Representing the Pain of Other
Society today is characterized by a magnitude of oppressive practices, especially for those making up the underprivileged communities of the world. Accordingly, this oppression has demanded the need for human rights and representation in all social and political institutions. As underprivileged individuals fight for equal opportunities, the rest of the world has no option but to integrate themselves in the fight for these human rights and demands. For the part where these individuals cannot present their suffering and destitution, others must come in and represent them to society. According to Sontag, Said, and Derrida, this is known as representation, and it often requires that individuals use their capacity to represent the pain of others the best way they know how.
Representing the pain of others involves telling the stories of the different sufferings an tribulations that different people experience throughout their lifetimes. Representation is identified as a significant tool of communication, as it helps people understand the various ways through which various people undergo their daily lives or living. Consequently, it has been argued the representation takes various forms especially through the media and other literary or artistic forms such as poems and paintings. These media forms have been used to represent the woes of others throughout history and according to the three scholars mentioned, though these representations are necessary, there have been problems associated with such representation. According to these scholars, representing the pain of others has long provoked various personal and political problems, as they do not fully represent the pain and suffering of the people that they intend to represent as expected.
Sontag specifically supports this notion in her book, regarding the pain of others in her examination of the representation of war by the media and artists. She explains that this representation has brought about personal and political problems as in a way they encourage more conflict and war between individuals. Additionally, representing the pain and suffering of others also causes an aesthetic and ethical dilemma as one cannot conclude the importance and significance of such representation. The representation of pain for example, is hard because is illustrates the negative side of things and events that have happened to individuals. Most of these illustrate the pain and suffering of others thus raising an ethical question as to the need for this representation. Said, explains that there are politics and poetics involved in the representation of the pain of others. This is because most of those willing to represent the pain of others have a reason as to why they tell the story of others. While others represent the pain of others so as to explain to society how life can be unfair, others do it for political reasons and to gain a political following.
For that reason such representation easily borders exploitation and disrespect as the intended purpose of the representation is questionable. As Derrida explains, it is hard for people to represent the pain of others without exploiting or disrespecting the victims with whom they intend to represent. Derrida urges his readers to embrace representation with respect and dignity, thus reducing the possibility of having misrepresented the pain and suffering of these victims.
This paper presents a reflection of Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. Specifically, the paper utilizes the thoughts and perception of Sontag, Said and Derrida with regards to the representation of others.
Representation in Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
In his novel, Austerlitz, Sebald tells the story of Jacques Austerlitz a man who was in search of life’s answers during his time (Sebald 1-320). The novel was published after the author’s death and the novel centers on the events that took place during the World War II and the holocaust. The novels looks at the horrifying events that took place, and uses the central character, Austerlitz to explain the pain and suffering experienced by people during this time (Sebald 1-320). A closer examination of the novel illustrates various concepts of the representation of pain and suffering as discussed by Sontag, Said, and Derrida.
Personal and Political Conflict
A closer examination of the novel by Sebald reveals that the story the author is telling in the novel goes beyond the story of his central character Austerlitz. Arguably the novel examines some of the events that took place during the holocaust and the World War II. Because these two event play a significant role in German history, it is easy for one to recognize political and personal conflict in the novel. The author intends to represent Austerlitz the best way possible, which can only be achieved by examining the political and personal connotations of the story being told in the Novel. He explains how the holocaust and the war took the lives of many innocent people, which in turn challenges his readers politically and personally (Sebald 1-320). Those in support of the wars and holocaust will not agree to the thoughts and attitudes presented in the novel, whereas those that were affected by these events would support the ideas presented in the novel. This in turn causes personal and political problems for readers and the audience to which the novel is intended to address.
Aesthetic and Ethical Dilemma
Another concept regarding the representation of the pain of others that can be noted in the novel relates to Aesthetic and Ethical dilemma of the representation. Arguably, Sebald does a good job in trying to represent Austerlitz’s pain as he does not divulge into the details on the way people suffered during these periods. However, he does not cover this pain and suffering so much to the point that he does not represent Austerlitz and his community accordingly. He highlights some of the things that terrible things that the people experienced during the war and the holocaust thus posing both aesthetic and ethical dilemmas with regards to the representation of the pain of others in the group (Sebald 1-320). Aesthetically, the author intends to bring tell his story as artistically as he possibly can. The only way he can achieve this is to provide a description of the actual events that took place during this time. He paints both the negative and positive picture of the lives of people living during this time, and because of this, an aesthetic dilemma is presented in the novel. Readers are barraged with horrific pictures and images of the events that took place during the holocaust and the war, most of which are aesthetically unappealing.
With regards to presented an ethical dilemma, the Sebald’s representation of the events that took place during the holocaust and the World War II beg the question of whether this representation is ethical or moral. The question of the ethical nature of Sebald’s is based on the question of whether or not this representation is good. Whether by representing Austerlitz and his community, the author does something good for the readers and his audience. Most would argue that his representation is ethical and for that reason, does not present an ethical dilemma, but if one is to consider the consequences of this representation especially o the readers, there appears to be an ethical dilemma in the representation.
Respect and Dignity in Sebald’s Representation
Conclusively, the most notable factor with regards to the representation of the pain of others in the novel relates to the observance of respect and dignity in Sebald’s representation of the life of Austerlitz. Arguably, the author does not exploit his central character or his victims in the novel to communicate his message and perception of the events during the holocaust and the World War II. Evidently, the author indirectly presents his attitudes and perceptions regarding the holocaust and the World War II using the lives of Austerlitz and his communities, he uses their pain and suffering to communicate his message to his readers but he does not exploit their destitution for this. He represents their pain and suffering with dignity and respect and does not inflate or deflate the events that took place for his own personal reasons. Whatever is presented in the novel is the actual thing took place during the time. He provides his evidence by explaining that his knowledge of Austerlitz life (Sebald 1-320).
Sebald, W. G. Austerlitz. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2011. Print.