Experiments in Violence: The Problem of Oppositional Politics in Late Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Fiction

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Paradoxically, Benedict Anderson’s notion of the nation as an imagined community occupying a territory at once bounded and sovereign became commonplace around the same time that prominent global novelists were beginning to reject the obligation to reproduce that fantasy. I consider two generations of novelists who do so in the late twentieth century. J.M. Coetzee articulates the failure of sovereign boundaries in the postcolony and the changing nature of the relationship between the citizen-subject and the state, while Sebald considers the possibility that a new form of non-hierarchical community might come into being amid the European ruins of the Second World War. For both authors, such projects rely on an acknowledgment of the limitations, disappearance, or outright absence of the nation-state, despite its purported centrality in modern life. More recent Anglophone novelists, by contrast, feel obliged to think with and within the infrastructure of global capitalism, paying particular attention to individuals who have been either empowered or dispossessed by global flows of resources, people, and information. Teju Cole, Indra Sinha, and Colson Whitehead are among these writers who can indeed sketch and animate the community to come, and they do so in forms predicated on the extinction of anything like the individual citizen-subject in favor of new heterogeneous and often radically antisocial forms of community. These novels offer their variously damaged (former) individuals as protagonists who militantly oppose the partitioning of society into friends and enemies, since such distinctions ultimately encourage the classification of groups according to metaphysical categories of good and evil. The common purpose of these protagonists is instead to negate the negativity of that very opposition in the hope that anything else—some intelligent form of life—might grow.






Kellish, Jacqueline (2020). Experiments in Violence: The Problem of Oppositional Politics in Late Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Fiction. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21015.


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