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Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant Essay (Critical Writing)


In this chapter, Joseph Slaughter attempts to develop a method of humanitarian reading that emphasizes both respect and empathy for people who can be affected by war, poverty or other social calamities. The author strongly relies on the memoirs A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant who was a witness to the famous battle between Austrian and Sardinian troops.

Moreover, Joseph Slaughter critiques the imaginative models of sentimental reading advocated by Martha Nussbaum. His main premise is that humanitarian reading can highlight the” continuity between one part of humanity and another” (Slaughter 93). It should be kept in mind that Joseph Slaughter’s idea of indifference should not be perceived as callousness or cynicism.

Instead, this notion implies that the readers and observes treat other people as equals. This approach prevents a person from adopting a patronizing attitude toward people who suffer some misfortunes.

For this author, the idea of cosmopolitanism implies that people can be regarded as the members of the global community. These are the main issues that should be distinguished. They are critical for understanding the nature of humanitarian activities.

Overall, Slaughter defines a humanitarian ideal as the displacement of war by peace (Slaughter 312). This scholar attaches importance to the role of literature that should promote cosmopolitan principles among readers. As it has been said before, Joseph Slaughter regards Henry Durant’s book as an eloquent example of humanitarian reading.

Slaughter claims that Dunant is a master of naturalistic writing; in particular, this author uses a special grammar of dehumanization that is mostly intended to awaken the sense of common humanity and transnational empathy for all victims of war. This is the main technique that this writer adopts.

This aspect should be singled out because it is critical for showing that human beings should be categorized into various groups on the basis of their political affiliation, nationality, or race.

In Durant’s memoir, the soldiers first appear to be dehumanized automatons that killing and trampling of each other ‘until they are ground into the landscape and become a part of the “plain littered with human remains”’ (Durant as cited in Slaughter 98). This approach helps the memoirist to underline the atrocity of war and its dehumanizing effects.

Joseph Slaughter notices that Henry Durant does not attempt to conceal the horrors of war. Instead, he attempts to describe it as a completely dispassionate observer who does not use figurative language in order to protect the feelings and emotions of readers. The main strength of this approach is that the national and ethnic distinctions become irrelevant when one has to face economic or military hardships.

As an observer, Henry Durant attempts to assist every soldier regardless of his/her nationality or affiliation (Slaughter 99). It is possible to say that Durant’s account appeals to Joseph Slaughter because he wants to show that every individual is worthy of compassion.

On the whole, the author tries to shows that humanitarian reading can help people establish a cosmopolitan community in which no individual can be dehumanized or humiliated. Moreover, this approach ensures that the cultural, religious or ethnic differences will not be used as the pretexts for war or discrimination. This is one of the main points that can be made.

Additionally, in his article, Joseph Slaughter presents a critique of the ideas expressed by Martha Nussbaum who also pays attention to the role of empathy. This scholar argues that the readers should be able to place themselves in the position of people who can be affected by some social, military or even natural disasters (Nussbaum as cited in Slaughter 93).

Furthermore, Martha Nussbaum lays stress on the importance of imagination which can enable readers to see through the eyes of others (Nussbaum as cited in Slaughter 91). This is how “the citizens of the world” should behave (Slaughter 93). There are several importance differences between the models developed by Martha Nussbaum and Joseph Slaughter.

Nussbaum urges the readers to identify themselves with people who are adversely affected by war even despite the differences in worldviews, values, or cultural background. In contrast, Joseph Slaughter believes that these differences must not play an important role. In fact, they should be disregarded.

Overall, Joseph Slaughter advocates the idea of using people’s narratives as a means of promoting humanitarian ideas. He relies on the example of Henry Durant who does not want to take any sides while witnessing a military confrontation. These are some of the main aspects that can be singled out.

To some degree, the arguments made by Joseph Slaughter can be supported. His critique of Martha Nussbaum’s interpretation of global citizenship is properly substantiated.

The ideas of imaginative identification with other people is hardly realistic because people can have various attitudes , values, linguistic backgrounds, and so forth. This is the main limitation of Martha Nussbaum’s understanding of cosmopolitanism. Therefore, one should not suppose that a person’s imagination can give him/her an accurate idea about the plight of others. More likely, it can result in misunderstanding.

It should be kept in mind that Joseph Slaughter’s ideas are supported by other researchers. For instance, the idea of building a worldwide community is also discussed by David Jefferess, who claims that cultural politics of international benevolence is closely connected with the notion of ‘global citizenship’ (Jefferess 27).

According to this scholar, a global citizen, is the person “who identifies not only with their local or national community but as a member of a global community” (Jefferess 27). Such an individual does not believe that cultural distinctions or geographic borders can make people indifferent to the hardship of others.

These issues are examined by many other scholars who attempt to show that a person cannot completely isolate oneself from the problems faced by people living in other parts of the world. For instance, one can mention Peter Singer who speaks about the plight of families living in severe poverty (Singer 4).

This author also provides a dispassionate account of the social and political calamities encountered by people living in various African countries such as Ghana (Singer 4). His narrative is impartial and it produces a profound impression on readers.

It is possible to say that the questions discussed by Joseph Slaughter and other researchers will not be resolved in the near future. The global community must put an end to wars, extreme poverty, or healthcare problems that can affect thousands of people.

This author provides an example of humanitarian reading which is based on the premise that observers should not overestimate the role of individual differences. Instead, they should understand that these distinctions are irrelevant in many cases. This is the main argument that can be put forward.

Works Cited

Jefferess, David. “Global citizenship and the cultural politics of benevolence.” Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices 2.1 (2008): 27-36. Print.

Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, New York: Text Publishing Company, 2010. Print.

Slaughter, Joseph. “Humanitarian Reading.” Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy. Ed. Richard Ashby Wilson and Richard D. Brown.

Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 88 – 107. Print.

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Obi-Wan. (2019, August 6). Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-reading/

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Obi-Wan. "Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant." IvyPanda, 6 Aug. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-reading/.

1. Obi-Wan. "Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant." IvyPanda (blog), August 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-reading/.


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Obi-Wan. "Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant." IvyPanda (blog), August 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-reading/.

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Obi-Wan. 2019. "Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant." IvyPanda (blog), August 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-reading/.

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Obi-Wan. (2019) 'Humanitarian Reading: A Souvenir from Solferino written by Henry Durant'. IvyPanda, 6 August.

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