The experience of the concentration camps is generally considered unspeakable. Yet numerous texts, works and films have tried to offer testimonies in various forms. Based on a wide ranging corpus, both literary and cinematic, Philippe Mesnard explores the forms of expression that are used by the witnesses, writers and artists. He distinguishes four principal forms of testimony: realist writing - a supposedly transparent form of expression (Vassili Grossman, David Rousset amongst others); ‘transcendent’ writing, that transposes reality onto a symbolic scene (as in Le dernier des Justes by André Schwartz-Bart or La vita e bella by Roberto Benigni); The ‘critical form’ that integrates loss and grief in its space (in Imre Kertész, Robert Antelme or Claude Lanzmann’s works for example); and ‘phatic’ writing, that is emotional and unsettles language to express violence. These various forms create a culture of resistance against those who, in destroying man, also destroyed language. Philippe Mesnard offers a cogent, synthetic and thought-provoking analysis of the polyphonic resistance that the act of testifying creates, between distance and proximity.
Philippe Mesnard is a lecturer in literature who teaches at the Haute École in Brussels and at the University of Marne-la-Vallée. He is the author of amongst others Consciences de la Shoah. Critique des discours et des représentations (Kimé, 2000), Giorgio Agamben à l’épreuve d’Auschwitz (Kimé, 2001), La Victime écran. La représentation humanitaire en question (Textuel, 2002). He was also the editor of two unpublished texts by Primo Levi as well as of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando manuscripts. He curated the exhibitions Prisonniers de l’image (France, Italy, 2005) and Primo Levi. Puisque c’est un homme (Italy, France, Germany, 2007).