Helena Duffy
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Shit, blood and sperm
The Nazi perpetrator’s hallucinations and nightmares in Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones
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The chapter revisits Jonathan Littell’s hugely successful albeit hotly contested novel, The Kindly Ones (2006), which retells the events of the Holocaust from the perpetrator’s perspective. The chapter focuses specifically on the nightmares and diurnal hallucinations experienced by Maximilien Aue during his service in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and during the post-war period. While it has been suggested that Littell’s descriptions of Aue’s dreams may be designed to enhance readerly identification with his novel’s abhorrent protagonist, the author’s mobilisation of images of Jewish suffering in communicating Aue’s progressive traumatisation has raised strong objections. To mitigate such criticism of The Kindly Ones, the chapter reframes Aue’s dreams with Cathy Caruth’s recasting of history as an entanglement of the perpetrators’ and victims’ traumas as part of her influential trauma theory. In this light, Littell’s representation of the perpetrator’s mental wounding can be seen as an effort to give a new and powerful voice to the pain of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims who, like Clorinda in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, analysed by Caruth, speak to us with a renewed and powerful voice through their killer’s trauma. In other words, the chapter argues that Littell’s potentially morally problematic representation of the perpetrator’s psychological injury has the potential to counter ‘Holocaust fatigue’ engendered by an oversaturation of victim-focused cultural and media representations of genocidal violence, including those of the Shoah.

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