• Sacha Gibbons

The new shorter Oxford English dictionary’s first definition of ‘violent’ as a transitive verb is ‘strain the meaning of (a text)’. This word is not in currency and ‘violate’ performs the transitive function, although it does not have a definition that specifically refers to actions against texts. That we can be violent against texts is significant for understanding critical and creative judgment in literary practice. The relevance of violence for literature involves more than portrayals of violent acts. It also involves the violation of tacit contracts of writing and interpretation.

Keywords: violence—writing—interpretation


The legal definition of violence states it is the ‘unlawful exercise of physical force’ (Brown 1993). This trine of unlawfulness, violence and force also pertains to the literary sphere. The role of violence in literature involves more than portrayals of violent acts. It also involves the violation of tacit contracts of writing and interpretation.

Violence has always been linked to interpretation, in addition to the more familiar connections to physical injury and emotional volatility. The new shorter Oxford English dictionary’s (NSOED) first definition of ‘violent’ as a transitive verb is ‘strain the meaning of (a text)’, which is a fact that will engage the attention of people interested in writing and interpretation. Its fourth definition of ‘violence’ is ‘the action or an act of constraining or forcing unnatural change upon something; spec. (a) misinterpretation or misapplication of a word [or text] etc’. The term ‘interpretation’ remains relevant despite the concern it might imply there is a singular meaning within the text awaiting the expert reader, and it should not be rejected because it risks misapplication. The phrase ‘writing and interpretation’ is used throughout the essay to encompass all the meaning-making activities associated with fiction and nonfiction.

Burton’s Legal Thesaurus expands the NSOED’s definition of ‘violent’ as ‘strain the meaning’ with a list of synonyms for ‘distort’. Here is an abridged list:

camouflage, caricature, conceal, corrupt, disguise, disproportion, dissemble, exaggerate, falsify, miscite, miscontrue, middescribe, misdirect, misestimate, misinform, misinterpret, mislead, misquote, misread, misrepresent, misshape, overdramatize, overstate, paralogize, parody, play upon words, strain the meaning, strain the truth, understate, warp.

Does not all writing and interpretation force change and strain the meaning? Journalists ‘take an angle’ and judge what they must include and can omit. Fiction and creative nonfiction writers conceal, exaggerate, mislead, parody and play upon words. We expect it of them and they do it to make their writing more engaging and insightful, but they are not regarded to be violent for doing so. Suspense and parody make it acceptable to mislead and exaggerate. It is prescribed by the contracts of genre. Critical writers, while aiming not to conceal, mislead and exaggerate, shape writing to persuade and convince, they proportion and estimate, and sometimes, I’ve been told, overstate the case.

How can we judge what is violent and what is non-violent when all writing and interpretation force some change upon something? The dictionary vaguely offers ‘strain’ and ‘unnatural change’ as the causes of textual violence, but how do we know what is natural and what is strained? Is there a list of natural changes we are permitted to make to texts when we are writing and interpreting them? No, but nevertheless writers and readers have expectations about how texts should be written and interpreted. Also, they don’t conclude all writing and interpretation are violent because they force change and strain the meaning to some degree. In addition to the expectations and the reluctance to make broad conclusions, many writers and readers resist the idea that violence is merely a matter of passing opinion and historical context. Violent action does not elicit ‘let’s agree to disagree’ responses, and reactions to it are rarely ones of indifference. Deep values are at stake. To acknowledge violence is historically contingent doesn’t mean relinquishing discrimination and judgment. Rather, our need to understand it draws our attention closer to the patterns of opinion and history, which reveal that written and interpretative violence is not random, but systemic and structural. Mushy relativism, one of everythingness and nothingness, one that does not make critically and creatively resounding judgments, jeopardises the capacity to recognise and account for injurious distortions and rhetorical cheating. Relativism is sometimes wrongly understood to be an easy way out, mistakenly invoked to justify avoiding difficult comparative thinking by equalising the value of everything. However, there remains the need for an evolving discourse that can identify, judge and curb written and interpretative violence.

