Torture, Fiction and the Repetition of Horror: Ghost-writing the Past in Algeria and Argentina

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Tomlinson, Emily Jane 

The object of this thesis is to study the attempts made by writers and filmmakers in two very different socio-cultural contexts to depict and elucidate the experience of political violence, particularly torture, in the periods 1954-1962 and 1976-1983. I seek to apply the hypotheses of Anglo-American and French theorists with an interest in historical representation, as well as trauma, to both ‘realist’ and experimental accounts of the widespread oppression that occurred during the Algerian war of independence and later during the so-called ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina. The texts analysed in detail include novels and short stories by Kateb Yacine, Assia Djebar, Julio Cortázar and Luisa Valenzuela; the films I examine most closely are the Algerian-Italian ‘docudrama’ La Bataille d’Alger and the Argentine melodrama La historia oficial. However, the thesis also addresses other non-factual portrayals of brutality, such as the Nouvelle Vague’s meditations on decolonization, and autobiographical writings, such as military memoirs and survivors’ testimony, as a means of elaborating more fully on the issues at stake in the works cited above. It explores the difficulty – and the possibility – of giving voice to histories that simultaneously resist and demand articulation, and ultimately, of reconstituting the fragmented or ‘disappeared’ subject through narrative: of using fiction to summon the ‘ghosts’ of the past.

Harrison, Nicholas
Kantaris, Geoffrey
Algerian War, Dirty War, Kateb Yacine, Assia Djebar, Luis Puenzo, Luisa Valenzuela, Gillo Pontecorvo, La historia oficial, Torture in film, Torture in literature, Julio Cortazar, La Bataille d'Alger, Disappeared
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Board