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Vulnerability, Empathy, and the Ethics of Survival in Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here

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The Ethics of Survival in Contemporary Literature and Culture
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Abstract

Overtly, Graham Swift’s 2011 novel, Wish You Were Here, is the story of the Luxtons, descendants of an old farming family in Devon. The action centres on Jack Luxton’s mourning for the death of his younger brother. However, this small story resonates with large ones: mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, the attack on the World Trade Centre and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contribute to the extinction of the rural lifestyle, pointing to the novel as a reflection on the decline of Englishness. This chapter seeks to demonstrate that the traumatic effects of these changes can only be overcome by abandoning melancholic self-centredness and embracing an ethics of survival based on the acceptance of vulnerability, empathy and the relational redefinition of the self.

The author would like to acknowledge the support of the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (MINECO) and the European Regional Development Fund (DGI/ERDF) (code FFI2017-84258-P); the University of Zaragoza and Ibercaja (JIUZ-2017-HUM-02); and the Government of Aragón and the European Social Fund (ESF) (code H03_20R), for the writing of this chapter .

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Poole (2006, 151).

  2. 2.

    Caruth (1995, 4–5).

  3. 3.

    Forter (2007, 264).

  4. 4.

    Swift (2012, 52–53).

  5. 5.

    Swift (2012, 78).

  6. 6.

    Swift (2012, 20).

  7. 7.

    Swift (2012, 250).

  8. 8.

    Swift (2012, 9–10).

  9. 9.

    Swift (2012, 11–12).

  10. 10.

    Swift (2012, 29).

  11. 11.

    Swift (2012, 20).

  12. 12.

    Swift (2012, 3).

  13. 13.

    Swift (2012, 3).

  14. 14.

    Swift (2012, 2).

  15. 15.

    Swift (2012, 137).

  16. 16.

    Swift (2012, 137).

  17. 17.

    Swift (2012, 43).

  18. 18.

    Swift (2012, 229–230).

  19. 19.

    Swift (2012, 61).

  20. 20.

    Swift (2012, 61).

  21. 21.

    There is widespread consensus among trauma critics that “Auschwitz [is] the determining catastrophe that inaugurates the trauma paradigm, for after 1945 all culture must address this question”; see Luckhurst (2008, 5). See also Onega (2014).

  22. 22.

    Kai Erikson (1995, 187) defines collective trauma as “a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality”.

  23. 23.

    According to Jeffrey C. Alexander (2004, 1), “cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel that they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways”.

  24. 24.

    Dominik LaCapra (2001, 16) distinguishes between structural trauma, which he defines as transhistorical and connected to an “absence [that] applies to ultimate foundations in general, notably to metaphysical grounds”, and historical trauma, which concerns an experience of loss that is “situated on a historical level and is the consequence of particular events”.

  25. 25.

    Swift (2012, 312).

  26. 26.

    Swift (2012, 7).

  27. 27.

    Swift (2012, 158).

  28. 28.

    Swift (2012, 121, 195).

  29. 29.

    Swift (2012, 73).

  30. 30.

    Swift (2012, 342).

  31. 31.

    Swift (2012, 297, 301, 302).

  32. 32.

    Swift (2012, 305).

  33. 33.

    Swift (2012, 388).

  34. 34.

    Swift (2012, 233).

  35. 35.

    Humphrey, 50; see also Klecker, 221.

  36. 36.

    Higdon (1991, 183).

  37. 37.

    Swift (2012); see Chaps. 5, 13, 24, 30 and 34.

  38. 38.

    Swift (2012, Chap. 23).

  39. 39.

    Swift (2012, Chap. 32).

  40. 40.

    Swift (2012, 314–317).

  41. 41.

    Swift (2012, Chap. 22).

  42. 42.

    See Humphrey (1954, 50) and Klecker (2011, 221).

  43. 43.

    Swift (2012, Chap. 36).

  44. 44.

    Swift (2012, 20–21).

  45. 45.

    Swift (2012, 141).

  46. 46.

    Swift (2012, 152).

  47. 47.

    Swift (2012, 206).

  48. 48.

    Swift (2012, 143).

  49. 49.

    Levinas (1981, 73–74).

  50. 50.

    Swift (2012, 152).

  51. 51.

    Swift (2012, 152–53).

  52. 52.

    Swift (2012, 208).

  53. 53.

    Swift (2012, 203).

  54. 54.

    Swift (2012, 208).

  55. 55.

    Swift (2012, 206).

  56. 56.

    Swift (2012, 206).

  57. 57.

    Swift (2012, 206).

  58. 58.

    Swift (2012, 204).

  59. 59.

    Swift (2012, 205).

  60. 60.

    Swift (2012, 200).

  61. 61.

    Swift (2012, 201).

  62. 62.

    Seltzer (1997, 5).

  63. 63.

    Swift (2012, 209).

  64. 64.

    Swift (2012, 209).

  65. 65.

    Swift (2012, 144).

  66. 66.

    Swift (2012, 102).

  67. 67.

    Aurora (2014, 2).

  68. 68.

    Swift (2012, 27).

  69. 69.

    Swift (2012, 286).

  70. 70.

    Swift (2012, 115).

  71. 71.

    Swift (2012, 106; emphasis in original).

  72. 72.

    Swift (2012, 16, 32).

  73. 73.

    Swift (2012, 70).

  74. 74.

    Swift (2012, 37).

  75. 75.

    Swift (2012, 37).

  76. 76.

    Swift (2012, 39).

  77. 77.

    Swift (2012, 22).

  78. 78.

    Abraham and Torok (1994, 127–128).

  79. 79.

    Abraham and Torok (1994, 128).

  80. 80.

    Abraham and Torok (1994, 132).

  81. 81.

    Swift (2012, 12).

  82. 82.

    Swift (2012, 22).

  83. 83.

    Swift (2012, 22).

  84. 84.

    Swift (2012, 22).

  85. 85.

    Swift (2012, 63).

  86. 86.

    Abraham and Torok (1994, 136).

  87. 87.

    Swift (2012, 35).

  88. 88.

    Swift (2012, 335).

  89. 89.

    Swift (2012, 348).

  90. 90.

    Swift (2012, 349).

  91. 91.

    Swift (2012, 82).

  92. 92.

    Swift (2012, 98).

  93. 93.

    Swift (2012, 81).

  94. 94.

    Swift (2012, 81).

  95. 95.

    Swift (2012, 83).

  96. 96.

    Swift (2012, 83).

  97. 97.

    Swift (2012, 83).

  98. 98.

    Swift (2012, 123).

  99. 99.

    Swift (2012, 119, 123).

  100. 100.

    Swift (2012, 300).

  101. 101.

    Swift (2012, 300).

  102. 102.

    Swift (2012, 216, 218, 221, 223–224, 226–227, 346, 350).

  103. 103.

    Swift (2012, 217).

  104. 104.

    Swift (2012, 232).

  105. 105.

    Swift (2012, 234).

  106. 106.

    Swift (2012, 234–235).

  107. 107.

    Swift (2012, 303–304).

  108. 108.

    Swift (2012, 265).

  109. 109.

    Swift (2012, 225).

  110. 110.

    Swift (2012, 328).

  111. 111.

    Swift (2012, 352).

  112. 112.

    Poole (2006, 151).

  113. 113.

    Poole (2006, 151).

  114. 114.

    Swift (2012, 353).

  115. 115.

    Ganteau (2015, 71).

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Onega, S. (2021). Vulnerability, Empathy, and the Ethics of Survival in Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here. In: Freiburg, R., Bayer, G. (eds) The Ethics of Survival in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-83422-7_7

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