Ethical Issues in Twentieth-century French Fiction
Poststructuralist ethics and modern hermeneutics are both preoccupied with the same fundamental question: is it possible to achieve a genuine openness to the Other, that is, to encounter and to accept something completely alien to our normal frames of reference? In this book the ethics of Levinas, founded on unconditional respect for alterity, are set against more violent depictions of encounters with the Other in key twentieth-century texts by Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Yourcenar, Duras and Genet. Even when they apparently espouse ethical positions based on responsibility and generosity, these texts frequently present human relations as essentially conflictual, entailing a violent struggle for supremacy with anything that challenges the individual's security and authority. This struggle is also enacted through the experience of reading, as the reader is established as the text's Other: a potentially endangering gaze to be assimilated or annihilated. Whereas some ethical critics posed a relationship of 'friendship' between texts and readers, the novels examined here dramatize a set of responses ranging from suspicion to fear or hostility, violence and hatred.
Colin Davis argues that altercide, the murder of the Other, should be regarded as one of the fundamental impulses behind modern fiction, appearing as one of its privileged themes and informing its relationship to its reader.