To identify such violence depends on the ability to distinguish between writing and miswriting and between interpretation and misinterpretation, where the prefix ‘mis’ is understood to mean, following the NSOED’s definition, that which is ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’. The definition of this prefix clearly situates it within the ethical, lawful and human sphere where violence is deemed to be wrong. The list of synonyms for ‘distort’ shows the centrality of this prefix in thinking about unethical writing and interpretation. That a mere prefix does so much conceptual work suggests how under-theorised this area of hermeneutics is. Other prefixes such as ‘over’ in ‘oversimplification’ and ‘dis’ in ‘disproportion’ also point to an interpretative culture that relies heavily and vaguely on the negation of correct process to describe corrupt process.

One way out of this ambiguous conceptual terrain where violence and non-violence are too indistinct is to start distinguishing between writing and miswriting and between interpretation and misinterpretation. All writing and interpretation shape texts, but not all shaping is violent. This might be thought of as the difference between distortion and figuration, where distortion is understood to be violent shaping, and figuration to be non-violent shaping. The NSOED’s second definition of ‘distortion’ is ‘the action of perverting words, facts, etc., from their natural interpretation or intent; misconstruction, misrepresentation’. The concepts ‘natural’ and ‘intent’ are problematic, the first not only because it is vague, but also because of its long association with oppressive norms, and the second because of the gulf between it and outcomes; however, the prefix ‘mis’ recurs in this definition, this time signalling the corruption of representation. ‘Figuration’ means ‘the action or process of giving shape to; assignment to a certain form’. It shapes without misshaping.

The following two ideas are key to understanding textual violence: 1) Distortion and figuration can be differentiated from one another; and, 2) Distortion and figuration manifest differently in the literal and figural domains. To stretch the metaphor a little, it can be said these two domains lie at either end of a spectrum. At one end sit literal, referential, representational, and nonfiction writing and interpretative practices. At the other are figural, non-referential, non-representational, and fictive ones. These two sets of practices are governed by different kinds of contracts of representation that set rules for how language is used and judged. What can be seen to be a distortion at the literal end of the spectrum can be seen to be a figuration at the figural end. Therefore, the different contracts of representation are crucial for determining what is considered to be a violent written or interpretative act. This idea of contracts explains why an act can be classified as violent without recourse to ahistorical and absolute points of reference that can always be used to identify what is and isn’t violent. It also explains why what is regarded to be violent changes and is negotiable. Furthermore, while accounting for change it also accounts for the persistence of readers’ and writers’ expectations.

Contracts of representation and the distortion/figuration distinction implicitly reject the notion that all writing and interpretation are violent to some degree simply because they shape, filter, preference and organise. The idea that language is inherently violent is addressed by Slavoj Žižek when he writes ‘there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms’, and ‘there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning’ (2009: 1), which means ‘there is something violent in the very symbolisation of a thing, which equals its mortification’ (2009: 52). Žižek’s goal in Violence is to show that human societies establish themselves by foundational acts of violence. He is generally regarded to be on solid ground and in good company (Jacques Derrida),1 although Dominick LaCapra provides serious critique of some of his approaches.2 At the very least the ideas that language is violent because of ‘its imposition of a certain universe of meaning’ and that ‘there is something violent in the very symbolisation of a thing’ need to be qualified. Otherwise they risk fulfilling the dictionary definition of violence by straining all meaning towards one end, that is, into the category of violence. (That sentence sounds like one of Žižek’s or of other theoreticists, who I remind myself are ‘saying what they are not saying and saying it to you who are not you!’) The purpose of this essay is not to consider whether all meaning-making is somehow violent. It makes a narrower although similarly important proposition: that textual violence exists because contracts of representation are violable. This idea enables creative and critical judgment by allowing us to distinguish between non-violent writing and interpretation (figuration) and violent writing and interpretation (distortion). It also invites consideration of language as a non-violent medium.

