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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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Bettina BannaschZero – A Gaping Mouth: The Discourse of the Camps in Herta Müller’s Atemschaukelbetween Literary Theory and Political Philosophy -115


Bettina Bannasch Zero – A Gaping Mouth: The Discourse of the Camps in Herta Müller’s Atemschaukel between Literary Theory and Political Philosophy1 I. In Atemschaukel (Breathing to and fro),2 the latest novel by the Romanian- German author Herta Müller, the first-person narrator, who is interned in a labour camp and suf fering acute hunger, leaves his body from time to time. He undergoes an exchange with objects which ‘are not living, but undead’, which is to say that, as we expect of undead creatures, they need the blood of human beings to bring them to life.3 The first-person narrator gives life to objects, and in exchange they give him the ability to endure. This exchange, in which the narrator perceives his salvation, his survival strategy, continues until ‘the worst is past’. ‘The worst’ is the zero point. 1 I am grateful to David Midgley for his sensitive and incisive translation of this arti- cle from the original German, particularly for his brilliant translation of Müller’s hitherto untranslated German texts. 2 Translator’s note: No English translation of this work has yet appeared. The title adopted for the French edition is La bascule du souf f le (2010). The German Schaukel is used to denote a swing or a rocking cradle. 3 The act of transfusion described in Atemschaukel dif fers from that in traditional vam- pire stories, however, in several respects. Firstly, it is not the desire of the undead that is directed at the living, but the...

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