As twentieth-century writers confronted the political violence of their time, they were overcome by rhetorical despair. Unspeakable acts left writers speechless. They knew that the atrocities of the century had to be recorded, but how? A dead body does not explain itself, and the narrative of the suicide bomber is not the story of the child killed in the blast. In the past, communal beliefs had justified or condemned the most horrific acts, but the late nineteenth-century crisis of belief made it more difficult to come to terms with the meaning of violence.
In this major new study, Joyce Wexler argues that this situation produced an aesthetic dilemma that writers solved by inventing new forms. Although Symbolism, Expressionism, Modernism, Magic Realism, and Postmodernism have been criticized for turning away from public events, these forms allowed writers to represent violence without imposing a specific meaning on events or claiming to explain them. Wexler's investigation of the way we think and write about violence takes her across national and period boundaries and into the work of some of the greatest writers of the century, among them Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Alfred Doblin, Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, and W. G. Sebald.
Joyce Wexler is Professor and Chair of the English Department at Loyola University Chicago, USA. She is the author of three books, including Who Paid for Modernism? (1997). She has published widely on twentieth-century aesthetic movements, cultural studies, publishing history, Conrad, Joyce, and Lawrence, and is Vice President of the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America.
Acknowledgments Introduction: The Problem 1. Symbolism in a Secular Age 2. T. S. Eliot's Expressionist Angst 3. D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love and Men at War 4. Ulysses, the Mythical Method, and Magic Realism 5. The German Route from Ulysses to Magic Realism 6. How to Write about the Holocaust Epilogue: The End of the Secular Age Bibliography Index