Thinking Cruelty Otherwise (Seminar at ACLA 2014)

full name / name of organization: 
Ashley Hope Pérez / Indiana University

While critics often discuss cruelty as something portrayed or represented, recent considerations of cruelty (e.g., Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty, José Ovejero's La ética de la crueldad, and Jean Franco's Cruel Modernity) have begun to shift the focus from content to how works act on readers and viewers. Participants in this seminar will continue to reconsider the diverse ways in which cruelty may reside in texts and in reading and viewing experiences.

Of particular interest are considerations of cruelty in the context of recent studies in narrative ethics and ethical criticism. For example, if we take seriously Levinas's notion that the encounter with the Other produces the ethical self and that this encounter is a necessarily disruptive, assaultive (cruel) experience, it would seem that ethics and cruelty are intertwined. Extending this notion of encounter to reading (as in Adam Newton's Narrative Ethics) places cruelty in crucial relation to aesthetic experience and ethics. Other possible theoretical engagements include examining the place of cruelty in the Lacanian account of the entry into language, Blanchot's writing on disaster, Kristeva's work on the abject, or Dominick LaCapra's discussion of structural trauma.

The seminar seeks contributions dealing with texts (broadly defined) from any period or genre; theoretical engagements that differ from the possibilities outlined above are welcome. Additional areas for exploration include:
• power in writing, reading, and interpreting
• assaultive narrative, artistic, or cinematic techniques
• textual resistance to interpretation
• extremity in the arts
• strategies for "containing" cruelty through interpretation

KEYWORDS: cruelty; critical theory; ethical criticism; narrative ethics; rhetoric; aggression; textual resistance; representation; art; film; affect theory

Feel free to email the organizer (ashperez -at- indiana -dot- edu); however, all paper abstracts must ultimately be submitted through the ACLA system here:

When submitting, select the "Thinking Cruelty Otherwise" seminar from the drop-down menu of sessions.