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Writing History, "Preserving the Ephemeral": Trauma and Aufhebung in Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger

By Sonia Giebel


Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger presents the perspective of a former war journalist and polemical historian, Claudia, dying in hospice. As she writes a "history of the world," she explores memory, history, and space as she parses out public and private experiences. Many critics have approached Moon Tiger with an individual focus on memory, space, time, or loss. This thesis considers the theoretical interplay between all four with the specific aim of elucidating the process of becoming whole after traumatic loss through the writing of history. I consider the manifestation of passing time–-within topography, the human body, and language-–through the intrinsic relationship of temporality, place, and memory. Consequently, I employ Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "chronotope," the literal union of time and space, and its antithesis, the "achronotope," my own theoretical response, to funnel the novel's exploration of loss, mortality, and memory. The chronotope and achronotope are set up to negate one another; the former brings together time and space within memory in a commemorative manner, while the latter signals the presence of trauma and loss. Yet, in the process of Aufhebung, translated as supersession within the Hegelian dialectic, the thesis and the antithesis sublate; the result is a simultaneous change to and preservation of meaning. I apply Aufhebung to both private history, in working through Claudia's traumatic past, and to public history and the manner in which it is recorded. In both cases, history writing, in acknowledging loss, facilitates the preservation of the past, even as public and private memories of an event dissipate.\ud An interdisciplinary approach to Lively's novel, my thesis registers within historical, political, psychological, and literary discourses, and considers the past as recoverable, rather than lost to oblivion

Year: 2014
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