Workshop: Literary Representations of Violence

Date: 9 June 2017
Time: 10.30-17.00
Venue: University of Amsterdam, University Library – Potgieterzaal, Singel 425, Amsterdam
Open to: Staff members, PhD Candidates, RMA students
Organisers: Marileen La Haije & Christina Lammer


This workshop brings together postgraduates and literary scholars who are specialized in configurations of literature and violence. The aim is to study literary representations of different forms of violence (e.g. trauma, ‘slow violence’, domestic abuse or state terrorism). We will discuss both theoretical and conceptual approaches to violence in relation to literary texts in which violence plays a significant role. Key questions of the workshop will be: In which ways are various forms of violence represented in different literary cultures and contexts? Which literary devices are used that can be related to violence? And what are the central topics in current debates on the nexus of literature and violence?

The invited (and confirmed) speakers are:

  • Dr Verónica Abrego, JGU Mainz
  • Dr Ben de Bruyn, Maastricht University
  • Dr Emy Koopman, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Preliminary Programme:

10.30 – Introduction
10.45 – Verónica Abrego, “Violence, Memory and Intersectionality”
11:15 – Discussion
12:00 – Lunch
13:00 – Ben de Bruyn, “Nature after war: Slow violence and planetary memory in recent literature”
13:30 – Discussion
14:15 – Coffee break
14:30 – Emy Koopman, “Entering ‘the dark chamber’: Ethical issues when reading or writing about rape”
15:00 – Discussion
15.45 – Round-up
16:15 – Drinks

Dr Verónica Abrego

In Memory and Intersectionality: Women as Victims of Argentine State Repression“ (1975-1983) – german original: Erinnerung und Intersektionalität: Frauen als Opfer der argentinischen Staatsrepression (1975-1983) – Verónica Abrego reflects on social and cultural memory of persecuted women during Argentine’s State Repression and she examines the figurations of female victims in the factual and fictional narrations of contemporary Argentine female authors.

The Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983) left the social enigma of 30,000 abducted and disappeared persons, whose identities and whereabouts are still being reconstructed step-by-step by means of traces, mostly by family members and ONGs, since 2004 also by state courts. Under the guise of the struggle against subversion, state repression broke cultural taboos: the systematic and gender-specific torture was carried out in secret camps, and the brutal and misogynic interrogatories of estimated 10,000 missing women did not even stop in front of pregnancy. Only a few hundreds have returned from those torture and death camps. Their children were often abducted with them, and the identity of their newborns was often exchanged, so that the search for the stolen children of those Desaparecidas is continuing in the present.

For the disentangling of the discourse fields and discourse transformations in which the persecution was embedded and in which their memory is now constituted, this reflection applies cultural-scientific theories to intersectionality, memory, decoloniality, and critical discourse analysis. Past and present discourses and practices beget today a writing against multiple stereotypes, obsolete and one-dimensional women’s journeys. In their work, Argentinean writers rebel not only against the systematic asymmetry of the persecution, but also against the participation of society and the individual in repression and forgetting.

In her talk at the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL) Abrego will refer to the theory frame of her work and show how it may contribute to the reading of literary works.

Dr Verónica Abrego is a graduate translator for Spanish, Portuguese, German and English and owns a Dr. phil. in romance cultural studies. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, she studied at the Argentine Universidad of Buenos Aires and at the German University of Mainz. Between 1998 and 2011, she worked as an expert translator of scientific texts. Since 2009 she teaches at the University of Mainz and briefly at the University of Saarbrucken, both in Germany. Current research interests: Memory in Latin America, Transculturalism and Cultural Translation in the context of migrations in the Spanish and Portuguese linguistic spaces.


Dr Ben de Bruyn

Nature after war. Slow violence and planetary memory in recent literature

This paper develops Rob Nixon’s influential notion of ‘slow violence’ (2011) by combining insights from environmental history with recent literary works about climate war. In line with Nixon’s call for more attention to the unspectacular, attritional violence of pollution and radiation, Jacob Hamblin (2013) and Robert Marzec (2015) have highlighted the structural ecological impact of the modern military, whose ‘environmentality’ and ‘catastrophic environmentalism’ play a crucial role in the anthropocene – leading Jean-Baptiste Fressoz and Christophe Bonneuil (2016) to speak of the ‘thanatocene’ instead. After explaining these ideas and the structural link between ecological degradation and military force projection, I will explore the ways in which recent novels represent this particular form of slow violence and highlight a multiscalar ‘planetary memory’ (Bond, De Bruyn and Rapson 2017). This account will pay special attention to Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (2015), Warren Ellis’s Normal (2016) and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer (2015).

Ben De Bruyn is associate professor of comparative literature at Maastricht University. He is the author of Wolfgang Iser. A Companion (De Gruyter, 2012) and co-editor of Literature Now. Key Terms and Methods for Literary History (Edinburgh UP, 2016). In addition, he has published on literature and the environment in journals including Critique, Studies in the Novel and Oxford Literary Review.


Dr Emy Koopman, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Entering “the dark chamber” – Ethical issues when reading or writing about rape

Authors trying to represent rape run the risk that readers’ reactions to their imagined rape scenes will not be limited to horror, but will rather involve lust, reinforcing the cultural script of rape as sexual fantasy. Some authors choose to elide the act of rape altogether, which is a way to avoid prurient reactions, but also obscures the victim’s pain. Others aestheticize the rape scene, or show it graphically – in both cases, voyeurism and sadism are lurking in the shadows. As the acclaimed South-African novelist J.M. Coetzee has posed in his essay “Into the Dark Chamber” (1992), both ignoring suffering and producing obscene imaginative representations of that suffering make the author complicit in the continuation of violence. According to Coetzee, authors need to avoid the trap of “lyrical inflation.” Equally acclaimed Afro-American novelist Toni Morrison, on the other hand, has indicated that smoothing and beautifying the language may help readers look at horrific scenes they would otherwise have avoided. We can recognize these authors’ diverging opinions in the way they portray rape in respectively Disgrace and The Bluest Eye.

Are there more and less ethical ways of representing rape? And what is the role of the reader in all this? In this presentation I provide some preliminary answers to these questions, by drawing upon Laura Tanner’s analysis of rape representations as “acts of imaginative violation” and upon Dominick LaCapra’s concept of “empathic unsettlement.” In addition, I present findings of a reader response study into literary rape representations.

Emy Koopman (1985) completed a research master in Literary Studies (2010) and a master in Clinical Psychology (2011), both at the University of Utrecht. Afterwards, she received a NWO-grant to study when and how literary works about suffering affect empathy and reflection. Her PhD-thesis Reading Suffering was defended at Erasmus University Rotterdam in September 2016 (cum laude). In the same month, Emy published her debut novel, Orewoet, which was praised by, a.o., NRC Handelsblad, and was nominated for the Fintro (longlist), one of the main three literary prizes in the Dutch language area. Currently, Emy is an independent researcher and author.