Both the issue of the ethics of representation and the issue of the ethics of reading are particularly important when it comes to representations of suffering and violence. This chapter addresses the ethics of representing and the ethics of reading rape, with a focus on the latter. Depictions of rape are interesting study objects because the extreme situation of rape simultaneously evokes cultural scripts of sexual fantasies and lies in the domain of taboos and crime. Through those kinds of representations, readers are confronted with what they would rather not see, or would like to see but are ashamed to admit. Issues of voyeurism and sadism in relating to the fictional suffering other thus become particularly important with representations of rape. I engage with these issues by using Dominick LaCapra’s concept of ‘empathic unsettlement,’ a term he uses to stress both the importance of being able to empathize with the suffering other and of being able to understand that there is a difference between oneself and the represented other. Both empathy and unsettlement are reader responses that can be triggered by the features of literary texts. Two case studies – Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place and Reve's Een Circusjongen – will serve to illustrate how distance and proximity are fundamental dynamics in an ethical reader response to representations of suffering.

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ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture
Department of Media and Communication

Koopman, E. (2011). Ethical challenges when reading aesthetic rape scenes. In ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture. Retrieved from