Reading Rape: Toward an Ethics of Responding to Literary Depictions of Suffering and Violence
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This thesis engages with discussions on the ethics of representation and on the ethics of reading, in the context of literary depictions of sexual violence (rape). Through representations of suffering and (sexual) violence, readers are confronted with what they would rather not see, or would like to see but are ashamed to admit. Issues of voyeurism and sadism in relating to the fictional suffering other thus become particularly important with representations of rape. These issues are addressed through Dominick LaCapra’s concept of ‘empathic unsettlement,’ which stresses both the importance of being able to empathize with the suffering other and of being able to understand that there is a difference between oneself and the represented other. Both empathy and unsettlement are reader responses that can be triggered by features of literary texts. Three general modes in which rape can be represented are discussed: explicit, allusive, and aesthetic. The implications of these three modes for the ethics of representation and reading are further explored by using three case studies: Virginie Despentes' Baise-moi, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.