1st Edition

Witnessing Sadism in Texts of the American South
Women, Specularity, and the Poetics of Subjectivity

ISBN 9781409451051
Published May 1, 2014 by Routledge
232 Pages

USD $160.00

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Book Description

Looking at works by Carrie Mae Weems, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Allison, Carson McCullers, and Zora Neale Hurston, Claire Raymond uncovers a pattern of femininity constructed around representations of sadistic violence in American women's literature and photography from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dickinson's poetry is read through its relationship to the Southern Agrarian critics who championed her work. While the representations of violence found in Carrie Mae Weems's installation From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, Morrison's Beloved, Dickinson’s poetry, O'Connor's 'A View of the Woods' and 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find,' Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café, and Hurston's Mules and Men are diverse in terms of artistic presentation, all allude to or are set in the antebellum and Jim Crow South. In addition, all involve feminine characters whose subjectivity is shaped by the practice of seeing acts of violence inflicted where there can be no effective resistance. While not proposing an equivalence between representing violence in visual images and written text, Raymond does suggest that visual images of violence can be interpreted in context with written evocations of violent imagery. Invoking sadism in its ethical sense of violence enacted on a victim for whom self-defense and recourse of any kind are impossible, Raymond's study is ultimately an exploration of the idea that a femininity constructed by the positioning of feminine characters as witnesses to sadistic acts is a phenomenon distinctly of the American South that is linked to the culture's history of racism.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: sadism and specularity: mirroring femininity and sadism; Empathy and risk: photography, writing, the softest voice; Projects of identity in Carrie Mae Weems’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried: the crucible of witnessing; Sacrificed daughters and the grammar of enslavement in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Flannery O’Connor’s ’A View of the Woods’, and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina; ’The adequate of Hell’, or, how to watch the other suffer: Dickinson, Ransom, and Tate; Queer Southern belles: the transgender object of desire in O’Connor, McCullers, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men; Sadism and the open body: Kant, Scarry, and being in relation to the suffering other; By way of a conclusion: what I have done in your name; Appendix; Works cited; Index.

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Claire Raymond is a Lecturer in Art History and Sociology at the University of Virginia, USA. She is the author of Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Ashgate, 2010).


’Moving trauma studies in a fresh analytical direction, Claire Raymond highlights the impact of trauma and its legacy in a profound and provocative manner. Her fascinating book is a welcome addition to the field.’ Debra Walker King, University of Florida, USA