AIDS Writing, Testimonial, and the Rhetoric of Haunting
Explores testimonial writing as it advances a provocative new theory of culture, trauma, genre, and denial
As atrocity has become characteristic of modern history, testimonial writing has become a major twentieth-century genre. Untimely Interventions relates testimonial writing, or witnessing, to the cultural situation of aftermath, exploring ways in which a culture can be haunted by its own history.
Ross Chambers argues that culture produces itself as civilized by denying the forms of collective violence and other traumatic experience that it cannot control. In the context of such denial, personal accounts of collective disaster can function as a form of counter-denial. By investigating a range of writing on AIDS, the First World War, and the Holocaust, Chambers shows how such writing produces a rhetorical effect of haunting, as it seeks to describe the reality of those experiences culture renders unspeakable.
Ross Chambers is Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Michigan. His other books include Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author.
Praise / Awards
"Breaks new ground in its focus on the very urge to witness, and the power of witnessing to trouble, disturb, reawaken, and to haunt (a guiding metaphor of the book.) Untimely Interventions is striking in its mixture of astute textual readings, nuanced and elegantly expressed exploration of theoretical issues around genre and figuration, and ethical passion."
---Linda Hutcheon, University of Toronto
"The book is a sum: a sum of scholarship, of existence, of an ethical and educational position. The vision of the book derives from its original juxtaposition of different kinds of historical traumatic experiences inscribed in texts attempting to bear witness to them: genocide, trench warfare, mortal illness; Holocaust writing, testimonials to war traumas of the First World War, and more recently AIDS memoirs, powerfully read as collective autobiographies of the bond between the living and the dead on which a community is founded. Chambers offers a brilliant synthesis, a powerful cultural diagnosis of the way in which we all live nowadays in what he calls "aftermath culture," defined on the one hand by its denials of the burden of the pain and of the terror it strives to erase and to forget, and on the other hand, defined by its persistent hauntedness by specters of collective traumas which it cannot lay to rest or cast into oblivion, despite its own denials. Through his masterful theoretical articulation of a wealth of concrete textual and rhetorical detail, Ross Chambers offers a pathbreaking displacement of the concept of testimony, understood here not as a trigger of empathic listening and of therapeutic reconciliation---not as a vehicle, that is, of psychoanalytical redemption---but rather as a vehicle of social struggle and of cultural, ethical and political resistance. Attuned to the world's pain and to its contemporary cross-cultural crises and vicissitudes, this book is the self-reflexive legacy of the life endeavor of a great teacher. It is a must reading by every educator, and by anyone who wants to gain an insight into why education matters to both life and culture, and how it can crystallize our hope."
---Shoshana Felman, author of The Juridicial Unconscious: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century
"Untimely Interventions is extraordinarily uplifting in that it restates convincingly the power of words and pedagogy, two notions increasingly alien to a consumerist model of higher education."
---Modern Language Review
Winner: University of Michigan's 2005 University of Michigan Press Book Award
Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted August 2004.
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