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Reverberations of War

Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945


Alexandra Hills

For my thesis, I examine how effects of war or the totalitarian state threaten the integrity of human beings through their exposure to violence, and I explore the uncanny collapse of the animal/human boundary as a result of or metaphor for wartime violence and genocide. The result of the physical disturbance of the body caught in the political force fields of war and violence is the creaturely embodiment of human figures, who can no longer confidently be described as human.


The ubiquity of the figure of the creature in Austiran and Italian literature after the Second World War is instrumental to this inquiry into the nature of how the body is warped by its exposure to politics as the notiion of the "creature" investigates how life is entrapped in the political on the one hand and vulnerable to physical entropy on the other.


The concept of the creature encompasses the physical, affective and political figurations of the human body and self caught in political and material structures, and, as I see it, fears, hopes, anxieties and fascination associated with various types of creaturely, or uncannily animal-like, human bodies act as a barometer for attitudes towards victimhood, historical agency and responsibility. Animal-like human beings alienated from society and struggling for survival populate post-1945 novels and films in Austrian and Italian culture and the following questions may help elucidate how creaturely embodiment is linked to the legacies of war and totalitarianism in both Austria and Italy.


Does the creature invite compassion on grounds of its presumed innocence and exposure to suffering? How is trauma embodied as a physical scar or stigma, and can a recourse to trauma an physical suffering upset ethical boundaries between victims and perpetrators, and between innocence and guilt? Or are the embodied effects of trauma the stigma of guilt and responsibility, or conversevely the signs of violence and unjust suffering that command compassion and humanity? By engaging with the porosity of self/other, animal/human, and victim/perpetrator binary oppositions, my exploration of "creaturely life" across generations and across timecales has hitherto demonstrated complex investments in the memories of racial persecution, political oppression, conflict and genocide in post-war Italy and Austria. What does the presence of creatures reveal about the attitude to "otherness", marginalisation and difference in Austria and Italy in the aftermath of the Second World War?


These are questions that my chapters address, with reference to authors and directors from Pier Paolo Pasolini and Liliana Cavani, to Elsa Morante, Carlo Levi, Anna Mitgutsch, Thomas Bernhard, Ilse Aichinger and Primo Levi.