Dehumanization in Literature and the Figure of the Perpetrator

In Maria Kronfeldner (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization. New York, Egyesült Államok: (forthcoming)
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Chapter 14. Andrea Timár engages with literary representations of the experience of perpetrators of dehumanization. Her chapter focuses on perpetrators of dehumanization who do not violate laws of their society (i.e., they are not criminals) but exemplify what Simona Forti, inspired by Hannah Arendt, calls “the normality of evil.” Through the parallel examples of Dezső Kosztolányi’s Anna Édes (1926) and Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing (1950), Timár first explores a possible clash between criminals and perpetrators of dehumanization, showing literature’s exceptional ability to reveal the gap between ethics and law. Second, she examines novels focalized through perpetrators and the difficult narrative empathy they provoke, arguing that only the critical reading of these novels can make one engage with the potential perpetrator in oneself. As case studies, Timár examines Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), which may potentially turn its reader into an accomplice in the process of dehumanization, and J.M. Coetzee’s Foe (1986), which puts on critical display the dehumanizing potentials of both aesthetic representation and sympathy as imaginative violence. Third, she reads Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones [Les Bienveillantes, 2006], which can make the reader question, through the polyphony of the voice of its protagonist, the notions of narrative voice and readerly empathy, only to reveal that the difficulty involved in empathizing with perpetrator characters lies not so much in the characters’ being perpetrators, but rather in their being literary characters. Eventually, Timár briefly touches upon the problem of the aesthetic and the comic via Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) to ask whether one can avoid some necessarily dehumanizing aspects of humor

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Andrea Timar
Eotvos Lorand University of Sciences (PhD)


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