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‘Let's Hurt Someone’: Violence and Cultural Memory in the Plays of Neil LaBute

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2008

Abstract

In this essay Ilka Saal examines one of the most perplexing aspects of Neil LaBute's work: his deployment of excessive and gratuitous violence. She insists that such deployment of violence has little to do with a humanist critique of the propensity for evil in all of us, nor with the playwright's biography (as suggested by a number of critics), but instead functions as a satirical interrogation of the mythological significance attributed to violence in American culture. The casual cruelties of LaBute's ordinary mid-Americans point up the central and ‘ordinary’ role that violence has played in the nation's history and self-understanding. Focusing on the example of the one-act play a gaggle of saints and drawing on the theories of Jan Assmann and Richard Slotkin, she shows in what ways LaBute uses violence to interrogate the country's cultural memory and to alert us to the general lethargy that has settled over the nation with regard to the historical violence it systematically exerted against its Others. Ilka Saal received her PhD in Literature from Duke University, North Carolina and is now working as Associate Professor of English at the University of Richmond, Virginia, where she teaches modern and contemporary American literature and culture. She is the author of New Deal Theater: the Vernacular Tradition in American Political Theater (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), Dramatizing the Disease: Representations of AIDS on the US American Stage (Tectum, 1997), and co author of Passionate Politics: the Cultural Work of American Melodrama from the Early Republic to the Present (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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