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Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz (Bochum)

Space and the Globalization of Violence in Graham Swift's Works.

Space and the Globalization of Violence in Graham Swift's Works.
The article considers the fusion of time and place, which was predicted by the media theories of Marshall McLuhan simultaneously with the beginnings of the internet and electronic communication, as part of the postmodern condition narrativized in contemporary literature. Mikhail Bakhtin's phrase of "the postmodern chronotope" materializes in narrative texts by Graham Swift that give prominence to violence as the thematic catalyst. This is demonstrated by an analysis of his novels Out of this World (1988) and Wish You Were Here (2011). Focusing on war as ubiquitous in a globalized world, with terrorism as its most agonizing form, violence is represented as permeating all spheres and threatens to extinguish traditional life worlds. History, Englishness and national identity also emerge in the two novels as issues that connect them especially with Waterland (1983), where these subjects appeared centre-stage. The writer inscribes the local with the global and the present and personal with the political and historical, achieving a blend of neo- or magic realism and tempered postmodernization.

1 Introduction

I knew it's all one territory and everywhere, everywhere can be a target and there aren't any safe, separate places any more. I've never told anyone. (Swift 1997: 106)

I chose the above quote to point at the boundlessness of violence inscribed on well-defined places, as it is exhibited by Graham Swift, a British fiction writer especially known for his concern with Englishness and history.

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That in spite of this classification the role of space ranks high for Swift can be recognized in his 1997 lecture "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside" – also the motto of Last Orders (1996) – with the subtitle "The Place of Place in Fiction" added later to the essay (Swift 2009: 293-94; 300). More recently an interviewer remarked to Swift that his novels have a great sense of place, to which the writer answered, "Localness is the key. If you are going to write about things which are in fact universal and timeless, then the way to do it is through the focus of the local" (Craps 2009: 651). This article aims at validating Swift's statement and seeks to explore how time and space are focused through a defined place. In doing so, the following distinction between space and place has to be re-examined: "Place is circumscribed from the undifferentiated space that surrounds it and threatens it with its instability; space becomes place as we inhabit it, get to know it better, and endow it with value" (Smethurst 2000: 267). This differentiation, I propose, is challenged by the globalization of violence in Swift's novels.

In narratives of the late twentieth century the blurring of spatial borderlines paralleled the disappearance of linearity and the chronological time concept in fiction.1 The theoretical exploration of "the Postmodern Chronotope"2 elucidates essential aspects of the innovative potential which the transcendence of the limits of place and time possesses for the artistic expression in literature. Although David Harvey in his 1989 book chapter "Time-Space Compression" critically outlines how in capitalism and geopolitics "time and space have disappeared as meaningful dimensions in human thought and action" (Harvey 2011: 12), the quotation leaves no doubt that this development has had strong social and cultural impact, which he considers as possibly disorienting (Harvey 2011: 5). The "supposed disappearance of time and space as materialized and tangible dimensions of social life" (Harvey 2011: 8) through globalization is, he claims, for the ordinary person by no means restricted to consumerism, but penetrates culture as a whole. The generalized meaning of temporal-spatial 'condensation' also becomes obvious in Harvey's recurrence to and citation from cultural theories developed and publicized by Marshall McLuhan, whose The Gutenberg Galaxy opens with an analysis of the division of the kingdom in King Lear I, 1, and by Jean Baudrillard, "interweaving of simulacra in daily life brings together different worlds […] in the same space and time" (quoted from Harvey 2011: 13). Since the nineteen-sixties fiction has both partaken in and actively produced the concepts of the abolition of segregative structures.