Journalism, fiction and creative nonfiction, and criticism all necessarily shape meaning and do it differently. The Australian Journalists’ Association’s Code of Ethics is an example of a rudimentary social contract between journalists, sources and readers that states rules intended to govern the practice of journalistic writing. Helen Garner reflecting on nonfiction contracts writes that

in non-fiction you don’t have the freedom—ethical, aesthetic, or temporal—to go in that deep. Non-fiction isn’t easier than fiction, but for the most part it’s broader and shallower. In non-fiction, the writer’s contract with the reader is different. Someone reading a novel wants you to create a new world, parallel perhaps to the ‘real’ one, in which the reader can immerse himself for the duration. But a reader of non-fiction counts on you to remain faithful to the same ‘real’ world that both reader and writer physically inhabit. As a non-fiction writer you have, as well, an implicit contract with your material and with the people you are writing about: you have to figure out an honourable balance between tact and honesty. You are accountable for the pain you can cause through misrepresentation: you have a responsibility to the ‘facts’ as you can discover them, and an obligation to make it clear when you have not been able to discover them. Fiction’s links with the ‘real’ are more complex and tenuous. But they can still get a writer into all sorts of personal trouble. (Garner 1997: 6-7)

We don’t need to consider whether Garner always successfully honours these contracts in her writing to take the point that different contracts are involved in different writing and reading practices. Extending her observations we can say that nonfiction and fiction contracts have different rules for how a piece of writing should correspond to its referents and the ‘real’ world.

This leads back to the definition referred to at the outset: violence is the ‘unlawful exercise of physical force’, which can be restated in the context of writing and interpretation as the ‘unlawful exercise of written and interpretative force’, where the law is set by whichever contract of representation is in play. Although violence is not necessarily wrong (a violent wind toppling a tree is not wrong) and although varieties of violence might extend beyond human ethics (Walter Benjamin’s ‘divine violence’ (2007) is probably relevant here) we see in Garner’s comments that a lot of writing and interpretation exists within the sphere of contracts, rules and ethics and always, at times, involves the unethical transgression of these contractual rules.

The difference between contracts of nonfiction and fiction provides a basis for thinking about non-violent writing and interpretation. Non-violence, in the sense of not straining the meaning, arises from the correspondence between a written or interpretative act and its governing contract. This shows non-violence is an active and not only a passive practice. This position does not need to make any further claims about what is true and good and non-violent. It does not rely on a putatively objective notion of violence that claims to exist independently of historically specific contracts of representation. The violence involved here does not concern what is portrayed, but that what is portrayed accords with the operative rules of portrayal. How might we understand these rules?

Here is a famous passage by Friedrich Nietzsche:

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions—they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins. (Nietzsche 1873)

Jen Webb elaborates on this passage:

So in their first phase, metaphors are indeed catachrestic: thoroughly and obviously figurative, fundamentally decorative, belonging to another domain. Subsequently, through social use, they move in a metamorphic manner to become something that is gradually incorporated into literal language, until it is dead as metaphor—they retreat to transparency. (Webb 2009)

Note the key words ‘figurative’, ‘literal’ and ‘dead’. The next passage provides further detail about the contracts Garner mentions above:

writers [and] communicators . . . make a discrete category of metaphor in its first phase of life, when it is bright and sparkling and designed to transform thought and image rather than communicate transparently. In doing so, we quarantine it off from more serious and more referential forms of writing—that is, from metaphor in its dead state. We can identify this quarantining process in that metaphor as such is more likely to be part of a creative writing than a communication course. We see it again in the tendency to associate metaphor with figurative writing (poetry, novels: made up things) rather than philosophical writing [and criticism]. (Webb 2009)

The idea that language and literature have lifecycles and different domains (and contracts and rules that govern these domains) is an important one for thinking about written and interpretative violence. It fits well with the idea that there is a spectrum of literal and figural practices. The different stages of a linguistic lifecycle lie at different points on this spectrum and are governed by specific contracts that set rules about the way in which language is to be used and to what it must correspond. So delineating the contracts and rules of nonfiction, criticism, creative nonfiction, and fiction, should support an understanding of written and interpretative violence and ethical creative and critical judgment.

