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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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Bill Burgwinkle Guilt, Shame and Masculine Insufficiency: The Case of La Fille du Comte de Pontieu 15


Bill Burgwinkle Guilt, Shame and Masculine Insufficiency: The Case of La Fille du Comte de Pontieu The existence of guilt and shame cultures, once widely accepted in intel- lectual circles as valid, heuristic descriptions of cultural difference, has since been largely abandoned. One reason for this rejection involves the uses to which these categories were put by scholars anxious to set up hierarchies along an ill-defined scale of modernity that inevitably presupposed a pro- gressive development from shame to guilt.1 As the argument went, shame is characteristic of ‘traditional’ cultures – cultures that value group identity over individual identity; while guilt is an outgrowth of ‘modernity’, in which the individual is set off from the community, capable of keeping secrets, and responsible to a single master or idealised image of the self. Guilt emerges as both stigmatised and privileged and is seen as characteristic of Western post-industrial modernity. Shame, on the other hand, is: the affect of inferiority. No other affect is so central to the development of iden- tity. None is closer to the experienced self, nor more disturbing. Shame is felt as an inner torment. It is the most poignant experience of the self by the self, whether felt in the humiliation of cowardice, or in the sense of failure to cope successfully with a challenge. Shame is a wound made from the inside, dividing us from both ourselves and others.2 1 Gerhart Piers, Milton Singer, and Thomas Schiff and Suzanne Retzinger all imply that the similarities between shame...

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