Spectres of Patriarchy: Reading Absence in Jorge Semprun

Avril Tynan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Jorge Semprun’s narratives of memory are intricately manipulated and mediated, exhibiting to the reader a carefully selected performance of communicable and comprehensible experience, concentrated on the page and between the covers. However, his effusive presentation of text is merely a veneer, obscuring the abyss of an incommunicable and unimaginable history. Semprun’s secrets lie in the silenced substrata of his literary and cinematographic projects, illuminated through close readings and comparative analysis. From the gaps and ellipses in his works emerges the unwanted and unwritten (unwriteable) spectre of a useless and absent father, concealed in the visible in-visibility of fetishized memory. Eliding the paternal figure, Semprun challenges the universality of the Lacanian phallic signifier, the nom-du-père, and undermines the paternalistic and patriarchal Symbolic structures of his life and works. José María Semprún Gurrea haunts every word of his son’s memorial enterprise, becoming a duplicitous voice that negates and displaces subjective identity as a self distinct from an other. The phallogocentric construction and perception of history, expressed by a dominant and unwavering patriarchal discourse, is subverted, as the fatherly elision liberates the author from the paternalistic constraints of linguistic order. From the silenced negative space of literature emerge the Derridean spectres of forgotten others: woman, the exile, the dead, haunting the insidious structures of European patriarchy. Semprun’s works transgress the boundaries of absence and presence, life and death, sublimating time, space, and identity, so that textual absence engulfs the narrative: the author writes himself out of existence. Semprun is haunted by a paternal phantom, but his auto-erasure demonstrates that he too is already a ghost, his repetitious absence from the life of his own son a chilling revelation of the causes and effects of the failures of paternity and patriarchy in the post-World War II era.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Davis, Colin, Supervisor
  • Williams, James, Advisor
Award date2 Sept 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016

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