This essay argues that Charlotte Delbo’s deployment of disgust in her memoir Auschwitz and After (1995) challenges the ethics and possibilities of trauma representation. As opposed to beautifying concentration camp victims through elegiac memorialization or claiming the sublime unspeakability of the events, Delbo’s text oscillates between self-consciously aestheticized language and graphic physical representations of abject bodies. The irruptive visceral descriptions confront the reader with automatic, embodied repulsion in order to highlight the gaps in symbolization and the difficulties of witnessing. Yet, as opposed to merely marking the limits of what can be witnessed, disgust offers an alternative, affective way of encountering the pain of others that still challenges the more soothing logic of mourning and meaning-making. It has a particular countermemorial capacity to preserve and communicate the embodied realities of the victims, if only through shudders of revulsion.
Dismembering Remembering: Mourning with Disgust in Delbo’s Auschwitz and After
Amanda K. Greene is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. Her dissertation examines the structures of feeling and indifference generated by visual media ecologies in the interwar era and the digital present, focusing especially on how they condition encounters with pain and vulnerability.
Amanda K. Greene; Dismembering Remembering: Mourning with Disgust in Delbo’s Auschwitz and After. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2018; 64 (4): 483–503. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7298996
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