Fiction and creative nonfiction conceal, exaggerate and mislead, but they are not violent for doing so. When reviewers and critics perform the same actions they risk written and interpretative violence by distorting the meaning of the text they are examining. The same rhetorical techniques that support successful fiction can easily lead to violent criticism because critical texts such as reviews, essays, readers’ and referees’ reports—that is, texts about other texts—are circumscribed by specific contractual and ethical obligations to the texts they review and the readers they write for. The rules of meaning-making prescribed for them differ from those prescribed for fiction texts—the latter permit writers to exaggerate and mislead for the purposes of parody and suspense. Critical texts do not (and should not) exaggerate and mislead in the same ways because the ethics of criticism restrict these actions. They are expected to correspond to what they represent differently from the way in which fiction texts are expected to correspond to what they represent; if the latter are expected to correspond to anything. This is because the contracts of representation governing critical texts require them to make truth claims about other texts. Although contemporary theory rightly understands the final meaning and value of texts to be indeterminable, it is still expected that criticism correspond to the texts it treats. If this were not the case then we would not read critical texts for a sense of what they review, but only as self-referring objects. But most people expect some correspondence between criticism and its object. This does not mean we expect the correct and objective interpretation (various interpretations could be credible) but it requires some correspondence between criticism and its object (or subject/object if one wants to be pedantically phenomenological about it). This requirement sets rules for criticism that align its use of language with the referential, representational and literal end of the spectrum of correspondence. Criticism applies and accords with different rules of language than fiction and poetry. We wish to preserve for poetry and fiction their non-referential, figural and wildly associative qualities. Critical writing is less markedly metaphorical than they; or, as Webb considers it, it is metaphor in a different phase of its lifecycle, possessing properties of what Nietzsche calls ‘dead’ language.

The following example of creative interpretation helps us better understand the different contracts of correspondence that govern criticism and fiction. I opened the final print publication of HEAT magazine and read the following:

I once read a book in which the narrator replaced at every occurrence the word parakeet for the word paraclete, in the book he was reading. The narrator did this intentionally after his first misreading. He understood both sentences to be true but began to prefer the deeper connotations of the corrupted sentence—the paraclete within the wattle, the soaring of the paraclete, the majestic blue head of the paraclete. He began to think of the revised text as one of the books of the Apocrypha. (Cyrill 2011: 147-48)

Here a reader creatively transfigures a text. In misreading it, in overlaying one word with another, then effacing the first word with the second one, this reader finds fresh pleasure and spiritual significance. He prefers the misreading and the text affords the opportunity to seriously play in the Winnicottian sense discussed by David McCooey:

Winnicott’s description of the playing child ... is one that can equally apply to the writer [or reader]: she or he inhabits an area that ‘cannot be easily left, nor can it easily admit intrusions ... Into this play area the child gathers objects or phenomena from external reality and uses these in the service of some sample derived from inner or personal reality. Without hallucinating the child puts out a sample of dream potential and lives with this sample in a chosen setting of fragments from external reality’. (2010: 10)

Such play can be connected with Webb’s point that fiction writers engage with the ‘first phase of [metaphorical] life, when it is bright and sparkling and designed to transform thought and image rather than communicate transparently’ (Webb 2009). Cyrill’s anecdote about the paraclete is not only illuminative of playful reading, but also of poetry and fiction that foreground metaphorical, allusive and figural practices. Such writing absorbs itself in Nietzsche’s first phase of metaphorical inscription. However, it doesn’t use language in ways we expect from the contracts of representation governing nonfiction and criticism.

It is acceptable to freely connote from ‘parakeet’ to ‘paraclete’ in playful reading, and is something we expect and enjoy in writing where language is ‘poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished’ (Nietzsche 1873). However, most writers and readers would resist such intense connotative practices in critical and other nonfiction writing – yes, I acknowledge the already widely-acknowledged practices that cross borders and break boundaries; but now another angle: if, like the creative reader and poet, the critic insisted on reading ‘paraclete’, and that the original text was primarily about the paraclete, expounded on the long and noble literary history of transfiguring parrots into the Holy Spirit, and cited Gustave Flaubert’s Un coeur simple and Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s parrot to defend the case, then many readers may feel not only inadequate in the face, or beak, of literary history, but also that the meaning of the parakeet text has been rudely forced and contracts wrongly broken. They may conclude the idiosyncratic and solipsistic interpretation has been elevated to ‘expert practice’ and an act of interpretative violence has occurred.

When a critical essay ostensibly about a text that is about a parakeet becomes solely a meditation on the paraclete it becomes something other than a traditional critical essay. Contracts of representation and attendant rules of correspondence have changed and the critic has a simple and important ethical responsibility to the writer and readers of the parakeet text to acknowledge that a transfiguration has occurred in line with the change of contracts. This gives readers the chance to exit before the figural gymnastics start. Not to acknowledge a transfiguration has occurred changes figuration into distortion. This is an instance of the point I made earlier, which is that distortion and figuration manifest differently in the literal and figural domains. In one context the transfiguration of the parakeet into the paraclete is natural (where natural means an agreement between act and contract) and in another context it is an unnatural distortion (where unnatural means a lack of correspondence between the act and the contract). What is easy and natural in one domain is strained and unnatural in the other. What will be judged to be figuration in one text (a fiction text) will be judged to be distortion in another (a nonfiction text).