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My article proposes to investigate in how far Swift also engages in this poststructuralist trend where his thematic focus is on violence and he applies methods by which his narratives represent the interplay of different time levels in simultaneity, of diverse places in the global, and, finally, the mutual exchangeability of spatial with temporal indicators. In several of his novels he uses place to express the progress of time: "the reclamation of land" becomes a metaphor for memory "retrieving what is lost".3 To various degrees postmodern narration releases the dissolution of boundaries from the individual consciousness of an internal focalizer to present it through the autonomous working of the text which performs itself.4 Swift, who is regarded as a writer of moderately postmodernized fiction and not inclined to obvious narrational experiments, is likely to apply subtle techniques to disengage the notion of 'place' from identifiable temporal sites – this became first obvious in Waterland –, from a singular figural consciousness, or specified events.

Generally, the theme of violence, its narrativization and visual expressions have appeared centre-stage in the literary criticism of the first decade of the third millennium. Diverse aspects of the violence theme such as its aestheticization, gender and violence, violence and trauma, and the contemporary extreme are being highlighted and show the intensity with which literary scholarship has adopted the topic.5 Moreover, recent psychological research and the renewed interest of literature and its study in ethics have prepared the foundation for the critical analysis of narratives, drama, film and poetry on the subject of violence, a scholarly demand which has been dramatically enhanced by the events of 9/11.

Swift, often addressed as the writer of authenticity and human sympathy (e.g. by O'Mahony 2003, Malcolm 2003) proves also to be deeply engaged with the fictionalization of violence and trauma, associated with gender, class, and history. Whereas Martin Amis, Will Self and Ian McEwan – like several postcolonial novelists – have already become the object of research on the representation of violence,6 Graham Swift's works have received little attention in this respect. The reason for it may lie in the fact that the novels Out of this World, Last Orders and Wish You Were Here like his earlier narratives contain meditations on and reactions to violence, while they abstain from depicting gory details, except in his latest novel. Whether Schmidt-Haberkamp's statement (Schmidt-Haberkamp 2006: 5) that "[t]he retrieval of cultural and individual memory forms an important aspect of representation of violence and war" also applies to Swift will be tried by an analysis of the two novels mentioned above.

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Violence as a theme, as also some of his short stories show, has run through his narratives from the seventies to this day. Several of his internal focalizers are concerned or even obsessed with the meaning and effect of violence which is not restricted to wars and open conflicts between nations or individuals but increasingly permeates all spaces and most areas of man's life.

2 Out of This World (1988)

In Out of This World an IRA car bomb, killing in 1972 precisely the producer of the "man-made stuff" already referred to in Waterland (Swift 1999: 299), the entrepreneur of Beech Munitions and his chauffeur, turns the stately home in England, this "little territory", the "little corner" (Craps 2009: 652) of rural calm, into a war zone. Swift has alternate narrators, mainly those of the victim's son Harry and granddaughter Sophie, tell the story about three generations. This structure foreshadows Last Orders. Told in retrospect, the memories of the narrative personae in Out of this World mingle with their emotional reactions to violence experienced after 1972. Geographical distance or the ten years that elapsed between the murderous attack and the narrative present aggregate in the granddaughter's trauma. The bomb explosion that killed Robert Beech, disabled hero from the Great War and bearer of the Victoria Cross, and his employee, is always and everywhere present to the witnesses. Thus the New World remains an escapist wish forever unfulfilled: when they live in Brooklyn Sophie and her husband are longing for the "[s]weet, green visions" of England (Swift 1997: 8). But evoking Robert Browning's spring poem Sophie can only, before the opening line is completed, add, "(Now, so it seems, they are off to fight the Argentines)" (Swift 1997: 8, parenthesis in original). There is no 'get-away-from-it-all' place, she confides to her counselor.7 America, the land of the free, has been labeled the "land of violence, the land of the gun" (Swift 1997: 10) in the Old World, yet seemed there to promise greater safety to Sophie and her growing family. While she is haunted by her memories of the terrorist attack she tries to pass to her children images of the noble pastoral as the English heritage, of which Great-Grandfather's home, the English manor, built "in the time of good Queen Anne" (Swift 1997: 55), is symbolic.8

