Jean Améry And Wolfgang Hildesheimer: Ressentiments, Melancholia, And The West German Public Sphere In The 1960s And 1970s

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The dissertation revisits the West German literary scene of the 1960s and 1970s to investigate how two of its Jewish participants, Jean Améry and Wolfgang Hildesheimer, sought to promote ethical responses to the Holocaust. The study incorporates literary analysis and socio-political reflections on the ethics of public life. First, it is an analysis of the relationship between judicial confrontation of the German criminal past, the silence in the wider German cultural sphere in the wake of this confrontation, and the two writers' efforts to expose and address this ethical disconnect (chapter I). Second, it draws attention to two very different modes of reactive affect, ressentiment and melancholia. Through readings of Hildesheimer's novels Tynset (1965) and Masante (1973) in chapters II and III, on the one hand, and Améry's essay "Ressentiments" (1966) and the essay-novel Lefeu oder Der Abbruch (1974) in chapters IV and V, on the other, the dissertation analyzes these two modes. Hildesheimer employed a register of ethical writing that articulated the interconnected processes of mourning and melancholia, but unlike recent scholarship that focuses on these categories and valorizes melancholia as source of productive socio-political action, Hildesheimer did not prescribe them as exemplary modes of affective reparation. For Hildesheimer's narrators, mourning the victims of the Holocaust becomes an impossible task that leads to an affective and communicative impasse of permanent melancholia. As Améry conceived ressentiment, it is, in contrast to melancholia, an affect that seeks to engage the wider community. If met with empathetic attention, Améry's affect of ressentiment enables future sociopolitical dialogue between victims and their community. Améry thus argues for the moral superiority of ressentiments as the most appropriate ethical vehicle to redress crimes. By analyzing Améry's philosophy of ressentiments, which challenges the privileged position of melancholia, and by investigating Hildesheimer's approach to and ultimate rejection of melancholia, the dissertation argues for a nuanced understanding of the workings of affects and their ethical repercussions. The dissertation thus contributes to a growing body of international scholarship that elaborates-beyond melancholia and mourning alone-how various affects mediated in literature inform the ethics of public life after the Holocaust.

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Adelson, Leslie Allen

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Bathrick, David
Lacapra, Dominick C

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Germanic Studies

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Ph. D., Germanic Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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