Witnessing Sadism in Texts of the American South

Scholarship as Claire Raymond

Looking at works by Carrie Mae Weems, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Allison, Carson McCullers, and Zora Neale Hurston, Claire Raymond uncovers a pattern of femininity constructed around representations of sadistic violence in American women’s literature and photography from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dickinson’s poetry is read through its relationship to the Southern Agrarian critics who championed her work. While the representations of violence found in Carrie Mae Weems’s installation From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, Morrison’s Beloved, Dickinson’s poetry, O’Connor’s ‘A View of the Woods’ and ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find,’ Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad CafĂ©, and Hurston’s Mules and Men are diverse in terms of artistic presentation, all allude to or are set in the antebellum and Jim Crow South. In addition, all involve feminine characters whose subjectivity is shaped by the practice of seeing acts of violence inflicted where there can be no effective resistance. While not proposing an equivalence between representing violence in visual images and written text, Raymond does suggest that visual images of violence can be interpreted in context with written evocations of violent imagery. Invoking sadism in its ethical sense of violence enacted on a victim for whom self-defense and recourse of any kind are impossible, Raymond’s study is ultimately an exploration of the idea that a femininity constructed by the positioning of feminine characters as witnesses to sadistic acts is a phenomenon distinctly of the American South that is linked to the culture’s history of racism.

Click Here to Buy

Read Review