Recovering the ethics of readership from immediacy : Holocaust and deconstructive criticism's spectre in Anglophone African trauma narratives

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Oines, Luke Anton

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Anglophone African Trauma Narratives is a title that classifies a growing subgenre of Lost Boy and child soldier narratives. This corpus is represented by works such as: A Long Way Gone, What is the What, War Child, Beasts of No Nation, and They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky. Such works market the memories of violent childhood as an empathy-creating nexus for Western audiences. Despite the humanitarian appeal, the aesthetic architecture of AATN creates serious problems for ethical readership. The virtuality created by these texts (to varying degrees) has the effect of transporting the reader's consciousness into the "presently happening" mind of the narrator. The result of this intimate spectatorship is that readers' ethical discriminations are lessened because of the close proximity to scenes of violence. Such frames of reading are argued to create false empathy, numbness, and complicity to violence. If this subgenre inherently creates problems for ethical reading, an outside ostension of ethical paradigms is needed. My thesis argues that recovery from the problem of presence in AATN can only derive from ethical-literary recognitions of absence. The works of Primo Levi and Theodor Adorno argue for aesthetic representations that recognize ethical absence and distance. Such Holocaust critics deny narrative testimony's inherent right to frame events through abject or sublime expressions. Holocaust critics set important ethical demands for AATN's presentation of aesthetic excess. Secondly, my thesis asserts that deconstructive ethical criticism shares similar ethical aims to Holocaust values of absence. Levinas' concept of alterity, and Derrida's deconstructive mourning each create a deeply motivated ethical value of absence. These frames of reading otherness may deny readers the ability to create unethical empathies and equivocations. My thesis confirms that Holocaust and deconstructive ethical lenses are structured in such a way that they create a double-demand to otherness. The aporia created by this double-demand makes for the most ethical recognition of absences in traumatic narrative. The scope of my argument suggests that meaningful relationships to the past can alter the way that "presence" is responded to in reading.




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