Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics
Martin Modlinger and Philipp Sonntag - Introduction: Other People’s Pain –Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics -1
Martin Modlinger and Philipp Sonntag Introduction: Other People’s Pain – Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag opens a discussion of the photography of suf fering with a reference to Virginia Woolf ’s Three Guin eas, described by Sontag as Woolf ’s ‘brave, unwelcomed ref lections on the roots of war.’1 Woolf claims therein that the shock of horrific pictures cannot fail to unite ‘people of good will’; that photographs of war will invariably create a ‘we’ that is opposed to the atrocities before ‘our’ eyes. Susan Sontag begs to dif fer. ‘No “we” should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain.’2 In the last twenty years, a new ‘we’ seems to have emerged with respect to horrific histories and their deeply disturbing forms of representation: the unifying field of trauma studies. Other people’s pain has become one of the core interests of literary and cultural studies. While narratives of loss, oppression, marginalization, and physical and psychological trauma are by no means new to readers and viewers, the particular dedication of the humanities to these issues has reached a new quality. ‘[W]e inhabit an academic world that is busy consuming trauma […]. We are obsessed with stories that must be passed on, that must not be passed over’, writes Patricia Yaeger, and asks, ‘What happens when we “textualize” bodies, when we write about other people’s deaths […] as something one reads?’3 This new interest in pain...
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