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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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Timothy Mathews Trauma, Witness, Form: Thinking Walter Benjamin with Alberto Giacometti 161


Timothy Mathews Trauma, Witness, Form: Thinking Walter Benjamin with Alberto Giacometti [O]n ne voit pas réellement grandeur nature. […] [V]ous agrandissez mentalement. Parce que vous savez que ma tête a une certaine dimension. Et vous imaginez cette dimension. Mais vous ne la voyez pas. Vous me voyez petit et vous agrandissez.1 These are the words of Giacometti in an interview with Pierre Dumayet in 1963, four years before his death. We do not see anyone life size. View- ers see other people not only from a point of view, but in a point of view, from within a space defined by the adjustments which allow other people to be located in space. The adjustments we make in seeing each other, while common to us all, also separate us. My visual adjustments may involve the same visual procedures as yours, but they do not translate my viewing point into yours. On the contrary, they confirm my way of seeing; show the seeing of you made in my own seeing. Even the showing of my seeing does not allow me to step beyond the space of my seeing, or to find it or locate it in relation to others. The event of seeing is increasingly isolating in the act itself of seeing, and in the process of reaching out to others through seeing. Seeing a person involves losing sight of a person; or beginning to; or equally, it involves watching a person emerging translated into my own self-adjusting terms...

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