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Sophie's father Harry decided against arms manufacturing and became the reporter of violence as a news photographer. His memories are of struggles with his father, who defended the production and distribution of weapons during the so-called Cold War, which was also the time of the Vietnam War, armed conflicts in Northern Ireland and terrorist attacks elsewhere. Even pictures documenting the history of the enterprise cannot tell "the truth" about Beech Munitions Company, founded in 1875, a crisis-proof business operating on different continents and present in (and profiting from) all the trouble spots worldwide (Swift 1997: 81-85). Harry originally believed in photographing as an unspoiled means of documentation: "just hold open the shutter when the world wants to close its eyes" (Swift 1997: 85), because it seems to dismiss all the traditional rituals surrounding war, but he cannot fail to notice how the news are constructed until they produce what is desired (Swift 1997: 114-15). Not even the chronicler can therefore remain innocent: he was about to leave for Belfast the same morning, while others took the pictures of the gruesome attack in Surrey. "He looks like a criminal" his daughter thinks (Swift 1997: 104). Harry, who subsequently quits his work and becomes an aerial photographer, is in Sophie's eyes guilty of lack of understanding, of communication, of the attempt at reconciliation. To Sophie her father's inherited coldness and remoteness (Mecklenburg 2000: 157), his commitment to 'greater' and more important issues than his daughter's life, is in her mind insolubly linked with her indulgent grandfather's violent death. Whereas Sophie became a traumatized eye-witness at the explosion, Harry was there and was not there. She tells her psychiatrist for the first time about her emotional condition of feeling in permanent danger (Swift 1997: 106).9

The son realizes the flaws in his father's public image and self-fashioning as a distinguished hero, who was apparently ready to sacrifice his health and his life, finally became a martyr for what many believe to be an entirely good cause. But Harry knows better, keeping this secret to himself: that Robert's act of heroism on 30 March 1918 in picking up the grenade in the trench and flinging it away took place after moments of hesitation, which, as every experienced soldier knew, were suicidal, but 'only' cost him his arm and earned him the VC (Swift 1997: 196-97). Harry is aware that for himself as a chronicler an ambiguous part, suspended between commitment and detachment, is reserved. "This is the only place you belong – this transit region, this in-between space" (Swift 1997: 118, emphasis in original).

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The feeling of being in limbo accompanies his existence especially after his wife's death, a Greek orphan whose guardian uncle believed that England was Paradise (Swift 1997: 178), so that when she married Harry and went to Surrey with him she ignored the business of which her husband was the only heir and saw her father-in-law not as "a monster" but as "a perfect English gentleman" (Swift 1997: 172). Yet places of brutality and bloodshed prove ubiquitous and unavoidable to the different family members: Anna and Harry met and made love in Nuremberg in 1946 – she as an interpreter, Harry as a photographer. Anna's and Harry's daughter Sophie meets her husband Joe at Thermopylae and constantly memorizes the ancient wars and their outcomes which made Greece and Athens the founders of Western culture and democracy (Swift 1997: 123-27). Though Heraclitus' dictum about war is not quoted it comes to mind when reading what Sophie as an enthusiastic guide tells about remote historic battles in her mother's home country.10 Her statements near the end of the novel criticize recent British warfare: the "now" of the narrative is 1982, and ships are sailing towards the other side of the world to regain lost territory: "some even tinier islands", the Falklands (Swift 1997: 190). "England is small" (Swift 1997: 190) Sophie sums up, and, Harry knows, its landscape, as we see it, "is a lie" (Swift 1997: 193). With a camera one can detect more, but still much remains hidden.

