Chapter 3 ‘A World of Death and Phantoms’: Auschwitz, Androids, and the Ethical Demands of Reading Trauma and the Fantastic in Willing Unbelief

In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations
Author: Tony M. Vinci

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Abstract

Despite the central role the rhetoric of the fantastic plays in holocaust literature specifically and trauma literature more generally, critics have yet to address it in any depth. This paper takes seriously the aesthetic demands the literatures of trauma make upon us to translate the fantastic from a literary conceit to an ethical exigency. I suggest that the rhetorical strategies of the fantastic, as employed in both holocaust survivor testimony and popular literature and film of the fantastic, may instigate what Eric Santner defines as ‘homeopathic traumas’ – ‘lesser’ traumas instigated via literary texts that rupture the hegemony of the normal and generate spaces in which readers become distanced from the extraordinarily habitualising power of the everyday. Instead of inviting readers to consider the fantastic through a willing suspension of disbelief, trauma literature employs textual cues that encourage readers to enter the text in what might be termed willing unbelief: a mode of reading that allows readers to recognise the limits of their understanding regarding pain and loss while attempting to enter the world of the traumatic (rather than fragmenting and filtering portions of the traumatic into the quotidian). Such texts wound readers not primarily through the narrativisation of painful experiences, as one might expect; rather, they employ a rhetoric of the fantastic in tandem with textual traces of historical wounds to dismantle and work beyond such stabilising concepts as world, person, history, event, etc. By reading that which appears to be fantastic in unbelief, we become vulnerable to a radical ethics of confrontation, experimentation, and speculation, coding homeopathic trauma as a mode of ontological transformation, social revision, and ethical action.

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