Countering the concentration camp world : ethical response to the Holocaust in Canadian and American fiction / by Norman Ravvin.
In this study I examine the role of the Holocaust in Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet and The Bellarosa Connection, A. M. Klein's The Second Scroll, Arthur A. Cohen's In the Days of Simon Stern, Mordecai Richler's St. Urbain's Horseman, Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers, Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, and Chava Rosenfarb's The Tree of Life. I examine how each author comes to terms with the difficulties of representing the Holocaust, and conclude that they tend to write around it, choosing not to depict what Lawrence Langer has called the "naked events" of the Holocaust. Rather, they focus on an absent but haunting figure--often a survivor of Nazi persecution or a fighter against it--and develop a commitment toward this absent other in order to create an ethic of humane community as a counter to the Nazi world view. To characterize this relationship to the Other I make use of Emmanuel Levinas' notion of the face as a guiding symbol for ethical relationships. In the central motifs in Levinas' work--the face and the act of facing, and the importance of acknowledging the Other--I find precedents and parallels for significant situations and patterns in the novels examined in this study. Through an examination of the literary, political, theological and philosophical issues raised by the novels, I address such issues as the role of the survivor, the reception of the Holocaust in popular culture, and religious responses to contemporary catastrophe. In fiction by both Canadian and American writers, I trace a dual urge to both commemorate the victims of the Nazi horror and to point toward a relationship with the memory of the dead that will in some way reinvigorate the living.
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