What was so threatening about the Jeanson archives that political authorities should find themselves granting them amnesty? Why should these archives surface in the one work of fiction of Jeanson’s considerable oeuvre, and what is behind their partial disappearance in a house fire whose cause remains unresolved?

In his major treatise Memory, History, Forgetting, first published in 2000, French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) thoroughly examines the relationship between facts, memories, and transmission, both collectively and individually. This ambitious meditation considers the use not only of scientific historical methods but also of fiction and widely refers to the notion of “images.” But it should be pointed out that the images under consideration in Memory, History, Forgetting are only mental or literary constructs; Ricoeur focuses exclusively on words as mnemonic tools to describe, remember, and forget.

Encompassing over six hundred pages, Ricoeur’s magnum opus thus overlooks a fruitful field of understanding coterminous to the processes he analyzes, if one also acknowledges the powers and efficacy of visual images, particularly of filmed images. Nowhere is this potential more visible and pregnant than in a consideration of the Holocaust—more appropriately known as the Shoah—which in its extreme consequences is at the very center of Ricoeur’s ruminations. Elaborating on the practices, theorizations, and polemics regarding the Shoah and filmmaking, this article shows how Ricoeur’s study can be further developed, in both perception and understanding, by calling upon the cinema and thinking with its images.

Walter Benjamin’s use of the concepts of collection and archive to characterize the task of the historian could initially be viewed as an antidote to the danger presented by the philosophical concept of system, which is liable to be abused in attempts to represent the essential in history. “Collection” and “archive” indeed introduce contingency and concrete materiality in all its details that resist easy assimilation into various premature conceptual unities. And yet it might be as problematic, in attempting to characterize Benjamin’s historical materialism, to give up on the dimension of overall unity that is the task of the project, in favor of the detailed dispersal of the collection and the archive. The overall unity is primarily one that is characterized by Benjamin as that of an image, the dialectical image. The present essay is devoted to clarifying the relation of the collection of material to that of the higher intuitability of history provided in the dialectical image. In particular, I aim to develop the concept of image in view of the relation that Benjamin establishes between his own method and conception of truth and that of Goethe. There would thus be an intimate connection between the notion of image as Benjamin understands it and that of archetype central to Goethe’s reliance on intuition in the scientific investigation of nature.

Out of twenty-four thousand tales documented in the Israel Folktale Archives named after Dov Noy (IFA), only two hundred center on rabbinic figures of late antiquity. This small corpus presents a clear, and curious, profile: while half of it addresses two figures who are venerated saints in contemporary Israel, and are thus the focus of mainly hagiographic narratives in which the figures are active agents in the present, the remainder of the tales, in which Rabbi Akiva is the prominent character, tend to characterize the rabbis as tricksters or to embed them in trickster-like narratives. Implementing semiotic and folkloristic tools, this article suggests that the underlying selection that informs the subgroup of rabbinic tales in IFA should be construed in the context of the IFA project itself, as an arena of conflicting motivations and discourses. Within the intricate and conflicted web of hegemonic and marginal forces, the stories and their tellers stage hidden transcripts, including one of trickster-like oppositions to the institutional hospitality offered by the IFA.

Exclusive interview for Dibur Literary Journal. Transcribed by Martin Moreno and translated from the French by Peter Behrman de Sinéty.

Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
(Published 2016 by The Overlook Press, New York)

Dibur is a peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to comparative literature.

Editorial Board

Vered Karti Shemtov, Dibur Editor-in-Chief
Yotam Popliker, Dibur Executive Editor
Chen Bar-Itzhak, Dibur Editor
Chen Edelsburg, Dibur Curated Editor


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Dibur is made possible by grants from:

  • Stuart R. Epstein, California
  • The Taube Center for Jewish Studies
  • Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Religious Studies
  • Jewish Community Federation's Newhouse Fund
  • The School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University