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Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

My article, ‘Recalling the Dead: Repetition, Identity, and the Witness in Varlam Shalamov’s Kolymskie rasskazy,’ has been published in the latest issue of Slavic Review (vol. 70. 2, 2011, pp. 353-72).

In this article, I examine different types of repetition in Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales, from the repeated narration of the same incident in different tales, to the appearance of recurring characters, the formation of doubles, and the narrator’s alter egos, as expressions of the tensions created by the destruction of identity in the labour camp. Placing this question within the context of the problem of memory facing the Gulag survivor/narrator, I show how repetition becomes central to the depiction of the traumatized consciousness in the act of writing. With reference to Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of the non-survivor as the true witness to Auschwitz, and his identification of two forms of witnessing, I argue that the reader, through their response to repetition, is drawn into the text to become one of those witnesses, so that Shalamov’s stories bear witness to the trauma of Kolyma, and those who did not survive it, through a reciprocity of text and reader, rather than through a transformation or recovery of the writer.

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