My guest today is Author Hannah Warren
Violence in literature. When is enough, enough?
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. How can I- the biggest violence escapist on the planet – have been so foolish to promise I’d say something on the matter? So far, I’ve only written one violent scene in my life, a clumsy suicide attempt. I never watch violence in films or on the news, be it rape, stabbing, torture, fist fights, nothing in which one human or group of humans molest their own sort or other animals. I’ve never read a horror story in my life. Once I was given a book by Karen Slaughter and after reading three pages, gave it away. As soon as my sensitive violence radar catches images, sounds or written accounts of heartrending shrieks and buckets of blood, I switch off and take shelter. I have a slightly higher tolerance for accounts of natural disasters, but will not be found in front of the telly all night gazing at people and their belongings being swept along in muds streams, ships beings smacked against shores, limbs sticking out of collapsed buildings.
At a riper point in life, I decided that for my own peace of mind – and when given the choice - it was better to steer free from both the literal and the literary gore on Planet Earth. But what’s underneath this immense fear of blood & chaos? And what’s the use of contributing to a discussion about the amount of violence in literature by one with zero tolerance? I’d like to explore these two questions with you and come up with a bit of a twisted conclusion.
Whether you believe it exists or not, I am destined to live with high-sensitivity on a daily basis. Mind you, it has lots of advantages and is a fine condition for a writer. Already equipped with such a vulnerable constitution, things went even more awry as I was exposed to physical and mental abuse from a very early age. As a result, I developed extreme fears, most of all for brutal physical touch. My father- about whom I also wrote in last month’s blog on sex in literature- was a prominent Marquis de Sade translator/lover here in Holland and enjoyed putting the fellow’s sadistic ideas into practice. Enough said about that, just added this to give you an idea what my tender, formative years were like. They certainly constituted the urge to flee and hide whenever (well-planned) violence came my way. I consider myself a brave person in most areas of life, but I’m a ninny when facing (the threat of) being hurt without a reason. Add to that a highly imaginative mind and you’ll understand the need for my radar.
Have I never been tempted to use violence myself? Honesty demands that I’ve flipped a few times with my own kids but subsequently ran to psycho-therapy as fast as my legs would carry me, never wanting to find myself on that gliding scale again.
So, real life and genetic conditions have shaped in me a total shunning of horrific scenes, also in the arts. To quickly go back to last month’s topic- sex in literature- I think there a big difference between sex and violence in this respect. Although both are inextricable parts of human life, sex cannot and should not be eliminated from life, whereas we all aspire to rise above, to transcend, violence. At least, I assume most folk would rather rub against the Dalai Lama than against the likes of Anders Breivik. I believe that human life can exist, would even flourish in the absence of violence but never in the absence of sex. Literature being a mirror of life, I am tempted to say: likewise.
Here’s the thing. A couple of days ago, I read Gerald’s contribution to Sooz’s blog with an instruction how to write a proper horror scene. Excellent teacher! But the only thing that was on my mind all the time: this could easily be used as an instruction for a violent set-up in real life, a sick mind could transform this information into a real-life horror scene. There are plenty of examples where violent games, movies, books have been adored by wackos who’ve consequently spread more terror and grief in our lives than we wish to remember. What if those twisted minds had not been fuelled by the imagination of others, by artists? I truly believe that writers, film-makers, game-inventors have a huge responsibility here. Although I cannot understand the kick it gives to read or view gory stuff, clearly millions can – my own kids included – and in most cases all that pent-up adrenaline may lead to a good romp or other pleasantries in body and mind. Nothing wrong there; but what about the 0.01% that cannot separate fiction from reality? I would feel terrible having (indirectly) contributed to a terrible crime.
Does it mean I can only write about fairies and gnomes, butterflies and lilies? No, the real reason I’ve decided to contribute to this thread is because I am presently writing a psychological thriller myself. Ahum ahumba! Surely, the Creative Force of this universe enjoys giving us strange and mysterious assignments. So far, I think - I hope - I will be able to stomach my own bloody scenes better than those of fellow-writers. The book I’m writing – Prior To You – is one of these stories that has persistently demanded to be written, but it is such a dark book that I’ve moved lobster-like around it for seven years. Now the time has come to finish the project. No more pull-out. The book is not autobiographical but there is personal catharsis involved in it.
I am presently hanging somewhere in mid-air in the process and nowhere near a conclusion, but tempted to come up with the following – daunting? - statement: I will accept every form of seemingly senseless brutality from a character as long as there is a message of hope at the end: good always conquers evil. To me this can be the sole reason I’ll do horror in writing: to show LOVE will survive and will always be victorious. In the context of my book, we’re talking about filial love.
I invite you to come back and ask me at the end of my journey through the underworld of hatred and pain (January 2012) how I’m doing. The suicide scene I already wrote just made me sick for a couple of hours but I’m back at the drawing board every day knowing the worst is yet to come. But no quitting, nope. And who knows? I might be able to stomach a lot more after this first baptism of horror fire.
Hannah Warren is a Netherlands based translator and writer. Her debut, the romantic novel Casablanca, My Heart, will be submitted to agents in September 2011. Her second book, the psychological thriller Prior to You is scheduled for a professional edit in January 2012. Maker of Despair, a real-life scam Hannah became entangled in 2010, is undergoing a rewrite to make it into a film-script. Next to writing fiction, Hannah likes blogging and interviewing fellow-authors on her lively website.