The Prestige of Violence: American Fiction, 1962-2007
In The Prestige of Violence Sally Bachner argues that, starting in the 1960s, American fiction laid claim to the status of serious literature by placing violence at the heart of its mission and then insisting that this violence could not be represented.
Bachner demonstrates how many of the most influential novels of this period are united by the dramatic opposition they draw between a debased and untrustworthy conventional language, on the one hand, and a violence that appears to be prelinguistic and unquestionable, on the other. Genocide, terrorism, war, torture, slavery, rape, and murder are major themes, yet the writers insist that such events are unspeakable. Bachner takes issue with the claim made within trauma studies that history is the site of violent trauma inaccessible to ordinary representation. Instead, she argues, both trauma studies and the fiction to which it responds institutionalize an inability to address violence.
Examining such works as Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Bachner locates the postwar prestige of violence in the disjunction between the privileged security of wealthier Americans and the violence perpetrated by the United States abroad. The literary investment in unspeakable and often immaterial violence emerges in Bachner’s readings as a complex and ideologically varied literary solution to the political geography of violence in our time.
University of Georgia Press