Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fictional Inhumanities: Wartime Animals and Personification
by Gal, Noam, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 228; 3535382
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the different aspects of animal-human relations within the literary and visual representations of the Second World War, while attempting to offer an alternative understanding of the rhetorical figure of personification. By following several examples of wartime encounters with animals, the project examines the construction of categories such as 'humanity' and 'the human' under Nazism, as they were based upon the epistemological divide between human beings and others. I investigate the abundance of animal-metaphors and the actual representation of animals in WWII texts, as well as the borderline between metaphor and actual representation. Both in Nazi propaganda and in the writings of its victims we frequently encounter a rhetorical lexicon that uses animals and humans interchangeably. On the one hand, this lexicon is examined in my project vis-à-vis the literary figure of personification and its theories. Literary theorists of the last thirty years generally accept the idea that personification is the fundamental literary form of lending human voice or other human qualities to inanimate, mute, absent or dead subjects. The scholarly debate concerns the applications of this fundamental trope to our general conception of literature, of reading and of language. On the other hand, my project responds to recent environmental studies and sensibilities that include special attention to the philosophical, ethical, and political questions around cultural conceptions and uses of animals. Using this constellation of issues, by way of careful theoretical readings, I attempt to bring back texts and images from the occupied city, or the ghetto, or the concentration camp, that present us with a range of possibilities for reconstructing human identity through the encounter with nonhuman living beings.

My analysis reformulates the trope of personification in a manner that includes the function of the animal in the very category of 'the human' upon which the trope relies. In this context, the project includes analyses of 'animal-moments' in texts and images composed during or immediately after the war, under conditions we regularly regard as 'inhuman'. Various experiences, from pet keeping to encounters with military animals to questioning meat-eating, are closely analyzed in survival narratives such as Irène Némirovsky's novel Suite Française, Jiři Weil's novel Life with a Star, Charlotte Delbo's poetry-memoir Auschwitz and After, the diaries of Anne Frank and Antonina Zabinska, as well as the (clandestinely taken) photographic collections of Zvi Kadushin (Kovno ghetto) and Raimund Titsch (Plaszow concentration camp).

In my project I assume that personification is the figure of language that marks and controls the divide between what is considered to be human and what is considered to be nonhuman or not-entirely human. I also assume that the physical circumstances of people and animals in a given historical context influence acts of representation in a certain culture. I ask, to what extent does the human/animal divide shape the experiences of the Second World War, as well as the ways we interpret these experiences today. If this dissertation succeeds in expanding the ways by which we understand the rhetoric of representation of the human—and not in providing an alternative literary history of animals—then it would participate in the broader attempt of bringing human history and natural history into a shared conceptual space. Since animals are not unique to the rhetoric of the Nazi period, and can be found in other times and spaces of geo-political conflicts fueled by racial and ethnic tensions, I wish to offer alternative directions to our thinking of the complex and unstable relations between artistic representation, natural environments and humanity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jacobs, Carol, Trumpener, Katie
Commitee: Jacobs, Carol, Trumpener, Katie
School: Yale University
Department: Comparative Literature
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Environmental philosophy, Holocaust Studies
Keywords: Animal-human relations, Holocaust, Personification, Wartime encounters, World War II
Publication Number: 3535382
ISBN: 9781267856623
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