The tale of the parakeet is a vivid one that casts light on other forms of violent meaning-making where defacement and the camouflaging of that defacement take place. I have shown elsewhere there is such a thing as violent criticism and that it’s possible to treat texts violently, to strain their meaning and misrepresent them (Gibbons 2011). Such violence can take as many varied forms as there are creative violators, but there are common patterns and forms, of which I will mention a few. Violent criticism decontextualises itself from the text it reviews by the omission of crucial information about the text or by obscuring the text behind a distortive vivid vocabulary. It is anti-relational because it restrains subjects within stereotypes, delivers verdicts that function to inhibit further evaluation often without sufficient evidence and, by doing this, fails to register different ways in which the text might be valuable to different readers. It is misleadingly reductionist, distilling the text into misrepresentative elements—familiar examples of this type of misreading are the straw subject and cherry-picking fallacies. Violent criticism is as wrong as other forms of violence. It arises from transgressing the rules of correspondence that govern nonfiction contracts. My point in that paper was violent criticism exists. After demonstrating this, I was asked whether I could make similar claims about fiction. Do the contracts of representation that govern fiction mean it can only transfigure and never distort?

Again we need to distinguish the contracts of representation from the acts of writing that are meant to accord with them. This is necessary because writers such as Catherine Belsey (1994) and Terry Eagleton (1983) have argued that some contracts of fiction are inherently violent; for example, literary realism works to make social conditions that are unjust and unnatural appear natural, good and unalterable; thus, it is violent because it supports violence.3 Others have countered this claim by noting realist texts successfully challenge the very same injustices and pretensions to naturalness that are masked by other realist texts. In responding to this counterclaim some jump an epistemological level and contend that any writing that doesn’t bring attention to the fact it’s a construction is complicit with disguising (a synonym for textual violence) the fact that everything is a construction; so late-phase metaphorical ‘reality’ should acknowledge it once was and fundamentally still is first-phase metaphorical creation to be ethically responsible. By this reasoning, transgression of the contracts of realism and criticism is just and good. Surprise! The radical transgressors turn out to be do-gooders concerning themselves with breaking unjust contracts, blurring oppressive categorical distinctions and hybridising genres. True, these are honourable duties, but demoting contracts of correspondence in this way, believing late-phase metaphorical language is a dead one, and suggesting that writing should always meta-narrate, are neither entirely convincing nor attractive ideas. Creativity and life flourish in the representational modes, as well as in the non-representational ones and, of course, in the mixing of the two. To answer the question about whether fiction can violently distort doesn’t need to involve considering whether some fiction contracts are inherently violent. Even if they were it doesn’t follow that the violence of straining the rules of governing contracts occurs. This distinction means it’s possible to write non-violently in a violent form: an act of writing that accords with its governing contract cannot be violent in one sense.

Another thing complicating the issue of how fiction violently distorts things is that contracts of fiction proliferate and because of this readers’ expectations are less fixed than with non-fiction contracts. How can poetry and fiction strain the meaning when that is exactly what is expected of them? They’ve already been circumscribed by contracts of representation that say ‘In here, anything goes’ with regard to code- and mode-switching, and their tacit contracts permit them to move between the representational and non-representational modes as they please. The dust jacket and library categories mark off the borders and, as Webb notes above, fiction has been ‘quarantine[d] off from more serious and more referential forms of writing’ (2009). This controls any contamination that might arise from the mode mixing and contract breaking. It also contains fiction’s transgressions of the rules of meaning-making.

