Recommend to your Librarian

Hell in Contemporary Literature

Western Descent Narratives Since 1945

Rachel Falconer


What does it mean when people use the word 'Hell' to convey the horror of an actual, personal or historical experience?

Show more


Introduction Descent and Return: the katabatic imagination
Chapter 1 - Hell in Our Time
(i) Is Hell a fable?
(ii) Hell as the modern condition
(iii) Descent and dissent in modern philosophy
Chapter 2 - Chronotopes of Hell
(i) Generic features of katabatic narrative
(ii) Bakhtin's Inferno: visionary versus historical chronotopes
(iii) Unspeakable wisdom
(iv) Conversion versus inversion
(v) Infernal inversion: Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano
(vi) The absolute and 'my absolute': Sarah Kofman's Smothered Words
Chapter 3 - Auschwitz as Hell
(i) Pathways through a life: The Search for Roots
(ii) Black Holes and the biblical Job
(iii) A constellation of chronotopes: If This is a Man
(a) Threshold crossing into Hell
(b) Auschwitz as education
(c) The visionary world
(d) On trial in Hell
(e) Sea-voyage and shipwreck
(iv) The intersection of pathways
Chapter 4 - Surviving with Ghosts: Second Generation Holocaust Narratives
(i) Bog-boys and fire-children
(ii) Vertigo and luminosity: W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz
(iii) From depth to ascent: Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces
Chapter 5 - Katabatic Memoirs of Mental Illness
(i) Down the rabbit hole
(ii) Parallel worlds and protest culture: Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted
(iii) The schizophrenic HyperReal: Carol North's Welcome, Silence,/i>
(iv) Falling into grace: Lauren Slater's Spasm: A Memoir with Lies
Chapter 6 - Engendering Dissent in the Underworld
(i) Gender dynamics in the descent to Hell
(ii) Inside the hero's descent: Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills
(iii) Hell and utopia: Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time
(iv) Dante upside-down: Alice Notley's The Descent of Alette
Chapter 7 - Postmodern Hell and the Search for Roots
(i) Karl Marx's katabasis
(ii) Postmodern capitalist Hell: Alasdair Gray's Lanark
(iii) Lanark's search for roots
(iv) Can realism lead fantasy out of Hell? Can fantasy help realism?
Chapter 8 - East-West Descent Narratives
(i) Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and Western descents to the East
(ii) Salman Rushdie's disoriented subjects
(iii) The migrations of Orpheus, in five acts: Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet
(a) Threshold crossing
(b) Ground Zero
(c) Looking back
(d) Dismemberment
(e) Return of another
Epilogue - Katabasis in the Twenty-First Century
(i) September 11th: the first circle
(ii) Afghanistan and Iraq: there and back again (again)
(iii) Global fear and its inversions
Appendix: Primo Levi, 'Map of reading'

About the Author

Rachel Falconer is Professor of English Literature at the University of Lausanne. She has wide-ranging interests in poetry and fiction, with published research focusing on contemporary literature and its relation to the past, particularly classical and early modern poetry. In Hell in Contemporary Literature (2005), she explored the legacy of Virgil and Dante's descents to the underworld in contemporary fiction, and she is now researching Seamus Heaney's long-standing poetic dialogue with Virgil's Aeneid book six. Other major research topics have included: Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogism and theory of the chronotope (fiction's representation of time and space), crossover fiction (children's literature read by adults), and Primo Levi's Holocaust writing. Current research interests have led her to focus on contemporary nature poetry and theories of ecopoetics, as well as the soundscapes of poetry, and the close but complex relations between poetry, music, and natural sound. This last area of interest has led to the formulation of her current book project: The Poetry of Birds: an essay in eco-poetics, a study of bird poetry by Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Kathleen Jamie, R F Langley, Michael Longley, Helen Macdonald, Peter Reading, and R S Thomas.