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Other People’s Pain

Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics


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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María Jesús Martínez-Alfaro - Narrating the Holocaust and its Legacy: The Complexitiesof Identity, Trauma and Representation in Art Spiegelman’s Maus -91


María Jesús Martínez-Alfaro Narrating the Holocaust and its Legacy: The Complexities of Identity, Trauma and Representation in Art Spiegelman’s Maus Narrativizing the Holocaust is something that raises both aesthetic and moral problems, for historians and not less so for literary writers. Accord- ing to Hayden White, there is an ‘inexpungeable relativity in every repre- sentation of historical phenomena’1 and any event can be emplotted in a number of ways without violating established historical facts. However, tragedies of such magnitude as the Holocaust raise troubling questions as to the limits af fecting the kind of story that can responsibly be told about them. As White puts it: ‘Can these events be responsibly emplotted in any of the modes, symbols, plot types, and genres our culture provides for “making sense” of such extreme events in our past?’2 White’s answer to this question highlights the dif ficulty of setting absolute limits between what is acceptable in this context and what is not. As he points out, although a comic emplotment of the history of the Third Reich could be dismissed from the list of adequate narratives by claiming that it is not faithful to the facts – since there is nothing comic about the Holocaust – reject- ing such a possibility would amount to embracing a literary decorum of sorts, based on the ‘rule that stipulates that a serious theme – such as mass murder or genocide – demands a noble genre – such as epic or tragedy – for its proper representation.’3 However, a...

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