Remembrance between Act and Event: Anne Enright's The Gathering

Abstract : This article addresses the issue of ruinous memory and testimony in The Gathering, the 2007 novel by the Irish writer Anne Enright. It starts with a consideration of the rhetoric of failure at work in the narrative and concentrates on such categories as tentativeness, stammering and contradiction as ethical devices. In conformity with Caruth’s contention that trauma can only be grasped in the “inaccessibility of its occurrence,” these devices help map out a vision of remembrance as impossible, so much so that the only possible truth is in the act of remembrance, not in the irretrievable memory itself. The second part of the article focuses on the ways in which irretrievability triggers off the compensatory powers of invention. Thanks to family archives and photographic material, the narrator creates the past, which allows her to move beyond the mere act of remembrance to capture some memorial content. Yet, in the process, invention contaminates testimony, as if the invented content acted as a complement to the act of remembrance in a backward movement not unlike that of Nachträglichkeit, when the past is somehow repeated in the present even while the present allows for a refashioning of the past. The last part of the article demonstrates that what is at stake in The Gathering is perhaps less remembrance as act than remembrance as event, when the narrator’s actions are translated into passivity or vulnerability to the radical other that the traumatic content is. The definition of event to be borne in mind is not so much dependent on the traditional vision of event as rupture or innovation as on the Levinasian idea that the meeting of alterity (and of the radical alterity that the other’s trauma and the narrator’s trauma represent) is determined by a surrendering of the self or disinterestedness. In Levinasian terms, the ethical event implies that the subject becomes a hostage to the other, which is seen as opening, exposure and passivity. This is how Levinas defines subjectivity: as passivity and vulnerability. From this point of view, the main figure of remembrance as event is that of the ghost, and the text represents vulnerability (the individual’s, the family’s, the nation’s) even while building up a poetics of vulnerability that owes much to the fraying, tentative, precarious nature of testimony, that hallmark of trauma fiction.
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Jean-Michel Ganteau. Remembrance between Act and Event: Anne Enright's The Gathering. Susana Onega; Constanza del Rio; Maite Escudero Alias. Traumatic Memory and the Ethical, Political and Transhistorical Functions of Literature, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.181-200, 2018, Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict, 9783319552774. ⟨10.1007/978-3-319-55278-1_8⟩. ⟨https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319552774⟩. ⟨hal-01809435v2⟩

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