I am drawn to distressing topics like atrocity, horror, trauma, and pain. I am interested in what makes these topics distressing, who is distressed by them, how, and why. I have published on American slavery, the Holocaust, and the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and I regularly teach courses on extremity, violence, and war. My most recent work is informed by scholarship in the media studies, the digital humanities, and posthumanism. I am fascinated by the changing definitions of “reality” in this image-saturated, digital age.
Brief descriptions of my published books are as follows: Against the Unspeakable: Complicity, the Holocaust, and Slavery in America (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006) examines the widespread assumption that vast and violent events like the Holocaust, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the institution of slavery in the United States are unrepresentable or “unspeakable.” My book explores manifestations of the unspeakable in literature, testimony, graphic novels, film, literary theory, and philosophy. As an alternative to the unspeakable, I posited an ethics of complicity (as distinct from culpability and collaboration), linking the writings of philosophers Primo Levi and Karl Jaspers to recent work on complicity by visual theorist Johanna Drucker and comparative literature and Apartheid scholar Mark Sanders in order to outline more productive lines of engagement with different histories of suffering.
I have also published two volumes of edited essays that focus on “hip,” “cult,” or “underground” literature. The first, entitled Novels of the Contemporary Extreme (London: Continuum, 2006; reprinted 2008), is a collection of essays that I co-edited with Alain-Philippe Durand, now Professor of French and Director of the School of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Arizona, U.S.A. This book examines the phenomenon of extremity: the centrality of images of violence and wounding in contemporary global culture. It was the first to identify and describe this mode in literature, and included essays on works from North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. The second, Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho, Glamorama, and Lunar Park (London: Continuum, 2011) is the first edited collection of scholarly essays on this popular and polarising figure. Another direct result of my work on contemporary extreme fiction is an essay I published on French author Frédéric Beigbeder’s bilingual novel Windows on the World, which appeared in French translation in Frédéric Beigbeder et ses doubles (Rodopi, 2008).
My current book project, “Disappear Here”: Violence after Generation X, examines violence in fiction after the 1980s and 1990s. During this period, the subcultural phenomenon Generation X redefined the relation of representation to its object, initiating a move away from the 20th century approach to violence as a founding trauma that fiction reflects and responds to. After Generation X, in the 21st century, “reality” is produced for television and marketed for consumption, and fiction—in the sense of fashioning and fabricating, as well as illusion and delusion—assumes an important but unexamined role in the creation, construction, and preservation of “real violence.” Some of the conceptual scaffolding of this project appears in my essay on fiction by Jonathan Safran Foer that appeared in Novel: A Forum on Fiction 45.2 (2012), in a special issue devoted to the contemporary novel.
For a complete list of publications, see my C.V. on my webpage: http://www.uri.edu/faculty/mandel/Mandel.html