Out of this World displays several peculiarities of the postmodern configuration of time and space and forecasts some characteristics of Last Orders: variable focalization and alternating voices replace an extradiegetic narrator, so that a – to a degree fragmented – narrative consisting of different, often contradictory, stories is the result. Although the characters are presented through interior monologue and free indirect speech from within as well as from the perspective of others they stay incomplete or "flat" in E.M. Forster's sense (Aspects of the Novel), outlined with very few traits rather than constructed complete with inner life and rounded by authentic vivid relationships. There is no unified plot, but merely an event around which the stories – mostly about love and loss – hinge, and a thematic focus. This central concern is war, war at the hub of things, war as ubiquitous. Sophie's secret (Swift 1997: 106) that there are no longer separate places where violence may occur but that especially terrorism dissolves geographic boundaries gives special significance to the theories of David Harvey or Marshall McLuhan who described the future world as a "global village" in 1962. The application of this image, as has been demonstrated by reactions to 9/11 as well, would not simply be restricted to communications, but extend to warfare and violence.

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McLuhan predicted that our experience of electronic technology would make us "interioriz[e] the unified field of electric all-at-onceness" (McLuhan 1971: 63) and revolutionize human life.11 In Out of This World the collapse of spatial distance is demonstrated as forcefully as the more often explored 'extended Now' as a time concept of the poststructuralist era. The narrative performs spatio-temporal interrelatedness and convertibility of violence, so that one event of this kind suffices to trigger an individual/communal experience or memories of other incidents of violence.12 The created impression of simultaneity and nullification of spatial distance has a levitating effect on the focalizer (Swift 1997: 208-209) as on the reader who barely escapes confusion despite the observation that "dates are crucial throughout" (Malcolm 2003: 116).

In true postmodern manner the volatile boundaries of 'time' and 'space' are 'compensated' by the materialization of tokens which point to the thematic focus of violence. Postmodernism has frequently been accused of 'superficiality' resulting in a 'two-dimensional' picture with lack of depth and seriousness – a reproach the unreliable reader of Out of This World might also make. It depends on how we feel about and interpret the touch of sarcasm in the dead Robert Beech's quoted self-description, that he was not only the sole heir of the family business after his two brothers had been killed in World War I, but also "a damn good mascot. I was the best bloody advertisement BMC ever had. […] I was a walking asset. I'd be damn good for business" (Swift 1997: 199) – a man powerfully parading the efficiency of modern weaponry and the commercialization of heroic ideals. He had lost an arm, and he left to his son and granddaughter nine artificial arms – no pun intended. "They are like an index of the twentieth century" (Swift 1997: 200) his son dryly remarks, for they can prove the technological progress of mankind: more efficient killing machines, more efficient rehabilitation instruments. In one of the concluding chapters narrated by Harry, who was born three days previously to his father's heroic deed and cost his mother's life, the 'lost' and 'won' columns for Robert's résumé of World War I balance "arm" and "Victoria Cross" (Swift 1997: 198). To Robert the patriot, "the pressure of a national dimension in the text's events" (Malcolm 2003: 110) is still compelling; while he fancies that his enterprise produces defense for "our lads in Ireland", the national interest as personal charge dwindles in Harry's perception and yields to insecurity in Sophie.

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Out of This World additionally suggests another topic which is more fully developed later: social class. Robert Beech, head of Beech Munitions Company, the well-to-do capitalist from an old family, buys himself a manor from the early eighteenth century as a home, with irreplaceable front door and windows, a walled garden, immaculate lawn, gardener, chauffeured limousine and housekeeper, stables, a pony and later a horse for the little granddaughter. In the official reports on the bombing the employees almost do not count. His son's resentment against this acquisition of status and wealth in addition to his father's convictions exceeds by far that of Harry's fiancée Anna, who could not see Robert or his arms manufacturing business as horrible, since obviously "someone has to make them", "we just need them, for our safety and protection" (Swift 1997: 172) – an argument which silences all ethical scruples and maintains an accordance with national politics. Moreover, Anna believes, there were and are justified and just wars. Class-consciousness and awareness of British national heritage are still uppermost in the circles Harry and Anna came from. For their offspring, however, understanding, human relationships, reconciliation and the freedom to decide against predetermination can atone for past experience and precipitate peace.

The experience of terrorism, its unlimited expansion which causes generalized danger and fear, the interrelation of violence in the "small world" and "the big world" (Craps 2009: 652) are thematic concerns taken up again in Swift's most recent novel Wish You Were Here.

