In Aversion and Erasure, Carolyn J. Dean offers a bold
account of how the Holocaust's status as humanity's most terrible
example of evil has shaped contemporary discourses about victims in
the West. Popular and scholarly attention to the Holocaust has led
some observers to conclude that a "surfeit of Jewish memory" is
obscuring the suffering of other peoples. Dean explores the
pervasive idea that suffering and trauma in the United States and
Western Europe have become central to identity, with victims
competing for recognition by displaying their collective
She argues that this notion has never been examined
systematically even though it now possesses the force of
self-evidence. It developed in nascent form after World War II,
when the near-annihilation of European Jewry began to transform
patriotic mourning into a slogan of "Never Again": as the Holocaust
demonstrated, all people might become victims because of their
ethnicity, race, gender, or sexuality-because of who they are.The
recent concept that suffering is central to identity and that
Jewish suffering under Nazism is iconic of modern evil has
dominated public discourse since the 1980s.
Dean argues that we believe that the rational contestation of
grievances in democratic societies is being replaced by the
proclamation of injury and the desire to be a victim. Such dramatic
and yet culturally powerful assertions, however, cast suspicion on
victims and define their credibility in new ways that require
analysis. Dean's latest book summons anyone concerned with human
rights to recognize the impact of cultural ideals of "deserving"
and "undeserving" victims on those who have suffered.
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