Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Romance Languages and Literature: French Language and Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Jacques Derrida, when affirming the undeniability of animal suffering in L’Animal que donc je suis, states that there is “une guerre en cours … entre d’une part, ceux qui violent non seulement la vie animale mais jusqu’à ce sentiment de compassion et d’autre part, ceux qui en appellent au témoignage irrécusable de cette pitié” (50). This study investigates the nature of this ongoing war to which Derrida referred. I investigate both the nature of human cruelty and its counterpoint, empathy, which I propose as the response to the anthropocentrism that allows this struggle to continue. Through investigating theories of empathy, I establish the importance of developing empathetic reading practices in order to understand the perspective of the other. I investigate the roles of emotion, imagination, and holistic observation in creating the empathy that brings the reader out of the “I” mode, so that they can view the other as a “you.” Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Paul Léautaud participated in Derrida’s “guerre en cours” through their literature. They depict the depersonalization that accompanied the increased industrialization and mechanization of the early twentieth century and its effects on living beings, using their individual writing styles to create empathy for oppressed humans and animals alike in their readers. By using theories of empathy, ethics, and Céline’s and Léautaud’s literature, I ultimately establish a link between depersonalization and lack of empathy that affects both humans and animals. I propose literature as a solution capable of undoing the depersonalization of an increasingly mechanized world and restoring the empathy lost along the way. In this way, literature serves as ethical argumentation with the capacity to end the “guerre en cours" and bring about a new understanding of animals and other oppressed individuals.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Pascal Ifri

Committee Members

Tili Boon Cuillé