3 Wish You Were Here (2011)

Regarding place, Swift's novels have – especially after the success of Last Orders mostly been linked to London and its suburbia, often hinting at the autobiographical setting (e.g. O'Mahony 2003: n.pag.; James 2008: 100-103). In 2011 the author effectively turned towards the English countryside and writes "of other places" as he did in Waterland and about the removal from the heart of England to its peripheries. Yet herein he also shows his accustomed sensitivity, as several reviewers believe: "The intersection of the global and the nearly indetectable, even subatomic, realms of the personal is territory Graham Swift maps with particular acuity" (D'Erasmo 2012: n.pag.).

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The book review continues about the author's fictional treatment of time and place: "Swift has used extraordinarily subtle means to talk about the way we live now and how it's infused not only with the way we lived then but with the way other people lived, and live". Other places equal other times in importance, since "by way of Iraq" (Swift 2011: 212) as well as by what on TV is brought live into the sitting rooms the past returns to the protagonists as the present. Swift's most recent novel stands out if measured against the author's claim to the importance of "the local" in writing fiction. He presents "this unhurried exploration of grief and longing in the English countryside, but it's infected with the violent terrors of contemporary life" (Charles 2012: n.pag.). Like Last Orders, Swift's latest novel unites temporal and spatial disparities in the plot about a funeral and 'spectral mourning', which is mostly presented from the perspective of an unsophisticated character. A few hours' reflection on his lost brother's recent repatriation after he was killed as a British soldier in Iraq provides the temporal frame for the protagonist's memories of other exceptional days in his life: his younger brother's birth, childhood holidays at the seaside, his mother's death, his brother's eighteenth birthday, the ruin of the farm, Remembrance Day in the nearby village, his father's suicide, the selling of the property, and finally the day when he was notified by an army major of Tom's death. To retrieve the lost through loathingly remembering his life story and life world becomes inescapable for Jack Luxton, the childless survivor and last of his family. His memories are complemented by communal memories like the pictures of the burning World Trade Center brought into vacationers' caravans and, rarely, the perspective of other narrative personae.

In the novel excitement increases in intervals, until it is solved in an anticlimax on the final pages: the suspense whether his wife will come back and whether he will really use the gun he is holding. The opening sounds like a riddle and gloomy announcement with the prefixed motto "Are these things done on Albion's shore?" – the last line from William Blake's "A Little Boy Lost". This poem contains the accusation of public religious hypocrisy and allegorizes the burning of an innocent soul as a sacrifice on the altar. The isolated epigrammatic line from Blake's poem revokes mythical national identity and is followed by the opening sentence "There's no end to madness" (Swift 2011: 1). These words, thought to himself when cattle are burned because BSE broke out, lead for Jack Luxton to "the joke he's only arrived at now: We must be the mad ones" (Swift 2011: 1).13 "Now", the narrative present, is a day in late autumn 2006, two days after the repatriation of Jack's brother Tom who burnt to death near Basra in his armoured vehicle which was hit by a roadside bomb.14

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Realizing his imminent death Tom recovered in hallucinations the peaceful bliss of his homeland's grazing cattle on green pastures apart from and indifferent to the rest of the world (Swift 2011: 209). The proclamation of "War on Terror" had definitely destroyed the appropriateness of Jack's initial view that "we should be all right here. Here at the bottom of the Isle of Wight" (Swift 2011: 4). This place had become Jack's new residence when on 11 September 2001 he saw the collapsing Twin Towers on television in his caravan park, which he had purchased with his and his wife's inheritance. In 2006 the illusion is replaced by the general "feeling that nowhere was really immune, even quiet green places in the depth of the country" (Swift 2011: 312) near the birthplace of the Luxtons. This microcosm reflects the world "off its hinges" as the protagonist repeatedly exclaims (e.g. Swift 2011: 300). Even a non-participant feels "involved in some latent war, with a larger, unlocal malaise of insecurity" (Swift 2011: 313).

