In December 2019, Ms. Lan Yun interviewed Leona Toker during her academic visit to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In this interview, Toker approaches the concept of cultural remission and Gulag and Holocaust literature from an ethical perspective, exploring the complex relationship between literary forms and their ethical consequences. She claims that ethical criticism is coming back in new ways and that analysis of the ethics of form may take over from that of the ethics of character behavior as a potential orientation for future studies.
Whereas the killing of the elites, whether as part of genocide, as a bid for enslavement of a community, or as an expression of a social ressentiment, dates back to ancient times, it is owing to the atrocities of the twentieth century that histories of elitocide assembled the critical mass for the concept to emerge. This paper is devoted to literary reflections of elitocide, many of which can likewise be recognized as such only after the phenomenon itself has crystallized in collective memory. Literary treatments of the issue of elitocide includes works by Dostoevsky (The Devils), H. G. Wells (The Time Machine), and Nabokov (Bend Sinister), but my main example is the theme of the destruction of the most talented in the Gulag stories by Georgy Demidov.
Information about the early history of concentration camps can shed light on the meaning of Stephen Dedalus's reference to “concentration camps sung by Mr. Swinburne” in the library episode of Joyce's Ulysses. Having made their way into the text, external references enter an array of relationships with other narrative details of the novel. The semiological model of literary analysis can help us in balancing attention to the properties of the text and to contextual information, in choosing the relevant data for analysis, avoiding detours in pedagogical practice, and remaining alert to the ways in which the text refracts historical realities and provides a comment on them. The comment of Ulysses on concentration camps has a prophetic quality.