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    From victims to perpetrators: the banality of evil in Jonathan Littell’s 'The Kindly Ones'

    Catani, Damian (2019) From victims to perpetrators: the banality of evil in Jonathan Littell’s 'The Kindly Ones'. In: Dihal, K. (ed.) Perspectives on Evil: From Banality to Genocide. At the Interface / Probing the Boundaries 103. Oxford, UK: Brill, pp. 3-24. ISBN 9789004365827.

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    This chapter seeks to counter the ethical apathy French philosopher Alain Badiou attributes to the ‘victim mentality’ of Western liberal society, a mentality that stems from our over-reliance on the post-Holocaust notion of Radical evil. It does so by revalorising, through a close reading of Jonathan Littell’s fictional 2006 autobiography of a former Nazi, The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes), an alternative strand of post-Holocaust thought: namely, Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil. The recent revival of this paradigm by American philosopher Susan Neiman, amongst others, pre-emptively alerts us to our own potential propensity for evil-doing by controversially shifting our focus from the subjectivity of victims to that of perpetrators whose psychological motives are often more similar to ours than we would care to acknowledge. Subverting the conventions of the typical Holocaust novel, Littell’s unique rehabilitation of Arendt’s theory through the voice of a former perpetrator as opposed to a victim elicits in his reader, especially through his semi-fictional portrayal of ‘ordinary’ real life Nazi Adolf Eichmann, a significant degree of moral self-interrogation that is lacking in standard approaches to this novel. Such approaches include the psychoanalytical theories of Julia Kristeva and Klaus Theweleits or the victim-based ‘ethics of the other’ endorsed by Claude Lanzmann, but denounced by Badiou. The chapter concludes with Littell’s pragmatic suggestion that the ancient Greek system of justice, which punishes evil acts rather than evil intentions, is the most appropriate response to the arbitrariness that is inherent to the banality of evil.


    Item Type: Book Section
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Banality, evil, Arendt, Badiou, Neiman, Kant, Levinas, Kristeva, Theweleits, Lanzmann, ethics, the other, human rights, victim, perpetrator, Holocaust novel, psychoanalysis, criminal intent, criminal acts, ancient Greece, justice.
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Research Centres and Institutes: Aesthetics of Kinship and Community, Birkbeck Research in (BRAKC)
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2017 15:59
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:37


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