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Victimhood through a creaturely lens: creatureliness, trauma and victimhood in Austrian and Italian literature and film after 1945

Hills, AJ; (2017) Victimhood through a creaturely lens: creatureliness, trauma and victimhood in Austrian and Italian literature and film after 1945. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The thesis compares the representation of the Second World War, fascism and the Holocaust in Italian and Austrian literature and film. In Austria, the national myth of ‘Hitler’s first victim’ echoes with the prevalent Italian cultural narrative of the ‘good Italian’, which forecloses uncomfortable reckonings with toxic historical legacies and their traumatic aftermaths. By drawing on a range of theoretical writers such as Benjamin, Weil, Santner and Agamben, I argue that the ‘creature’ is a privileged lens through which victimhood can be examined as it represents the dehumanisation of the human being through traumatic exposure to violence. The notion of the creaturely theorises the ubiquity of animal imagery to represent wartime violence and is a barometer for attitudes towards suffering and victimhood where traumatic experience paradoxically either affirms the value of the victim’s suffering as a guarantor of humanity, or rejects the dehumanising impact of trauma as undesirable. By focussing on embodiment as a primary signifier of the salience of history, I begin my thesis with an analysis of historical consciousness and creaturely embodiment in Carlo Levi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945) and Thomas Bernhard’s Frost (1963). The second part of the thesis examines Morante’s La Storia (1974) to evaluate the role of non-human animals, children and wartime spaces and assess the impact of suffering and trauma on the elaboration of a messianic interpretation of history’s victims. The third chapter deals with the transmission of a legacy of victimhood through generation and orality, and the necessity of developing an ethics of attention to competing narratives of history and national identity in Elisabeth Reichart’s Februarschatten (1984) and Anna Waltraud Mitgutsch’s Die Züchtigung (1985). The second part of my thesis problematises how the study of the Holocaust mobilises the notion of humanity while relying on the ubiquity of creaturely representation in Primo Levi and Ilse Aichinger. I conclude with a brief examination of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (1975) and Liliana Cavani’s Il Portiere di Notte (1974) in which I explore how filmic explorations of the textual trope of the creaturely, non-human, body imply problematic issues relating to the economy and politics of consumerism via an eroticisation of suffering. The thesis aims to retain a mindfulness of the precarity of a monolithically human definition of embodiment in the aftermath of violent historical events, and interrogate the viability of resting unambiguous narratives of personal and national identity on a troubled embodiment with the aim of accommodating readings that engage historical agency, reflect on the multiplicity of identities and maintain an ethical imperative towards the suffering other.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Victimhood through a creaturely lens: creatureliness, trauma and victimhood in Austrian and Italian literature and film after 1945
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1536288
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