Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Thomas Carmichael

Second Advisor

Dr. Allan Pero


This dissertation explores narrative representations of violence in close interpersonal relationships (between family members, lovers, and best friends) in novels and short stories by Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Angela Carter, Kathy Acker and Donald Barthelme. Part I follows and explicates theoretically various logics of violence, drawing mainly on theoretical contributions by Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, and Catharine MacKinnon. It explains the act of violence in intimate relationships as a bypassing of the subject’s desire in favour of that of the “Primordial Father.” It associates Lacan’s idea of the unattainable “phallic function limit” with Judith Butler’s conceptualization of the “sovereign conceit,” and demonstrates that by situating oneself in that position, the perpetrator of violence in close interpersonal relationships follows patterns of interaction that are always sadistic in structure. The transition from an older understanding of power, based on hierarchies and the permanent threat of violence against the body, to more recent theorizations of power and agency, which give more space to horizontal branching and strive for inclusion, has come to figure prominently in contemporary thought, and these newer structures are decisive for the ways in which contemporary writers construct their narrative plots and fictional characters. Part II of this dissertation analyzes the interdependence between an author’s aesthetic choices and the ethics espoused by the text through the representation of physical violence in close interpersonal relationships. The five chapters on individual authors are organized around the following central themes: clinical and critical aspects of iii social and psychological transgression (McEwan), misogyny as global psychosis (Amis), the danger of utopian projections (Carter), the “sadomasochism” of civilization (Acker), and the overbearing patriarchal inheritance (Barthelme). The concluding section translates the map of interpersonal conflicts and negotiations produced in the second section into a number of theoretical assertions regarding what is specific to new modes of literary representation of violence in the second half of the twentieth century.



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