In nonfiction contracts violence is intrinsically linked to failing to tell the truth, where truth is understood to mean correspondence, between, say, a review and the text it reviews. All the synonyms for ‘straining the meaning’ (camouflage, distort, mislead, et cetera) refer to the transgression of rules of correspondence. Distortion can only occur in a relationship. To what does fiction relate? To what does it have a responsibility to correspond? While it has been cordoned off, and so too its relationship to truth, rendering it more and less privileged with regard to truth and lies, it has not been separated to the extent we might first assume. In addition to fiction and nonfiction sitting at different points along the spectrum of correspondence, different forms of fiction sit at different points too. Historical fiction might sit closer to nonfiction than does Alice in wonderland. Other realist fiction might not correspond to actual events, but rather with the discourses that shape our lives: its portrayal of contemporary sexual relationships might correspond to the ways in which we understand them today, making it plausible, or it might distort those discourses and relationships into implausibly misanthropic or idealised shapes. Still other realist fiction might not correspond to the discourses that shape our lives because it’s about the unbridgeable otherness of the sexual life of Hobbits, for instance; yet, it is classified as realist because it aims to maintain internal coherence. Thus it corresponds to itself, its parts to each other and they to its classic realist contract. It probably also corresponds to the laws of cause and effect and space. Further out, surrealist poetry and non-sense verse defy still more laws, but in doing so are always recognisable. They too correspond to their own contracts, which they are always signalling. They also correspond to dream lives, which follow the linguistic figures of metaphor and metonymy.

Perhaps fiction is not as quarantined from referential and representational rules as we first think; it’s just that it refers to different things in different ways to nonfiction. If distortion can only occur in a relationship between something and something, including a thing to itself, then in fiction the relationship is between the written act and the governing contract. Readers and writers lose interest when fiction strays too far from the terms it is usually always so careful to signal, even as it renegotiates them, because we sense when delightful and insightful figuration has given way to careless or pernicious distortion. It is this sense that underpins creative and critical judgment.

All literary forms relate to something they can distort and due to this they hold the potential for violence. Flaubert advised, ‘be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work’. That violence can be creative, and maybe even good, is something to explore elsewhere (this subject of textual violence and literature devours words). But I prefer to think of Madame Bovary as well figured, not violent, in the ways in which it reveals the easy corruptibility of romanticism. I likewise think most literature shows a commitment to being virtuous by the way it earnestly signals its terms and conditions. Unmarked transgression is true transgression, like transgression that doesn’t know it’s transgression. My guess is that a piece of writing is forming and negotiating contracts with itself and the reader from the first word onwards and it can fail or successfully configure its own terms and conditions from that point. Contracts don’t need to be understood as inflexible templates. They can be understood to be intensely processual practices.

I want to return to three writers referred to earlier. Julian Barnes writes that:

the notion of ‘contract’, indeed, especially in an economic sense, irritated [Flaubert] ... Is it a straightforward transaction in which the reader buys the pleasure manufactured by the novelist in his prose? It may seem so to the reader, but Flaubert puts up a ‘Not For Sale’ notice ... He concludes a notebook entry of December 1872 with this denial: ‘What I produce cannot be consumed and my services are neither to be defined nor bought’. (Barnes 2002: 253-54)

Žižek writes something that can be connected to Flaubert’s rejection of contracts:

when we perceive something as an act of violence, we measure it by a presupposed standard of what the ‘normal’ non-violent situation is—and the highest form of violence is the imposition of this standard with reference to which some events appear as ‘violent’. (2009: 55)

I would add that literature is as complex as consciousness, so how can contracts govern it? Writers like Flaubert won’t obey contracts, and theorists like Žižek would view them to be a form of violence. Yet, despite this resistance and the ongoing and desirable genre twisting, the idea of evolving contracts of representation is a helpful and valid one. Go figure.

End notes

  • 1. See Borradori, G (ed) 2003 ‘Deconstructing terrorism: Derrida’, in Philosophy in the time of terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 162-69.
  • 2. For important criticisms and critique of Žižek’s work see Dominick LaCapra’s History in transit (2004) and History and its limits (2009). There is a case to be made that Žižek fetishizes the ‘movement towards the paradox, aporia, or impasse [or divine violence] that “sublimely” brings language to a halt and renders impossible (or situates as helplessly naive) any form of recovery or viable agency’ (LaCapra 1994: 192). This essay aligns itself with LaCapra’s approach, which rejects the glorification of violence as sublime impasse and the idea that views any hope for positive improvement in creative and critical agency and practice to be naïve.
  • 3. For detailed discussion of this issue see Tallis 1988 and Gibbons 2005: 20-26.
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