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University Read/Write Series kicks off

By Lisa McGunigal
On September 20, 2007

09/20/07 - A new collaboration between two University of Rhode Island English faculty members examines novels that deal with violence, censorship, and terrorism, in extreme manners. Interim English department Chair Alain-Philippe Durand and URI associate professor of English and comparative literature Naomi Mandel kicked off this academic year's first Read/Write Reading Series yesterday by exploring their work together in the book "Novels of the Contemporary Extreme." The series is hosted by the English department.

"This book investigates an element across the globe," Durand said. Durand and Mandel asked why people in different countries are all writing this type of literature in their book. The book also looks at the confrontation between reality and art. Many of the novels are "tied between fictional and autobiographical ... an intention to deliberately deceive readers," Mandel said. As with psychotic realism, seen in the books, the authors are attempting to eliminate the boundaries between self and non-self.

Durand and Mandel read from their introduction to "Novels of the Contemporary Extreme," followed by readings from the texts they wrote about.

The first novel "Dolly City," was written by Orly Castel-Bloom and has been translated in many languages. The story focuses on a character named Dolly who has an addiction to operations and dissecting bodies. Mandel read an excerpt in which Dolly contemplates operating on her adopted baby and then actually makes cuts on the baby's back, disinfects them, and then sews them back up.

"I tried desperately to suppress my drive," read Mandel. Dolly then travels to Germany to find a new kidney for her baby and perform the operation herself. "I was looking for orphanages off the beaten track," he read.

Durand read from Michel Houellebecq's novel "Elementary Particles," which combines sociology with science, but also includes ideas on sexuality. "Pleasure and desire explain almost nothing about sexuality itself," read Durand.

Another novel under the category of extreme literature is about a woman literally turning into a pig. Mandel read Marie Darrieussecq's "Pig Tales" in which the narrator reflects on the process of turning into a pig and how important it is to get her story out.

Since 1989, noted writer Amelie Nothomb has written and published a novel every September, including "Fear and Trembling." Durand said this is the only book of Nothomb's that she has called autobiographical. The book follows her internship in Japan in which her superior is repeatedly raped. Amelie sees her superior crying in the bathroom after the rape and the superior is fierce with rage at being seen crying. As Durand read, "She walked toward me with Hiroshima in her right eye and Nagasaki in her left."

Durand also read from Frederic Beigbeder's "99 Francs," in which Beigbeder writes about the advertising world in a satirical manner. Durand read, "No one in my profession actually wants you to be happy." Since Beigbeder originally worked in advertising when the book was published, this novel caused his termination from that position.

Chris Cleave, author of "Incendiary," wrote his novel from the perspective of a world where, instead of the 9/11 attacks, a bomb exploded in a London football stadium. She handles life after the death of her husband and son in the form of an extended letter to Osama bin Laden.

URI students will have a chance to meet and talk with Cleave, as Durand and Mandel will be teaching an honors colloquium in the spring on extreme literature, with Cleave visiting the week of April 15 to discuss his book and teach creative writing workshops.

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