1st Edition

Interpreting Violence Narrative, Ethics and Hermeneutics

Edited By Cassandra Falke, Victoria Fareld, Hanna Meretoja Copyright 2023

    Representations of violence surround us in everyday life – in news reports, films and novels – inviting interpretation and raising questions about the ethics of viewing or reading about harm done to others. How can we understand the processes of meaning-making involved in interpreting violent events and experiences? And can these acts of interpretation themselves be violent by reproducing the violence that they represent? This book examines the ethics of engaging with violent stories from a broad hermeneutic perspective. It offers multidisciplinary perspectives on the sense-making involved in interpreting violence in its various forms, from blatant physical violence to less visible forms that may inhere in words or in the social and political order of our societies. By focusing on different ways of narrating violence and on the cultural and paradigmatic forms that govern such narrations, Interpreting Violence explores the ethical potential of literature, art and philosophy to expose mechanisms of violence while also recognizing their implication in structures that contribute to or benefit from practices of violence.

    List of contributors

    Interpreting Violence, Violent Interpretations: Introduction

    Cassandra Falke, Victoria Fareld and Hanna Meretoja

    Part I. Representing Violence, Violent Representations

    1. Witnessing Violence in Literature and Humanitarian Discourse
    2. Cassandra Falke (UiT - The Arctic University of Norway)

    3. Memory, Encore! Popular Music, Power and Postwar Memory
    4. Avril Tynan (Turku Institute for Advanced Studies)

    5. Rethinking Planetarity in the Specter of (Neo)colonial Violence: The Strangler Vine and ‘Thugs’ in America
    6. Amrita Ghosh (Linneaus University)

    7. Variants and Consequences of Violence in Iris Murdoch’s The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
    8. Jakob Lothe (University of Oslo)

    9. Violent Appetites: Distaste and the Aesthetics of Violence
    10. Tero Eljas Vanhanen (University of Helsinki)

      Part II. Understanding the Violence of Perpetrators

    11. A Manifesto on the Hermeneutics of Violence
    12. Brian Schiff and Michael Justice (American University of Paris)

    13. Narrative Mastery over Violence in Perpetrator-Authored Documents: Interpreting Closure in The Stroop Report
    14. Erin McGlothlin (Washington University)

    15. Space of Murder, Space of Freedom: The Forest as a Posttraumatic Landscape in Holocaust Narratives
    16. Helena Duffy (Turku Institute for Advanced Studies)

      Part III. Articulating Inherent Violence

    17. Physical, Emotional and Discursive Violence: The Problem of Narrative in Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle
    18. Hanna Meretoja (University of Turku)

    19. Reading Violence, Violent Reading: Levinas and Hermeneutics
    20. Colin Davis (Royal Holloway, University of London)

    21. Style and the Violence of Passivity in Samuel Beckett’s How It Is.
    22. Amanda Dennis (American University of Paris)

    23. Vulnerability, Violence and Nonviolence

               Victoria Fareld (Stockholm University)



    Cassandra Falke is Professor of English Literature at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway. She is the author of three books and the editor or co-editor of three others: Intersections in Christianity and Critical Theory (ed. 2010), Literature by the Working Class: English Autobiography, 1820-1848 (2013), The Phenomenology of Love and Reading (2016), Phenomenology of the Broken Body (co-ed., 2019), Wild Romanticism (co-ed. 2020), and Global Human Rights Fiction (forthcomig). She is the President of the American Studies Association of Norway and leads the English literature section at UiT and the Interdisciplinary Phenomenology research group.

    Victoria Fareld is Associate Professor of Intellectual History at Stockholm University. Her research focuses mainly on political philosophy, theory of history and memory studies, with particular interests in the connections between time, ethics, memory and historical justice. Her most recent book is From Marx to Hegel and Back: Capitalism, Critique, and Utopia (co-ed, 2020). Among her recent articles and book chapters are "Time" (2022), "Framing the Polychronic Present" (2022), "Entangled Memories of Violence" (Memory Studies, 14:1, 2021), "Coming to Terms with the Present," (2019) and "History, Justice and the Time of the Imprescriptible" (2018).

    Hanna Meretoja is Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory at the University of Turku, nland, and Principal Investigator in the Academy of Finland research consortium "Instrumental Narratives: The Limits of Storytelling and New Story-Critical Narrative Theory" (2018–2023). Her research is mainly in the fields of narrative studies, cultural memory studies and trauma studies. Her monographs include The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History, and the Possible (2018) and The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory (2014), and she has co-edited, with Colin Davis, The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma (2020) and Storytelling and Ethics: Literature, Visual Arts and the Power of Narrative (2018), and the special issues "Cultural Memorial Forms" (Memory Studies, 2021, with Eneken Laanes) and "Critical Approaches to the Storytelling Boom" (Poetics Today, 2022, with Maria Mäkelä).

    "Can violence be narrated? Can language help us understand the pain of others, of ourselves? Can words and images give shape to extreme bodily and mental experiences? How do we "interpret" violence and suffering – and can these interpretations be violent themselves? This book raises fundamental questions about the reach and limits of language and human imagination. At the same time, it urges us to radically think through – supported by a rich repertoire of philosophical, narrative, and cultural concepts – the nature of violence and the entire range of its brutal and subtle forms."

    -Jens Brockmeier, Professor of Psychology, The American University of Paris, France

    "The title Interpreting Violence immediately calls up the need for witnessing, that crucial activity that is the only thing we can do. But witnessing, as the first chapter of this book already intimates, is a socio-cultural attitude that can counter the violence of ghoulish reveling - remember Adorno’s warning. The authors, all renowned cultural analysts, delve deep into the many different aspects of the presence of violence in culture; the impossibility yet necessity to represent it. Erasure is no better solution than voyeurism. This is a book that matters."

    -Mieke Bal, Cultural analyst and video artist