On the Defensive: Reading the Ethical in Nazi Camp Testimonies
Published: June 2015© 2015
232 Pages, 6.30 x 9.35 x 0.80 in
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On the Defensive considers how our ethical responses to the Nazi camps have unintentionally repressed and denied the experiences of their victims. Through detailed readings of survivor narratives, particularly the works of political deportees Jorge Semprun and Charlotte Delbo, Sharon Marquart examines how well-intentioned people – including victims, their family members, and readers of witness literature – respond to such testimony in ways that are understood as ethical by their communities but serve instead to ignore victims’ experiences.
As Marquart shows, collective disasters such as the Holocaust expose the limitations of our ethical theories. To cope with this instability we withdraw and defend ourselves through inattentive and formulaic responses that turn a blind eye to the plight of victims. Challenging contemporary theorizations of community, ethics, testimony, and trauma, On the Defensive is a far-reaching reflection on the ways in which communal understandings of our duties and responsibilities to others can facilitate the denial of an atrocity’s horrors.
Introduction: On the Defensive: Reading the Ethical in Witness Literature
1. Literature, Theory, and Fraternity
2. Speaking for Others
3. Seeing Responsibility
4. Irony and Community
Conclusion: This Has Been for These People
‘In this admirable book, Marquart writes at the intersections of Holocaust studies, gender studies, and philosophy…The book is thoroughly researched and constitutes an original contribution to understanding Holocaust literature. Highly recommended.’E.R. Baer, Choice Magazine vol 53:04:2015
‘This is an important book that insightfully questions the ways readers can engage with Holocaust and trauma writing and will be of interest beyond French studies.’Ursula Tidd, French Studies vol 71:01:2017
“On the Defensive brings an acute, sympathetic, but sometimes critical intelligence to the study of important testimonial texts, and it analyses them more closely and deeply than anything I have seen before. A rigorous and original contribution to Holocaust and trauma studies, this book questions a number of views about testimony and trauma which have become so entrenched that they are more often than not taken for granted.”Colin Davis, Research Chair in French, School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Holocaust Research Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London