In contrast to Last Orders, where war, but not open aggression in everyday life is thematized, the pictures of different 'battlefields', of domestic cruelty and violent death inexorably run as a leitmotif through this novel, accentuating "disparate events, separated by thousands of miles" (Charles 2012: n.pag.) that terrorize and kill living creatures, humans as well as animals. "As spatial barriers diminish" (Harvey 2011: 8), the intersection of the global and the local – like that of the historic and the personal – is made obvious by synthesizing and condensing them through fictional representation. This "compression" (Harvey 2011: 8) counters in the narrative structure the fragmentation of the past by memory. In Wish You Were Here the microcosm which brings together the 'big' issues and the 'small', is situated in the heart of England, a dairy farm in North Devon that belonged to the Luxtons for centuries and comprises farmhouse, cattle, stables, meadows, the loveliest view being Barton field, and generations of family members who worked as peasants and lie buried in the graveyard of the nearby village. The novel's visions of England and rural places mainly in Oxfordshire, Devon and on the Isle of Wight with its seascape may awaken mixed feelings – one reviewer describes them as a "monochrome mosaic about the fate of England" (Robson 2011: n.pag.), another as a "novel about the changing face of England" and even "a reflection on Englishness and its decline" (Markovits 2011: n.pag.). While the descriptions especially about the effects of BSE may be disconcerting, while depictions of English landscape evoke nostalgia which mingles with irritation about its changes, they can only in postmodern literature's sense be called realistic, because they are shaped by imagination, national cultural memory, and impregnated with mourning, all of these associated with place. There is hardly anything joyful in this novel, unless the reader feels amused by a few instances of black humour and the protagonists' weird delusions at the end.

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Images of life in the country, pastoral landscape, tradition and "place-bound identity" (Harvey 2011: 15) like that of Michael and Jack Luxton in the novel cannot last – Jack's uneasiness that he ought to have stayed on his farm and worked the land until he also died (e.g. Swift 2011: 3) underlines this sense of an ending.15 Jebb farm and Barton field with an immeasurably ancient huge oak tree are the sites of violence in a human tragedy supposedly left behind and silenced forever by the survivors – until the days in November 2006 reawaken it. The property had to be converted (or 'conserved') and commodified as a simulacrum of "English heritage" for affluent city dwellers who feel patriotic in buying it (Swift 2011: 320), though they exhibit "the evolution of the countryside from working landscape into weekenders' theme park" (Tonkin 2011: n.pag.).16 It has become the second place of residence for a London investment banker and his family, inhabitants with different worries and views, until "this place of green safety" proves deceptive even for the banker's wife (Swift 2011: 319; 310-11). The departure from their birthplace linked to their averting from tradition has been achieved by the main focalizers Jack and Ellie. It was triggered by death and especially violent death they had witnessed in their rural environment: the one-time hard-working farmer Jack Luxton and his wife, a farmer's daughter, both abandoned their inherited property to become the owners of ephemeral homes on the Isle of Wight as overseers of leisure time in the new millennium. They spend Britain's bleakest winter weeks on Tahiti or St. Lucia wearing colourful garments and sipping cocktails – a picture that evidently annoyed or scared several reviewers of this novel.

Through perspectivization a symbolic significance is in the novel attached to several material objects: a picture postcard, a DCM medal awarded to one of the uncles of Jack's father in World War I, a birthday card, a gun, a dog's blanket, an English oak, umbrellas. Since the author establishes a main focalizer in this novel who is neither smart nor articulate only minimized spoken dialogue occurs, much of it aggressive; violence observed, inflicted, or suffered becomes for the male characters a source of depression, but also a possible means of expressing oneself. Thus representations of objects and behaviour gain in importance, while speech becomes a rarity. Though the narrative presents Jack Luxton as outwardly clumsy and rather limited his inner life is portrayed as that of a very sensitive person and thus presents one of the characters that earned Graham Swift's fiction the tag [a]n aesthetics of vulnerability.17

