Ethical diversions : the post-Holocaust narratives of Pynchon, Abish, DeLillo, and Spiegelman / by Katalin Orban.
While conversion into politics has been a standard way of rescuing ethics from antiquated humanistic moralizing for some time now, the recent “ethical turn” of the humanities reclaims ethics as itself open to radical reimagination. The present study proposes that this revision of ethics can provide a new understanding of postmodern American works which both sensitize their narrative procedures to ethical problems and present themselves as post-holocaust texts. The emphasis is on the specifically postmodern dilemmas of ethicity and narrative (rather than Holocaust fiction as such), hence the choice of the four texts: Maus by Art Spiegelman, How German Is It by Walter Abish, White Noise by Don DeLillo, and Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The Introduction identifies the theoretical framework as a specific strand in recent ethical thought: theories of obligation which are direct or oblique responses (by Derrida, Blanchot, Lyotard and de Certeau among others) to the influential and controversial oeuvre of Emmanuel Levinas. What links these divergent theories is that they pose the question of ethics as a question of the other, they have a troubled relation with speculative reason, and they put an enormous burden on the singularity of the ethical moment, a discontinuous and incalculable event. Chapter 1 examines the ethics of monstrosity and memory in Maus—the excessive diversity of its hybrid forms (including the body) and its problematic meta-testimony: the work of transcription that testifies, ambiguously, for the other. Chapter 2 examines the self-problematizing narrative structures of How German Is It, where repetition, rewriting and forgetfulness yield a heteronomical ethics of obsession, which is then contrasted with the amnesic narrative of White Noise. Chapter 3 examines an ethics of liminality in Gravity' s Rainbow, where peripheral vision and transient responses to the liminal produce the text's ethical performance as well as its erratic openings to the holocaust. The study offers new readings of the above texts, insufficiently recognized as post-holocaust, ethically engaged works. Furthermore, it elaborates a complex relation between post-holocaust sensibility and an ethics of alterity as modes of traumatic affliction, scrutinizing the ethical and aesthetic hazards of “plotting” trauma.
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