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Lissett Martinez 03/19/2012 ENG2012 Prof.


There is evident scholarly debate about the holocaust and how it is able to fit into literature. Holocaust authors are afraid of writing with rhetorical devices because they fear losing the factual and historical elements of the events. In producing such rich, artistic writing, Charlotte Delbo in Auschwitz and After must fit into the other side of the argument; that although writing might have its risks, not writing at all is an even greater injustice. She provides us with a blend of poetry and prose. Jason D. Tougaw states in We Slipped into a Dream State: Dreaming and Trauma in Charlotte Delbo' s Auschwitz and After, that the book is neither prose nor poetry; it's both. (Tougaw). He states genre isn't the point either. Auschwitz and After documents experience that makes the boundaries and conventions that shape life outside the camps seem hollow (Tougaw). Much like Delbo stands side by side with her Auschwitz self, so do her metaphors stand side by side with the facts. It is not that one must be the only, strict way of reading the text but instead both provide insight and lift us to a higher level of understanding and empathy. Charlotte Delbo is able to convey Il faut donner a voir and to make us see her reality though her use of sensory imagery (Delbo, XIV). Since the beginning of the novel Delbo illustrates her very arrival in Auschwitz with the images of hordes of people

carrying valuable possessions, children holding dolls, brides and grooms and people from all sorts of education, all of whom come from different countries and walks of life and yet here they stood, departing or arriving (Delbo, 4). She is able to achieve aesthetics of agitation through her recollections of sense memory and therefore deep memory (Delbo, XVI). She struggles and persists to attempt to explain the unexplainable (Delbo, XI). Delbo and the other victims of the Holocaust were unable to imagine the harsh cruelty they underwent, much like we continue to struggle to imagine. So Delbo tries to shed light and explain it by drawing sensory experiences from her past. She tries to go above ideas and focuses instead in the physical perceptions of her experience. Drawing often on her past, before Auschwitz, she allows us to compare and contrast the differing outlooks she had. We are able to witness the innocence and navet of her perceptions before Auschwitz, and her dark and merciless views during and after. Such navet is evident throughout the book, in the story Marie for example she states that had the SS guards looked at her sister they would have been unable to kill her. (Delbo, 30). When exposed to the naked bodies, she draws on her experience on seeing naked store dummies for the first time in her life. Here in Auschwitz, naked, scrawny corpses invoke no response. Delbo compares her experience of death to the time her dog Flac died (Delbo, 27). The imagery is stark, dark but concise. They allow us to briefly tap into the experience and transport us to that moment. Delbo invites us to take on the role of inmates, for example in Daytime she writes, you happen to be behind a woman walking barefoot (Delbo, 44). Delbo provokes an experience of sensations where the horrors become routine, where boundaries are undefined and you never quite know whether you are awake or dreaming.

She compares opposite images, beautiful scenery that clashes with desolate plains. In Tulip for example the delicate, fragile tulip is in full bloom amidst a frozen landscape (Delbo, 60). She often figuratively calls on nature for escapism or help, but the landscape will not answer (Delbo, 60). In Alicias Leg, Delbo describes the dismembered leg of Alicia still alive and sentient and Alicia dying alone, not calling anyone (Delbo, 61). Delbo depicts a solitary, painful, isolated experience of death. Their sense of collectiveness rising from the fact that what brings them together is their unique experience of inescapable death, knowing that ultimately were born alone, we die alone. Delbo rather than stick to a narrative that tries to explain the events as they happened, invokes a cognitive experience that we would be unable to achieve without imagery and metaphor. Delbo reacts to block 25 by avoidance which depicts her state of conscious withdrawing from reality. She allows us to experience the rejection of her reality but ultimately atrocity bombards her. "At first, we doubt what we see" (Delbo, 29). By using aesthetics, Delbo achieves a level on intimacy with the characters and events.

Works Cited

Delbo, Charlotte. Auschwitz and After. Trans. Rosette C. Lamont. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.

Tougaw, Jason. D. We Slipped into a Dream state: Dreaming and Trauma in Charlotte Delbos Auschwitz and After. New Jersey: Princeton University.