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Guilt and Shame

Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture


Edited By Jenny Chamarette and Jenny Higgins

As theoretical positions and as affective experiences, the twin currents of contrition – guilt and shame – permeate literary discourse and figure prominently in discussions of ethics, history, sexuality and social hierarchy. This collection of essays, on French and francophone prose, poetry, drama, visual art, cinema and thought, assesses guilt and shame in relation to structures of social morality, language and self-expression, the thinking of trauma, and the ethics of forgiveness. The authors approach their subjects via close readings and comparative study, drawing on such thinkers as Adorno, Derrida, Jankélévitch and Irigaray. Through these they consider works ranging from the medieval Roman de la rose through to Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist painting, Giacometti’s sculpture, the films of Marina de Van and recent sub-Saharan African writing. The collection provides an état-présent of thinking on guilt and shame in French Studies, and is the first to assemble work on this topic ranging from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century. The book contains nine contributions in English and four in French.


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Jenny Chamarette and Jennifer Higgins Introduction 1


Jenny Chamarette and Jennifer Higgins Introduction To be ashamed of your immorality: that is a step on the stairway that ultimately leads you to be ashamed of your morality as well.1 The ethical, ontological and genealogical questions raised by guilt and shame, for Nietzsche, seem as pressing now as they have ever been. At a time in our contemporary culture when exposure to, and consideration of, personal and collective guilt on the one hand, and social, bodily or mediated (or indeed mediatised) shame on the other, are constants of our everyday experience, these issues continue to haunt our moral and ethical lives. In her recent volume, From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After, Ruth Leys engages with key debates in recent shame and trauma theory, to make a compelling case for the continued importance of these issues in our twenty-first-century lives. In her discussions of trauma and torture, she points out how guilt and shame, powerful twin mechanisms of subjectivity, have become inextricably linked to the socio-political dynamics of power. In the context of a media-saturated society where the camera is not only a tool of illumination but also an infinitely extended tool of public humilia- tion, Leys remarks upon the revelations of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison as a dark marker of our contemporary perceptions of guilt and of shame. She paraphrases Mark Danner when she writes, ‘As a “shame multiplier” 1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, ed. Rolf-Peter Horstmann...

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