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From Guilt to Shame

From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After

Ruth Leys
Series: 20/21
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    From Guilt to Shame
    Book Description:

    Why has shame recently displaced guilt as a dominant emotional reference in the West? After the Holocaust, survivors often reported feeling guilty for living when so many others had died, and in the 1960s psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in the United States helped make survivor guilt a defining feature of the "survivor syndrome." Yet the idea of survivor guilt has always caused trouble, largely because it appears to imply that, by unconsciously identifying with the perpetrator, victims psychically collude with power.

    InFrom Guilt to Shame, Ruth Leys has written the first genealogical-critical study of the vicissitudes of the concept of survivor guilt and the momentous but largely unrecognized significance of guilt's replacement by shame. Ultimately, Leys challenges the theoretical and empirical validity of the shame theory proposed by figures such as Silvan Tomkins, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Giorgio Agamben, demonstrating that while the notion of survivor guilt has depended on an intentionalist framework, shame theorists share a problematic commitment to interpreting the emotions, including shame, in antiintentionalist and materialist terms.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2798-5
    Subjects: Psychology, History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION From Guilt to Shame
    (pp. 1-16)

    What is the logic of torture? In an article on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Mark Danner has shown that the methods used to soften up and interrogate detainees by American military personnel can be traced back to techniques developed by the CIA in the 1960s. The best known manual of such procedures, the CIA’sCounterintelligence Interrogation of Resistance Sources,produced in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, states that the purpose of all coercive techniques of interrogation is “to induce regression.” The result of external pressures of sufficient intensity is the loss of those...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Survivor Guilt
    (pp. 17-55)

    On the eve of the evacuation of Auschwitz at the end of the war, Paul Steinberg nearly slapped a dying man. By then a well-protected, eighteen-year-old “veteran” whose cool and calculating survival techniques had both impressed and chilled fellow prisoner Primo Levi, Steinberg had been asked to help keep order in the barracks. Sensing that a Polish Jew “at end of his road” was defying his command to get out of his bunk and make his bed, Steinberg raised his hand to hit him. At the last moment, he tells us, he held back so that his hand just grazed...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Dismantling Survivor Guilt
    (pp. 56-92)

    In 1976, the concepts of survivor guilt and identification with the aggressor were subjected to an attack widely held to be so persuasive that there is an important sense in which they never fully recovered their former prestige. In his critique,The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps, Terrence Des Pres aimed to wrest the image of the camp survivor as a broken psychopathological “case” from the psychoanalysts in order to celebrate the victim’s extraordinary talent for life and moral endurance.¹ Des Pres’s success is at first sight surprising. His sociobiological premises seem naive and his portrait...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Image and Trauma
    (pp. 93-122)

    In 1985, two physicians, Elizabeth Brett and Robert Ostroff, published a paper on the centrality of the image to the conceptualization of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Their article had a polemical intent. They claimed that researchers had failed properly to appreciate the significance of imagery in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and that what they characterized as the “diagnostic and clinical confusion” marring the field of posttraumatic stress could be remedied only by reconceptualizing the official criteria for PTSD in terms of the image.¹ They were not alone in emphasizing the role of the image in trauma. Starting...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Shame Now
    (pp. 123-156)

    Shame’s rise to prominence in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon. To be sure, the emotion of shame figures importantly in numerous philosophical, literary, critical and other writings extending all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But from the start of the twentieth century until the early 1960s, shame was rarely differentiated from guilt, appearing instead as a minor variant of the latter. The subordination of shame to guilt reflected the dominance of psychoanalysis and the significance Freud attached to guilt (or anxiety) as the decisive psychic affect.¹ And it can be found as well in Ruth...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Shame of Auschwitz
    (pp. 157-179)

    The italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has won widespread recognition and esteem in Europe and the United States for his reflections on political philosophy, ethics, and the law. HisRemnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive(1999) offers an analysis of life under extremity as epitomized by Auschwitz.¹ It has gone largely unremarked that a key move in the argument of his book involves the rejection of the notion of survivor guilt and its replacement by a conception of shame. Agamben differs from Sedgwick and the other theorists I have examined so far in that he does not pursue a...

    (pp. 180-186)

    In the previous chapter, I ended on a somewhat ethical note, which is to say that my discussion of Agamben’s views on shame turned out to be at least implicitly a critique of his position on moral as well as intellectual grounds. Nor do I wish to deny that there is an ethical component to my objections to his work. Not only do I disapprove of the partial and misleading way he has of reading certain crucial passages, expounding them in terms that are alien to the meaning of the texts in which they appear, as when he interprets Antelme...

    (pp. 187-192)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 193-200)