Violence, culture and identity

Sunday 22 June 2003

Fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, the paintings of Picasso, accounts of the Holocaust and bullfighting in Spain have one thing in common – they are all cultural representations of violence which will be examined this week at the University of St Andrews.

These and other representations of violence in European art, literature and cinema from the Middle Ages to the present day will be discussed at a major conference at the University.

Almost 100 academics from all over the World will gather to discuss the role of violence and in particular the cultural expression of violence through art, literature and cinema and how it shapes national identity.

The international conference, ‘Violence, Culture and Identity’ (27-29 June, 2003) is being organised by the University’s Institute of Cultural Identity Studies within the School of Modern Languages.

Amongst the topics covered will be:

· The violence of the Holocaust and concentration camps and the difference in the treatment of Jews and non-Jews · Violence in Fairy tales · The terror and ‘fatal attraction’ of tall buildings, including the Twin Towers · The violence and symbolism of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ · Irish Nationalism – how did Irish cultural nationalism turn into violence? · The social function of the comic and the function of humour to denounce society · The German soldier of the Second World War and ensuing literary interpretations · Female criminality in particular women who kill other women · The depiction of mothers who rule their daughters with fear in Germany · Spain as a nation obsessed with the presentation of violence · The recent increase in extreme violence in German crime fiction, particularly by female writers · Surrealist violence and why one French writer suggested September 11th was an act of Surrealist politics · Public self-mutilation in Austria as a way of depicting images of concentration camp victims · The violence of the hung, drawn and quartered criminal in Early Modern England · Drug cartels, death squads, domestic violence and guerrilla groups in Columbia · National Socialism as a violation of German identity · The ritual of bullfighting as a celebrated national spectacle in Spain · The tragic and bloody history of Paraguay and how it has shaped the identity of its people · The Death Penalty – violence committed in the name of the state – and the current effect of DNA evidence on vacating death penalties · Bearing witness to violence and the effect of repeated television coverage of atrocities

Scottish novelist A. L. Kennedy will open the conference by performing readings from her more violent texts and internationally- renowned Professor Helmut Kuzmics of the University of Graz, Austria will deliver a plenary session on the theories of Norbert Elias, who addresses the question: how is it possible for so many human beings to live in comparative peace and harmony without permanent fear of being physical attack?

Amongst the highlights are:

‘Fairy Tale Violence, Gender and Cultural Identity’ (Dr Laura Martin, University of Glasgow) – an examination of the ‘deeply violent’ nature of fairy tales which deal with our greatest fears and wishes and focus on the perpetrator and the victim. Dr Martin focuses on its beginnings through the brothers Grimm and why violence of popular folk tale is civilised to teach moral lessons to children.

‘The Spectacle of Violence: Art, Culture and Identity in the Spanish Corridas of Pablo Picasso’ (Dr John Finlay) – a study of Picasso’s ‘monumental’ mural ‘Guernica’, which was painted to mark the tragic events surrounding the outbreak of Civil War in Spain in 1937. Dr Finlay examines Picasso’s representation of, and fascination with, violence, particularly expressed through the image of the bullfight, a central motif of ‘Guernica’. He also looks at the ways in which Picasso mixed brute violence, death and eroticism with culture and identity.

‘French Surrealism and Female Criminality: The Papin Sisters Case’ (Dr Rachel Edwards, University of Newcastle) – a study of the case of the Papin sisters, two maids who murdered their female employers in Le Mans in 1933. Images of brutality of women towards women had a considerable impact on the French psyche, provoked much intellectual debate at the time and has been reproduced in plays, novels and films in recent years.

‘The Call to the Arms – Irish Nationalism and the Emergence of Violence’ (Georg Grote, University College, Dublin) – an examination of physical violence as an integral characteristic of any nationalist movement and how movements develop from intellectual and cultural debate to violence. He also looks at the close relationship between literature and politics and the influence writers had on the masses.

‘Violence and Gender in El Salvador’ (Mo Hume, Institute of Latin American Studies, Liverpool) – a study of the ‘extremely high’ levels of murder (between 6000 and 8000 per year) in El Salvador, which places it amongst the most violent societies in the World. In addition, El Salvador is also infamous for high levels of domestic violence and abuse. Mo’s research has found that individuals and communities in low- income areas of El Salvador possess few alternatives to violence when it comes to resolving conflict.

‘French Female Jews in the Nazi Camps’ (Margaret-Anne Hutton, University of Nottingham) – a study of over 120 testimonial accounts written by French female Jews and non-Jews who were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps. The accounts provide a disturbing insight into attitudes to and treatment of Jews and non-Jews, anti-semitism amongst non-Jewish French deportees, and what knowledge deportees had of concentration camps before they arrived.

‘Headache and Heartache: Violence in the ‘Ritter vom Turn’ (Dr Anne Simon, University of Bristol) – a study of the 15th century German text which was ‘a guide to virtuous and socially acceptable behaviour for young ladies of the nobility’ which consists of around 150 stories of virtuous and wicked women intended to act as models of behaviour to be emulated on eschewed. Sources include the Bible, Classical literature, chronicles, Saints’ lives, legends and personal experiences of the author. Dr Simon explores the casual and uncommented violence committed on those women who transgress and in general the mediaeval attitudes of violence committed by men towards women.

‘Women pamphleteers of the German Reformation’ (Ulrike Zitzlsperger, University of Exeter) – an examination of the female authors of pamphlets which addressed topics they felt were of public concern in the 16th century. The authors, some of them former nuns, were fiercely criticised for their involvement in public and religious matters. They were regarded as ‘disorderly” and frequently found themselves fighting against censorship and physical threats, which made them more determined than ever to deliver the messages they believed in.

During the 3 day conference, 25 panel sessions will be hosted for academics from countries such as Mexico, Germany, USA, France, Australia, Columbia, Norway, Canada and Austria, as well as the UK.

Conference organiser Dr Will Fowler, Chair of the Department of Spanish at St Andrews, said:

“In the present climate it makes sense to pause and reflect on the relation between violence, culture and identity. The interest generated amongst my contemporaries all over the World has been astonishing. All three issues – violence, culture and identity, – are at the foremost of their minds. Why the violence? Does our culture promote it? Is our identity, national or otherwise, inherently violent?”

“The Modern Languages offer a particularly rich account of all phenomena connected with the centrally human theme of Violence. After all, in subjects such as French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish we are interested in: history, politics, and ideologies; public and private life; literature and arts; religions, ideas, culture theory…. And our scanning is naturally interdisciplinary, as well as open to cross-cultural parallels and comparisons,” he said.







Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: violence culture and identity pr 230603 View the latest University news at

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