VICTIMIZATION AND ITS “CURES”: REPRESENTATIONS OF SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE IN BRITISH FICTION AND DRAMA OF THE 1990s
In his extended reflection on twentieth-century history Hope and Memory (2000; English translation 2003), Bulgarian-French cultural philosopher Tzvetan Todorov singles out four major roles in “historical narrative[s] with an ethical dimension: benefactor, beneficiary, malefactor, and victim” (142). The roles of benefactor and victim are of particular interest to him insofar as they are central to two dominant forms of “historical narration”: “the heroic narrative, which lauds the triumph of ‘our side’, and the victim narrative, which relates its sufferings” (142). Todorov further remarks on the emergence of a morally ambiguous tendency within the postmodern context of latter-day Western democracies, which is closely related to the role of the victim. In the past, history was predominantly written by victors. In the present, however, “past suffering” is often viewed as a source of “power and privilege” (143) and writing “a history of the losers, the victims, the subjected, and the vanquished” is perceived as an ethically meritorious act (144). While Todorov does not doubt the need for such a history, which should shed light on aspects of the past that were previously erased or marginalized, he strongly objects to the uncritical idealization of victimhood and to its exploitation as a source of moral dividends (144). The moral stance he advocates instead involves “a critical examination of [our] own collective identity” (144) and uncovering “the weaknesses and wrong turns of [our] own community” (145).
At first glance Todorov’s moral message appears to
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