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Other People’s Pain

Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics

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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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Aleida Assmann - From Collective Violence to a Common Future: Four Models for Dealing with a Traumatic Past -43

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Aleida Assmann From Collective Violence to a Common Future: Four Models for Dealing with a Traumatic Past The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit dedicated his book The Ethics of Memory to his parents, whom he introduces to the reader on the second page of his preface. ‘From early childhood,’ he writes, ‘I witnessed an ongo- ing discussion between my parents about memory.’ Margalit then recon- structs this parental dialogue, which started after the Second World War when it became obvious that both of their huge families in Europe had been destroyed. This is what the mother used to say: The Jews were irretrievably destroyed. What is left is just a pitiful remnant of the great Jewish people (by which she meant European Jewry). The only honorable role for the Jews that remains is to form communities of memory – to serve as ‘soul candles’ like the candles that are ritually kindled in memory of the dead. This is what the father used to say: We, the remaining Jews, are people, not candles. It is a horrible prospect for anyone to live just for the sake of retaining the memory of the dead. That is what the Arme- nians opted to do. And they made a terrible mistake. We should avoid it at all costs. Better to create a community that thinks predominantly about the future and reacts to the present, not a community that is governed from mass graves.1 After 1945, it was first the father’s position that prevailed – and not...

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