Improbable Grief: Mavrikakis’ Onomastic Practices of Memorialization

University of Pennsylvania Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
French Forum, 2020, 45, (1), pp. 68-81
Issue Date:
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Names and numbers, mostly in the form of statistics, each play a role in the memorialization of collective tragedies. Names have nonetheless been privileged as that which humanizes the experience and subsumes affectless questions of scale to the personal. Writing at a time when AIDS was transitioning from a fatal epidemic to a chronic disease, Catherine Mavrikakis uses a fictocritical approach in Deuils cannibales et mélancoliques (2000) to relay for readers the receding experience of AIDS as an epidemic. A singular name, Hervé, an intertextual reference to the work of Hervé Guibert and Mavrikakis’ own scholarship on Guibert’s AIDS writings, functions as an indexical sign. Through repetition and conferral upon multiple (mostly HIV-positive) characters, Hervé – as name – becomes the metonymic means by which the coldness of numbers and the weight of mass tragedy are made appreciable, for the name acquires new semantic meaning through disassociation with individual characters. Breaking with conventions of naming and characterisation, Mavrikakis’ complex and confusing text challenges readers to make sense of the interplay of names and numbers, individuals and groups, in memorial practices for what has become an endemic tragedy.
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