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Violence and Naming

Violence and Naming
On Mexico and the Promise of Literature

A compelling reassertion of the importance of "literature" (that which names) as a determiner for how we engage in and with the world, paying particular attention to violence against women and Amerindians in Mexico's recent and formative history.

Series: Border Hispanisms

April 2019
296 pages | 6 x 9 |

Reclaiming the notion of literature as an institution essential for reflecting on the violence of culture, history, and politics, Violence and Naming exposes the tension between the irreducible, constitutive violence of language and the reducible, empirical violation of others. Focusing on an array of literary artifacts, from works by journalists such as Elena Poniatowska and Sergio González Rodríguez to the Zapatista communiqués to Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives and 2666, this examination demonstrates that Mexican culture takes place as a struggle over naming—with severe implications for the rights and lives of women and indigenous persons.

Through rereadings of the Conquest of Mexico, the northern Mexican feminicide, the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, the disappearance of the forty-three students at Iguala in 2014, and the 1999 abortion-rights scandal centering on “Paulina,” which revealed the tenuousness of women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights in Mexico, Violence and Naming asks how societies can respond to violence without violating the other. This essential question is relevant not only to contemporary Mexico but to all struggles for democracy that promise equality but instead perpetuate incessant cycles of repression.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Accounting for the Name
  • Chapter 1. Dar(se) cuenta: The Logic of the Secret
  • Chapter 2. Murder and Symbol: Feminicide’s Remains
  • Chapter 3. As If . . . Literature before the World
  • Chapter 4. Killing Time: Jet Lag, or the Anachronism of Life
  • Chapter 5. Suspending Sur/render: Accounting for the Other
  • Postscript: Fear of Democracy
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

David E. Johnson
Buffalo, New York

Johnson is a professor of comparative literature at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and adjunct professor in the Instituto de Filosofía at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile. His previous books include Anthropology’s Wake: Attending to the End of Culture (with Scott Michaelsen), Kant’s Dog: On Borges, Philosophy, and the Time of Translation, and El mundo en llamas. Since 2000, he has been the coeditor of CR: The New Centennial Review.


“Ambitious, complex, and subtly argued…The commentary is rich, broad reaching, and significant.”

Violence and Naming offers multiple paths to account for and rethink the intersections of literature, philosophy, and politics…The book is an insightful and provocative cluster of explorations and analyses that summons readers to evaluate, participate, and produce their own critical perspectives.”

“[Violence and Naming is] a truly valuable monograph. Johnson's application of fiction as an active philosophy is impressive and illuminating. The book's bringing into dialogue of lives shattered by violence with longstanding cultural narratives and contemporary, global socio-politics is daring and necessary.”
Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“Violence and Naming offers an ambitious history of the present. David E. Johnson has written an inspiring study that shows the potentials of thinking with and from Mexico.”
Samuel Steinberg, University of Southern California, author of Photopoetics at Tlatelolco: Afterimages of Mexico, 1968