Witnessing the War through Conversational Narratives: Representational Dilemmas and Discursive Survival in First World War Testimonial Literature

By:
Dr Panagiota - Titika Karavia
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Claiming to promote a constructive dialogue between literary theory, testimonial studies, discourse analysis, philosophy and sociology, this paper discusses the contribution of 'conversational narratives' (N. R. Norrick) to the reconstruction of wartime experiences, based on different examples taken from French and Greek literary testimonies of the First World War. The collaborative recollections of the painful apprenticeship of the trenches and the battlefront, verbalized by Great War combatants in the course of their conversations either with other comrades or with civilians, appear to be the result of an ineluctable conflict between combatants’ testimonial identity and their interactive survival throughout the recollection process. Instead of a scrupulous reminiscence, they seem to serve a specific version of combatants’ testimonial reality, which is consonant with their recipient’s beliefs on the war.

The analysis of the discursive practices they use, either as storytellers or as recipients of these conversational stories, proves efficiently that this kind of testimony functions rather as a meta-memory, which appropriates combatants’ experiences to their identity claims during the process of recollection. Oscillating between the transmissibility of their war life and their need to be present in the testimonial field, the conversational testimony ends by formulating an eccentric discourse on the war, revealing the representational dilemmas which are inherent not only in the literary testimony it is part of but also in almost every testimonial narrative.


Keywords: Literary Theory, War Literature, Documentary Fiction, Testimonial Discourse, Conversational Narrative, Identity, Alterity/ Otherness
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Witnessing the War through Conversational Testimonies


Dr Panagiota - Titika Karavia

Paris III


Ref: H06P0143