Drawing on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, Suffering Witness uses the prose of
Primo Levi and Taduesz Borowski, as well as the poetry of Paul Celan, to question why
witnessing the Shoah is so pressing a responsibility for anyone living in its aftermath. The
book argues that the witnessing of irreparable loss leaves one in unresolvable quandary but
that the attentiveness of that witness resists the destructive legacy of annihilation.
SANDOR GOODHART, Chair of the Jewish Studies Program, Purdue University, Author of Sacrificing Commentary:
"James Hatley has written an extraordinary
treatise: a book-length meditation on suffering, witness, and responsibility.
Drawing primarily upon the writings of Primo Levi, Emmanuel Levinas, Tadeusz
Borowski, and Paul Celan as "exemplary testimonies," Hatley offers those
of us working in post-Holocaust literary, philosophic, and religious studies
a singularly brilliant thesis: that the suffering of the other individual
incomparable to my own and irremediable, and that the
infinite responsibility and ineluctable witness to which I am obligated
requires my ownership of this incapacity and this burden not as the defeat
of my response but ironically as its enabling condition. As we reflect
upon a century of violence and extremity, I predict that Hatley's meditation
will set the stage for all serious future discussion of these matters."
"James Hatley's Suffering Witness calls into
question, in a way that is genuinely significant, philosophy's adequacy
to respond to what is transcendent and irreparable in being a witness to
the Holocaust. Writing under a self-confessed 'burden,' the burden that
weighs upon thought itself, Hatley has produced a searching, phenomenological
investigation worthy of attentive study."
"In this new and sensitive synthesis of scrupulous
thinking about the Holocaust (beginning with scruples about the term Holocaust
itself), Dr. Hatley approaches all the major questions surrounding our
overwhelming inadequacy in "the aftermath of the irreparable." His meticulous
analyses are carried out on the texts, or in the vicinity, of such key
figures as poet Paul Celan, philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Berel Lang,
and survivors Primo Levi and Tadeusz Borowski, to mention but a few. If
there is anything unique (in a non-trivial sense) about the Holocaust,
surely it is the imperious moral urgency that compels those who contemplate
it to revise their view of what it means to be human, and to bear witness
to such an event. What is our relation to the
prisoner of the concentration or death camp? Hatley follows Levinas in
distinguishing between guilt and responsibility, the latter being not a
contract freely entered into, but a dimension of being human, a precondition
for even becoming guilty.
"But it is not enough, as Hatley points out, to bear witness to an "event." Beyond that abstraction there is each and every suffering life, irreparable loss--requiring, but then escaping, the diligent form of devotion called history.
"Dr. Hatley's accomplishment, the fruit of his many years of research and instruction on the Holocaust, will prove a valuable aid to all who would, in whatever capacity, begin or carry on with the task of witness and response."
"An elegant reading of Levi, Celan, Levinas, and Borowski, one which demonstrates the power of literature within a philosophical framework, and which usese this relationship in order to remind us not just of our ethical response to the Shaoh, but of our ethical response to the narratives themselves."