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"Wish you were here!" are the words silently repeated – in vain – by Jack when he travels alone to his brother's funeral, confronted with a failure on his wife's part to accompany him, which causes the existential crisis in his life and marriage that constitutes the plot of the novel: Ellie, shocked at his grief and obvious closeness to his younger brother, by whom she feels they are "haunted" (Swift 2011: 117), separates herself from him by her refusal. Moreover, she is disappointed about Jack's intention to cancel their annual holiday in the Caribbean out of reverence for Tom's death, which robs her of her dreams of a happy future. Consequently, she declines to go with him "back into the wretched past" (Swift 2011: 211), to stand on the tarmac by a plane to attend a ceremony "while it all came back, in a flag-wrapped parcel, by way of Iraq, their old, left-behind life" (Swift 2011: 212), followed by a funeral in the cemetery where his parents and her father lie buried, and Jack's side-trip to his old home. "Forget Tom!" (e.g. Swift 2011: 284) are the words with which pragmatic Ellie had repeatedly attempted to dissipate her husband's scruples to spend the inheritance he would have to share with Tom, who had disappeared more than ten years ago and burnt the unanswered letters from home, including the notification of his father's suicide, when he was stationed in Germany. Ellie's detachment from her own and Jack's origins and her possessiveness lead to her denial to mourn for Tom and finally to an outbreak of aggression between the couple.

But "wish you were here!" could also very well express Jack's longing for his dead brother – a wish fulfilled in a surprising turn by magic realism. Tom's spectre that had accompanied him since the visit of the army major and the unloading of the three coffins from the plane prevents Jack from using the gun either against his wife or himself or both after their fight and Ellie's departure upon his return to their home (Swift 2011: 346). It is the gun with which his father killed himself after the ruin of the farm by BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, illness, his wife's death and his younger son's 'desertion' from home in the night of his majority. Michael Luxton had already shot their dog with it, triggering his younger son's decision to go away without warning anybody except his brother; Tom would have used the gun against his father, whose obsession with death was killing his son's desire to live. Avoiding an outcome melodramatically fantasized by Jack while expecting Ellie's return – extended suicide or murder covered by the press, the police arriving on the site etc. (Swift 2011: 338-39; 342-45) – the narrative even provides us at the end with a moment of dark comedy: instead of the gun Jack holds an umbrella, hardly discernible, that is part of the merchandise at the caravan park, directed at his wife when he opens the door for Ellie, who decides to come back and ask forgiveness.

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He had already thrown the DCM one of his great-uncles who were both killed at the Somme on the same day had posthumously been awarded, into the Solent when he crossed for the last time to the Isle of Wight (Swift 2011: 332-33), at almost exactly the same spot from which his father's two uncles had left, never to return. It was kept as a proud memento in the family and even borne by Michael at the moment of his death.18 Though "it sliced cleanly through the waves" (Swift 2011: 333) the question whether it is possible to carry on "happily cut off from the land of their past" (Swift 2011: 210), as Jack, Ellie and also Tom had wished, receives an ambiguous answer. The character of Jack is constructed in such a way that the connection between place, tradition and identity determines and chains him, which is shown in his memories but also in his unspoken feelings after he has radically changed his life. Continuity, it seems to him, would have stabilized his social identity and appeased his conscience, although stifled his joy of life. A similar ambiguity also dominates the bewildered protagonist's emotions in regard to the question of national identity which also leaves the reader puzzled: what exactly is the meaning of his gesture – a rejection of war and doubtable sacrifice by the last of the Luxtons? Or is it the exchange of an honourable past for a trivialized future through Jack's final departure from the 'main' to an even smaller island, completing his life-journey from island to island? Suicide as a heroic act is denounced by the interference of different voices: Ellie's, Tom's. This rupture with home and past which Jack has carried out, however, yields to himself and maybe to a few readers as well the picture of a surrender by which traditional virtues like bravery and fidelity are abandoned. To the central character this is the reason why his new life still cannot – and perhaps must not – be relished. His flash of self-reflexive thought, "he had gone into caravans. Tom had gone into battle (Swift 2011: 169)" additionally uncovers the reason for his feelings of guilt and betrayal – betrayal of values such as courage and steadfastness, which through the analogy between the agricultural field at home and the foreign battlefield is evoked several times. Established conservative images of England and Englishness – the minor character of Major Richards transports some of its elements – are vaguely denoted as dated and by the focalizer as no longer appropriate (e.g. Swift 2011: 171; 173-74). Thereby an interpretation of Wish You Were Here as referential and narrating a story of devolution "[a]fter Empire" (Gilroy) is prompted, with the bottom line "England is small" (Swift 1997: 190).19 Here as before, the topicality of the novel's subject matter drawing on the events from the news pages is epitomized.

