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Other People’s Pain

Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics


Edited By Martin Modlinger and Philipp Sonntag

How do we approach other people’s pain? This question is of crucial importance to the humanities, particularly literary and cultural studies, whenever they address narratives of terror and genocide, injustice and oppression, violence and trauma. Talking about other people’s pain inevitably draws attention to the ethical dimension involved in acknowledging stories and histories of violence while avoiding an appropriation – by the reading public, literary critics or cultural historians alike – of the traumatic experiences themselves. The question of how to do justice to the other’s pain calls for an academic response that reflects as much on its own status as ethical agent as on literary expression and philosophical accounts or theoretical descriptions. This volume therefore explores the theoretical framework of trauma studies and its place within academic discourse and society, and examines from a multidisciplinary perspective the possibilities and limitations of trauma as an analytical category. A variety of case studies on individual and collective traumatic experiences as portrayed in literature and art highlight the ethical implications involved in the production, reception and analysis of other people’s pain.


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Susana Onega - Trauma, Shame and Ethical Responsibility for the Deathof the Other in J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians -201


Susana Onega Trauma, Shame and Ethical Responsibility for the Death of the Other in J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians1 In a book entitled African Pasts: Memory and History in African Literatures, Tim Woods rejects the traditional postcolonial critical interpretation of the representation of history in African literatures ‘as a jettisoning of the poli- tics of colonialism’, on the ref lection that, frequently, this is stated without thinking that ‘[c]olonialism for Africans is a history which is essentially not over, a history whose repercussions are not only omnipresent in all cultural activities but whose traumatic consequences are still actively evolving in today’s political, historical, cultural and artistic scenes.’2 From this Woods goes on to state that, for all their dif ferences, African literatures usually ‘rep- resent history through the twin matrices of memory and trauma’ and that they are ‘continually preoccupied with exploring modes of representation to “work-through” [their] dif ferent traumatic colonial pasts.’3 Drawing on Frantz Fanon’s reminder that European colonialism forced an existential deviation and traumatic severing from place and past on ‘the African’,4 Woods argues that contemporary African writers not only have to find strategies ‘to aid in the reconceptualisation of culture, but also of history and memory, and to organize and articulate the trauma and disruption 1 The research carried out for the writing of this essay is part of a research project financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) (code HUM2007–61035)...

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