Studia Phaenomenologica

Volume 21, 2021

From Witnessing to Testimony

Lovisa AndénOrcid-ID
Pages 197-223

Literary Testimonies and Fictional Experiences
Gulag Literature Between Facts and Fiction

This article discusses the role of Gulag literature in connection to testimony, literature and historical documentation. Drawing on the thoughts of Jacques Derrida and Hannah Arendt, the article examines the difficulty of witnesses being believed in the absence of evidence. In particular, the article focuses on the vulnerability of the Gulag authors, due to the ongoing Soviet repression at the time of their writing. It examines the interplay between the repression and the literature that exposed it. The article contends that the fictionalization of Gulag literature enabled the authors to go further in challenging Soviet repression. Focusing on the fictional accounts written by Varlam Shalamov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, it argues that the fictionalized Gulag literature makes the experience of the camp universe possible to imagine for those outside, allowing readers to believe in an experience that otherwise seems incredible.