A Re-Appropriation of Jerzy Kosinski's Moral Universe in Light of Emmanuel Levinas' Ethical Demand for the Stranger
Carpenter, Charles D.
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Jerzy Kosinski’s novel The Painted Bird has been described as a work built on the “unhallowed ground” of “evil” and “ruled” thematically “by cosmic terror.” Many argue that the work identifies the human condition as un-redeemably depraved; however, if one reads the orphan in The Painted Bird as a plum-line with ethical considerations, the aforementioned interpretation will be reconsidered. To this end, three questions are addressed in this dissertation: is there an ethical question related to the stranger; how does the orphan exist; and in what way does The Painted Bird address ethical witnessing? Put succinctly: is there a way to read The Painted Bird with a view toward ethics? I will address these question considering The Painted Bird (and other of Kosinski’s works) using Levinasian themes. Even though The Painted Bird has been treated under the auspice of Freudian, Heideggerian and Nietzschean critiques, these ways of reading fail to notice the ethical demand of non-indifference. This dissertation considers Hatley, Ozsváth, and Patterson’s descriptions of Holocaust literature as essentially philosophical and ethical, the “universally necessary commandment that transcends all plots,” the commandment to hear and respond to the voice of the other. David Patterson describes the essential element of the Holocaust novel as the redemption of the self, “resurrected through responsibility couched in an absolute non-indifference.” Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to reconsider The Painted Bird ethically, using Emmanuel Levinas’ ethical themes of non-indifference, proximity, infinity, the face and freedom. Even though The Painted Bird is the primary feature for this dissertation, Kosinski’s other works are considered, especially characters like Chance (in Being There) and Oscar (in Blind Date), showing them to be the suffering characters like the unnamed orphan in The Painted Bird. Other Holocaust works will be considered also using Levinasian themes in order to show how Holocaust genre is unique.