French Narratives of War and Occupation
This book is the winner of the Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in French Studies 2011.
Chapter 3 The Return of Shame: Mourning and Obsession
In relation to the return of the camp survivors, the revenants, to France, the question of shame is framed by the discourses surrounding the question of survivor guilt and shame. The psychoanalytic theories of survivor guilt of the 1960s, of William Niederland, Henry Krystal, Bruno Bettelheim and others, pointed to the camp survivor’s necessary compliance with the deg- radation and amorality imposed upon him in order to survive.1 According to these theories, the instinct for survival through self degradation or at the expense of others caused the camp survivors to unconsciously identify with their persecutor. The survivor was considered to be wracked with the guilt of having survived by becoming like the perpetrator. In rejecting this notion of survivor guilt, Terrence des Pres concurred with the arguments made by Ernest Rappaport, against the notion of iden- tification with the aggressor.2 des Pres claimed that the survivor maintained detachment and kept his identity by operating on two dif ferent levels, both ‘with and against’ the rule of death and oppression to which he was subject.3 On this model, the survivor overtly collaborated and covertly resisted. Ruth Leys argues that des Pres’s thesis overplays the idea of the inmate’s ‘free choice’ in adopting a self-consciously ‘mimetic’ performance 1 Bruno Bettelheim, Surviving and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), Henry Krystal, ed., Massive Psychic Trauma (New York: International Universities Press, 1968), William G. Niederland, ‘The Problem of the Survivor. Part 1: Some Remarks on the Psychiatric Evaluation of Emotional Disorders in Survivors...
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