Within the field of Holocaust Studies the last decade has witnessed a turn to the figure of the perpetrator, who had hitherto received little attention due to ethical, legal and psychological reasons. A similar turn can also be observed in connection with the study of empathy. In this context, the concept of “negative empathy,” intended as a sharing of emotions with morally negative fictional characters, has become an increasingly discussed topic. For research in this area, the novel The Kindly Ones (2006) by Jonathan Littell takes up a privileged position in light of its intrinsic literary quality and due to its commercial and critical success. This novel recounts the memories of an SS-officer, Maximilian Aue, who participated in the Shoah. We have carried out an experiment using some passages of this novel to test the empathic reactions of (104) readers. Passages were presented under either of two conditions: as a fictional text or as part of an autobiography. Results showed that fictionalization has a significant effect on moral disengagement; readers who read the narrative presented to them as fictional experienced higher levels of moral disengagement compared to readers in the autobiography condition. Moreover, higher levels of moral disengagement led to significantly higher levels of empathy for the protagonist of the novel.

Operationalizing perpetrator studies. Focusing readers’ reactions to The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

Salgaro M.;Demichelis Serena;Rebora S.;De Jonge J.
2022

Abstract

Within the field of Holocaust Studies the last decade has witnessed a turn to the figure of the perpetrator, who had hitherto received little attention due to ethical, legal and psychological reasons. A similar turn can also be observed in connection with the study of empathy. In this context, the concept of “negative empathy,” intended as a sharing of emotions with morally negative fictional characters, has become an increasingly discussed topic. For research in this area, the novel The Kindly Ones (2006) by Jonathan Littell takes up a privileged position in light of its intrinsic literary quality and due to its commercial and critical success. This novel recounts the memories of an SS-officer, Maximilian Aue, who participated in the Shoah. We have carried out an experiment using some passages of this novel to test the empathic reactions of (104) readers. Passages were presented under either of two conditions: as a fictional text or as part of an autobiography. Results showed that fictionalization has a significant effect on moral disengagement; readers who read the narrative presented to them as fictional experienced higher levels of moral disengagement compared to readers in the autobiography condition. Moreover, higher levels of moral disengagement led to significantly higher levels of empathy for the protagonist of the novel.
holocaust studies; moral disengagement; the kindly ones
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11562/1074939
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