I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my first book, edited in collaboration with Alastair Hemmens. Full details are below. The book can be bought direct from the publishers here or via Amazon here.
“The extreme is an essential aspect of contemporary experience. Thrill-seekers spend the weekend in the search of the adrenaline rush of “extreme sports”. In the political arena, the world has begun to rediscover the split between the “extreme” left and the “extreme” right. Through 24-hour rolling news, images of violence, torture and war are televised unremittingly into the living room; while the Internet places hardcore pornography, snuff film and cannibalism within easy reach of anyone with a personal computer or a smartphone. The “extreme” has even become a quality companies seek to associate with the most banal of commodities such as ice cream and hair gel. These different manifestations of extremity suggest a contradictory, even paradoxical, relationship with the “extreme”.
The contributors to this book explore how writing in French, from the Middle Ages to the present day, has interrogated extremity. Taken together, these essays demonstrate that the quality of the extreme can be applied to a great number of texts for different reasons and from myriad perspectives. Moreover, the extreme is revealed as a quality both distinct from, and in tension with, the crossing of boundaries associated with transgression. It is a movement towards and away from a centre of radiation that escapes cultural norms without necessarily reinforcing them. This sensation of rushing and wandering outside the boundaries of what is considered safe and normal provides the extreme with its adrenaline-charged response of excitement or horror.
The analyses contained in this volume consider a number of manifestations of the “extrême littéraire”. The ambiguities of gender in medieval romance are explored in the context of the Arthurian court. The 19th century is examined through the prose poems of Baudelaire and the littérature sauvage of the Zutistes. The difficulties of writing the trauma of war and genocide in the 20th century are discussed through the work of Jorges Semprún and Agota Kristof. The contemporary extreme in French literature is examined in the autofiction of Christine Angot, the work of Annie Ernaux and Catherine Millet, the controversial novels of Michel Houellebecq, and the worldwide influence of the Marquis de Sade on writers today such as Bret Easton Ellis and Elfriede Jelinek.
Whilst the “extrême littéraire” may have a wide variety of expressions in French literature, it is always outside, beyond and far from the centre of our everyday experience. It shocks us, excites us and horrifies us, often all at once. This book seeks to provide an insight into how and why the extreme has fascinated, and continues to fascinate, the French literary imagination”.