Violent subject(ivitie)s: a comparative study of violence and subjectivity in the fiction of Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, J. M. Coetzee, and Yvonne Vera
Phiri, Aretha Myrah Muterakuvanthu
This thesis examines the links between and intersections of violence and subjectivity in a comparative, transatlantic and transnational study of the fiction of four recognized international authors, namely, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, J. M. Coetzee, and Yvonne Vera. Despite their differing geographical, temporal, cultural and socio-political situations and situatedness, these writers’ common, thematic concerns with taboo topics of violence such as rape, incest, infanticide and necrophilia, situate violence as a constitutive, intimate and intricate part of subjectivity. In providing varied, and not unproblematic, renderings of the mutuality of violence and subjectivity, their novels do not just reveal the ambiguous and ambivalent character and the fragile and tenuous processes of (exercising and asserting) subjectivity; their fiction enacts and engenders its own kind of textual violence that reflects and refracts the (metaphysical and epistemological) violence of the subjective process. Raising crucial questions about the place, role and efficacy of literature in articulating violence and subjectivity, this thesis argues that violence is meaningful to and constitutive of the subjective process in these authors’ works that offer an experiential, lived appreciation of subjectivity. Providing an historical and socio-political contextualization of the novels, the thesis maintains that these authors’ specific interpretations of violence in their fiction necessarily interrogates and reconfigures questions of race and culture, gender and sexuality, as well as morality; that is, it reexamines and repositions conventional interpretations of being and belonging, of subjectivity in general. In this way, their fiction reveals literature’s ability not merely to disprove theory but, through its very textuality, extend and enhance it to reflect the materiality of being.