Skip to main content Skip to navigation

My Research

[Beyond] Posthuman Violence: Epic Rewritings of Ethics in the Contemporary Novel

My research has represented an important journey for me. It has been a journey in time as it has taken me a handful of years and this is, finally, my last. I have also travelled in space across countries and languages. I have taken advantage of my past and been able to read texts in their original language when I was able to (Anglophone fiction, Francophone fiction and, of course, Italian), and when my knowledge has not been enough, I have read translations from Japanese and German.

It is then been a linguistic journey as well, but it has been above all a personal journey through themes I consider important today both in my life and in world literature. These themes are Language, Desire, Information and, to tie them all, Ethics.

Part I - The Inadequacy of Language: Suicide and the Confession D. F. Wallace

In the first part of my work, I concern myself with Language and the narrative form of the confession, which together build the question of identity. The predominant figures in this section are irony and paradox. Suicide is the form of violence of confession as it moves between guilt and the impossibility to reveal oneself. An analysis of David Foster Wallace’s story ‘Good Old Neon’ offers me an adequate example and stimulus.

Part II - Reality as the Perversion of Desire: Psychopathologies and the Illusion of Society in the Works of Ballard, Banks and Kirino

In the second section, I deal with Desire through the works of Iain Banks, Natsuo Kirino and James Ballard. Banks’ ample narrations (which already anticipate the question of epic) explore the relationship between imagination and reality. The relationships between Banks’ characters are based on desires connected to family and love. One of the forms of narration that I explore in Banks is the interrogation.

Natsuo Kirino’s work digs into the violence exerted by a group of women to defend one of them. In the guise of a thriller, Kirino writes of the transformation of simple, subjugated women in murderers.

James Ballard famously crosshatches the question of Desire with Technology. One of the first to investigate the perversity of the contemporary landscape, Ballard depicts characters at times revolving to primordial instincts adapted to the new times. The new man becomes the old man.

Part III - The Message is the Sender, the Message is Violence: Information Overloading and the Perversion of Metaphor Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk and the Cyberpunk

Information is the subject of the third unit. I will depict writers, who build their novels on Dantesque Infernal Irony such as Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. If Bret Easton Ellis’s writing is based on metonymy and synecdoche, in Palahniuk hell is very oxymoronic and paradoxical. The narrative form both writers favour is undoubtedly satire. And their satires are full of violence just like Dante’s Inferno. Here, the body becomes the source of investigation for the self.

The satirical overabundance of information of Ellis and Palahniuk is followed by information turned into transcendental reality in William Gibson’s cyberpunk. In a misguided confusion between metaphor and metaphysics, Gibson’s characters despise their own bodies as mere meat.

The post-cyberpunk explorations of Neal Stephenson and Maurice Dantec offer an interesting counterpart to Gibson’s transcendence in characters fighting for immanence and the restitution of metaphor to its role of bridge between the mind and the reality outside.

Part IV - An Epic Return to the ‘Serious’: Epic Rewritings of Ethics in the Contemporary Novel

The last section searchs through forms of ethics in contemporary fiction. Taking my inspiration from Wu Ming 1’s New Italian Epic Manifesto I will detect forms of Epic from different places around the world:

  • The Ecocentrism of Wu Ming, Giuseppe Genna and Roberto Saviano in Italy, based on the writing of vast thrillers or reports between fiction and fact, which try to be allegories in a language only apparently simple;
  • The ethics of obsession founded on the use of figures of repetition in the work of the English David Peace, who narrates evil from Yorkshire to Japan;
  • The ethics of sacrifice and translation in the weird narrations of China Miéville;
  • The ethics of seclusion of Cormac McCarthy, with his solitary characters and his sparse, evocative language, which create an ancient world even when talking about the future;
  • A renewed ethics of engagement of writers such as Roberto Saviano and William T. Vollmann, who have put their lives on the line in order to understand contemporary violence.

Epic is rhetorically characterized by the hyperbole, the figure of the extreme, the one that is closer to violence as excess. I ultimately try to understand how these narratives react or act the hyperbole of violence.


Prof. Thomas Docherty

Professor of English and of Comparative Literature