Buchenwald, Books, and the Identity of the Intellectual in the Works of Jorge Semprun

By Koppisch, Michael S. | Papers on Language & Literature, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Buchenwald, Books, and the Identity of the Intellectual in the Works of Jorge Semprun


Koppisch, Michael S., Papers on Language & Literature


From the days of his youth, Jorge Semprun has thought of himself as a writer. After his imprisonment in the Buchenwald concentration camp, however, he faced a momentous, potentially fatal decision: to bear witness as an author or to choose life, for he believed that writing about what he had lived would lead inevitably to his death. By opting not to write, Semprun abandoned, for the moment, "le projet qui donnait a mes yeux un sens a ma vie, celui d'etre ecrivain. Un projet qui avait, des l'enfance quasiment, structure mon identite la plus authentique" ("the project that, as I saw it, gave a meaning to my life, that of being a writer. A project that had, practically from my childhood, structured my most authentic identity" [Mal et modernite (Evil and Modernity) 94]). Only in 1963 did he finally publish Le grand voyage (The Long Voyage), which established him as a novelist whose oeuvre is intimately tied to the historical events that so powerfully marked his life. In the years between the end of World War II and 1964, when he was expelled from the Communist Party, Semprun led the secret life of a party operative, replete with mysterious travels, safe houses, and aliases. Speaking of Soledad (Solitude), a play he had written but, after the negative judgment of a party boss, never published, Semprun allows that this early work already contained "All my obsessive personal themes," including that of "Clandestine life, not only as an adventure [...] but also as a path toward the conquest of a genuine identity" (Communism in Spain 74). Le grand voyage, with its return to the Buchenwald experience, launched Semprun on the "recherche d'un moi partiellement retrouve et reunifie autour d'un destin qui prend sens" ("quest for a self partially found again and once more unified around a destiny that is taking on meaning" [Nicoladze 13]). This lasting quest for an understanding of his identity--as an actor on the political stage, as a writer, and as an intellectual--explains in part why, in a 1993 interview with Gerard de Cortanze, Semprun accented the autobiographical in his writing: "Mes livres sont presque tous des chapitres d'une autobiographie interminable" ("My books are almost all chapters in a never-ending autobiography" [264]). Even when he does not intrude explicitly into his novels, the reader senses his presence, and his characters often mirror or stand in for their author. Indeed, Semprun refers to Juan Larrea, a character in La montagne blanche (The White Mountain), as "un personnage de roman qui etait mort a ma place" ("a character in a novel who died instead of me"), one who "avait pris la place que la mort m'avait gardee" ("had taken the place that death had set aside for me" [L'ecriture ou la vie (Literature or Life) 302]).

To understand something of the contours and significance of the ongoing search for an identity in the life and works of Jorge Semprun, it is useful to turn briefly to another Holocaust writer, Jean Amery, whose style differs grzeatly from his but with whom he has much in common. Semprun was persecuted for his political activities, Amery for being Jewish and for his work in the Resistance. Both men were forced to leave their homeland, both were physically tortured, and both were victims of concentration camps. (1) Following his liberation in 1945, Amery took up writing and journalism but felt that "My identity as a writer, which I had been seeking since my sixteenth year, when my first manuscript was printed in Vienna, has vanished" ("After Five Thousand" 3). Perhaps because of this, Amery, like Semprun, insists upon the centrality of autobiography: "It is a widely known, almost trivial fact that every piece of writing, even a theoretical one, has an autobiographical background, an autobiographical substratum. It is just a matter of degree and density of the autobiographical element that finds its way into the work" (1). The late German writer W. G. Sebald highlights that "degree and density" in Amery's writings: "In considering the essays written by Jean Amery in the fourteen years between 1960 and his death, one notices both their exclusively autobiographical approach and their relatively slight narrative content" (148). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Buchenwald, Books, and the Identity of the Intellectual in the Works of Jorge Semprun
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.