A3 Book chapter

‘Blood, Vomit and Sperm: The Dreams of a Nazi in Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones’

List of Authors: Helena Duffy

Place: Manchester

Publication year: 2020

Book title *: Dreams and Atrocity: Reflections on Modern and Contemporary Trauma in Art, Literature and Visual Culture


In her study of Littell’s award–winning yet controversial novel, Edith Perry (2010) sorts Maximilien Aue’s dreams and nightmares into three distinct categories: ‘métro dreams’, ‘family dreams’ and ‘historical dreams’. Then, following Klaus Theweleit’s (1987) study of fascist psychological (under)development, she deciphers the protagonist’s visions as a counternarrative to the Nazis’ idealistic vision of future Germany. While nuancing Perry’s typology by proposing the category of ‘excremental dreams’, in this contribution I polemicize with the critic’s interpretation of Aue’s dreams and nightmares. Without losing sight of the ironic distance between the narrator’s and the text’s position, which has the capacity for forestalling readerly empathy, I contend that the main purpose of Aue’s dreams is to invite us to sympathise or even to identify with Littell’s protagonist. This is because, real or imagined, Aue’s faecal incontinence foregrounds the toll his experience as Holocaust perpetrator has taken on his physical and mental health, and, if illuminated by Terence Des Pres’s (1976) notion of ‘excremental assault’, helps to assimilate him with the victims of Nazi violence. The key aim of this contribution is therefore to probe the ethics of Littell’s representation of a Nazi as mentally and physically affected by the genocide he mostly facilitates (but at times also perpetrates), which I achieve by framing my analysis with recent studies of ‘post–traumatic perpetrator’ (Mohamed, 2015; Morag, 2012). These studies advocate the recognition of perpetrator trauma as a means of, among others, breaking out of trauma–envy, reconsidering the simplistic dichotomy victim/perpetrator, and admitting society’s—including our own—indirect complicity in the perpetrators’ crimes, as well as in more contemporary/local crises and violences.

Last updated on 2021-23-09 at 13:26