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Stephen Tatum: “Cormac McCarthy, Roberto Bolaño, and the Natural History of Destruction”

April 25, 2012 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm  |  Cowell, Room 132


In his 1997 lecture series on literature and the air raids of the Second World War, W.G. Sebald asks at one point “how ought such a natural history of destruction begin?” In the process of beginning himself to answer this question, Sebald critiques the German literary failure to confront “the true state of the material and moral ruin in which the country found itself,” to relay the “very real horrors” of the constitutive feature of the European postwar landscape: death. As some critics have more recently observed, death constitutes the very being not only of the Holocaust but also of the contemporary genocide accompanying neoliberalism or our globalizing world system. With Sebald’s question (and provisional answers to it) as a prompt, this talk explores questions of style and affective dynamics in the representations of violence and genocide in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands exemplified by Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

As I have argued in another context, the postregional US West ought to be regarded as a rather spectral, deterritorialized discursive terrain produced by the intersection of media imagery and the migration of transnational capital and human and animal bodies with particular geophysical terrains. These fictions by McCarthy and Bolaño specifically disclose how a postregional or global South economy of representation centers on the violent manner in which embodied laboring populations on both sides of the border are brought into and positioned in the spaces of relatively wealthy societies, particularly its maquiladoras and the transportation networks produced by flows of drugs, weapons, and immigrants. Through an analysis of figures of suspended agency living in the aftermath of violent trauma, I will speculate further on the ethical and political consequences of a forensic aesthetic combining pensiveness with parataxis.

Stephen Tatum is Professor of English and Director of the Environmental Humanities graduate program at the University of Utah, where he teaches courses in US West literature, theories of popular culture, and environmental writing and ecocriticism. His recent publications include award-winning essays on postregional western American literature and culture, an edited collection Reading ‘The Virginian’ in the New West, and the books Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’: A Reader’s Guide and In the Remington Moment. He is currently at work on a projected titled Morta Las Vegas.

This event is sponsored by the Institute for Humanities Research, and the departments of American Studies and Literature. Staff support provided by the IHR.


April 25, 2012
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Cowell, Room 132
Cowell College 1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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