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  • Violence in Mind and Body:Jünger's Heart, Brecht's Brain, and Döblin's Hand
  • Derek Hillard (bio)

When we interrogate depictions of violence, we characteristically seek to uncover how violence is glorified, aestheticized, hence legitimized.1 Unsurprisingly, this focus suits an approach that is both predominantly hermeneutic and devoted to reading texts as historically and ideologically symptomatic, because scholarship traditionally treats violent depictions as positions in moral, ethical, or political discourses.2 Crucial to such investigations are often questions about perpetrators or victims. In this line of inquiry, a leading, if unasked, question is how would one analyze this depiction if it were reality. Emerging into view, then, is a paradoxical cohabitation of fascination for the spectacular with the insistence on a corresponding real. The question of legitimacy is informed by an imperative that would run something like this: react to violence as if it were always real, according to the maxim that your reaction would become universal.

Consider the extensive research on violence. We might expect critical appraisal to echo the famous juridical threshold for obscenity: we know it when we see it. Noting that this is not the case, the film scholar Marco Abel proffers a "Spinozist provocation," namely, "We do not even know what violent images are, let alone how they work."3 To assume that the stakes in violence always concern the characters, acts, and reality as content might get in the way of a more probing consideration of this question. Showing similar prudence, interdisciplinary theorists point out the difficulties in discussing such "an extremely complex phenomenon involving major ambiguity between the destruction [End Page 327] and the creation of order."4 Yet it is not merely a question of quiddity but of modus and locus: where is violence and how do we know it?

The established lines of inquiry alone are not sufficient to account for ways of looking at violence. A symptomatic approach assumes an efficient fixity of act, actors, and ideologically received representation, one supported by a reliance on the concealed real. A formalist investigation may intrigue not only because it eschews the ubiquitous causal outrage but also because it reminds "that fictional violence exists only by virtue of the imaginative shaping and transformations of an author's touch."5 Nevertheless, by focusing on intention and authorial imagination, the formalist view overlooks readers and the question of mind and body. A Deleuzian framework, such as that of Abel, yields insight into the possibilities of finitude, but does its dependence on the trope of deferral not seem obligatory?6 To take investigations of violence to the next stage, do we not need to locate a role for the reader's imagination?

In a 2000 essay collection, Karl Heinz Bohrer noted that "we look predominately upon violence as literary and artistic content, but do not ask ourselves about the form."7 Artists present violence because its formal expression accommodates the impulse for a style that "jolts" or "wounds" readers.8 In this approach we see not just a shift to the question of form, one developed in Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht's suggestive study of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, published in the same collection, in which the reader "feels himself ever more remorselessly hounded by this prose."9 We also see a renewed exploration of aesthetic experience and the autonomous status of the work.

Informed by cognitive cultural studies or "bioculturalism," critics from other camps have begun to examine more closely experience in the context of art.10 Cognitive literary studies track in various ways. Much of this research studies what texts can reveal about mental states as represented in the work; other research looks for what texts can reveal about how our minds represent. Some descriptions of narrative in these fields argue that the same underlying processes are involved whether listening to a real person or to a narrator, in which the element of fictionality is downplayed, undertheorized, or dropped altogether.11 In the words of Monika Fludernik, "Readers construct meanings and impose frames on their interpretations of texts just as people have to interpret real-life experience in terms of available schemata."12 It is often assumed that readers regard the...


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pp. 327-348
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