Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The Department of English

Document Type



Richard Wright, Marlon James, Cormac McCarthy and Ken Levine are each celebrated in their respective fields but notorious for their obscene depictions of violence. Contrary to trauma theorists’ claims that violence shatters language and cannot be spoken, these writers speak violence in its most disturbing forms: torn eyeballs, dead infants, forced fecal consumption and mechanized rape. I argue that obscene violence, much like obscene language, creates a space of intimacy in which transgressive, subversive and oppositional thoughts may be spoken. By alienating their texts from the larger reading public, these writers entice a smaller group of sympathetic readers to develop affective attachments to their stories. In other words, repulsion and attraction, disgust and fascination, segregate the public into insiders and outsiders. Obscene violence carves out an intimate space of representation, a magic circle open to the public but separate from the public. Because obscene violence will not be spoken about in polite society, its employment in these texts imbues the writer’s ideas with the power of the secret, the sacred and the criminal. Such violence works as a rhetorical device in service of larger critiques against American and Jamaican cultural, political and religious institutions. Literary violence does not necessarily entail a direct critique of violence. Because violence plays an oversized role in American and Jamaican history, particularly in the foundation of race and racial difference, images of violence can be attached to a multitude of ideas. Within this study, these ideas include the white fascination with race novels, the mythology of Jamaican Maroons, the dogma of the Catholic Church and the causal link between videogames and adolescent aggression.

Committee Chair

Lavender III, Isiah