2016 | 6 "The Holocaust and the Contemporary World" | 107-124
Article title

The Problem of Kitsch in the Context of Holocaust Fiction: Jonathan Littell and Bernhard Schlink

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"The Holocaust and the Contemporary World" (Kraków, 23-24 April 2015)
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This paper aims to discuss the problem of kitsch within a broader framework encompassing the issues and limits of representation in the case of fictional works dealing with concentration camp trauma. Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader (Der Vorleser, 1995) and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes, 2006) have both achieved international acclaim yet also sparked a huge scandal mainly for their narrative choice of embracing the (controversial) point of view of the perpetrator. Some of the harshest critics in Germany have issued condemnations on grounds of kitsch, lack of aesthetic value and moral relativism; even the term ‘Holo-kitsch’ was coined. Yet the label ‘kitsch’ was attached by some voices even to The Hunger Angel (Schaukelatem, 2009), a totally different kind of novel depicting horrendous events in a Soviet concentration camp from the perspective of a Romanian German deported to Ukraine. This is a work of fiction belonging to a Nobel prize laureate famous for her difficult metaphoric style, Herta Müller, and rooted in the poetic prose of German Expressionism. We would like to outline the main points of the debate, drawing both on reception data and on scholarly papers, whilst investigating the various (and often fuzzy) assumptions which seem to be related to the kitsch-concept within the context of Holocaust/Gulag fiction, for example, the extent to which it implies a negative value judgement from an aesthetic perspective and/or an ethically grounded uneasiness about trespassing moral limits of representation.
  • University of Craiova, Department of Anglo-American and German Studies (Romania)
  • University of Craiova, Department of Romanian Language and Literature (Romania)
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