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By means of multiperspectival and intrasubjective narration, however, the topicality of the "suspended judgment"-method McLuhan had earlier claimed is put to the test by narrative literature, namely "[t]hat the method of the twentieth century is to use not single but multiple models for experimental exploration – the technique of the suspended judgment" (McLuhan 1971: 71).

Jack's reflections in Lookout Cottage during the few hours when his wife is gone, allegedly to fetch the police, vehemently recall the recent and remote past for him. It is, however, not a simple resurgence of memories, but his attempt to bring to a close and draw a line under the past which comprises the fate of several generations and includes the personal as well as the historical. His way to do this seems in parts to become an act of despair. Though offending her husband's (and the reader's?) sense of piety and duty Ellie is the one who immediately looks forward instead of backwards, an attitude that also expresses itself in her wish to have a child by Jack at 39 after Tom's death.20 For the sake of piety Jack decides to tell his wife that he threw the medal into Tom's grave, a tribute which two days later seems to him more appropriate than what he actually did. Unlike his father, the protagonist is dimly aware that Tom continued the family tradition since he eventually died in the service of his country, as the ceremony in Oxfordshire underlined, regardless of his personal reasons for enlisting.21 Tom, he realizes, did not defect when he decided to leave the farm in the dark of the freezing night almost twelve years earlier never to return, as his brother immediately knew. Doubts about the rightness of his own decisions, when the motivating force of tradition breaks down, torture Jack; all his family members must appear as heroes to him – and he is guilty of desertion. As far as his self-image is concerned he has failed in either "field". Through figural narrative situation heroism re-emerges as one debatable issue, responsibility as another. This can be noticed in the narrativization of almost one hundred years, of three generations of Luxtons and the qualms of the last of them.

Before concluding my reading of Wish You Were Here the focus on the connection of heroism and guilt by which the theme of place and globalized violence is most intently approached, can be further specified. In Last Orders and in Wish You Were Here the heroic appears as alien to the main focalizers who experience themselves as powerless. In Out of This World and Swift's latest novel the perception of heroism differs from the older to the younger generation: born in the sixties and seventies Jack and Tom Luxton are depicted as observing the ritual of Remembrance Day together with their father, but do not share the persuasions evoked in the ritual.

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Michael Luxton, by contrast, carries the DCM as a badge not only of his uncle's courage and his family's share in the service of their country, but of his own stern endurance – a stoicism that could only lead to death, in analogy to the required conduct of the soldier. "Michael had died wearing, so to speak, the DCM" (Swift 2011: 239). One of his rare jokes had been the wordplay "that the medal had been a good one to give a farmer's boy, since what it said on the back was 'For Distinguished Conduct in the Field'" (250). Rural life has to farmers like the Luxtons become a combat, the countryside a battleground. In the narrative, tradition and the courage of despair stand out as the father's motivation to kill himself and his younger son's reason to continue his life in the army even if it is endangered. Tom's growing cold-bloodedness contrasts with the pangs of conscience of his brother, who seems doomed to be forever haunted by the past with its models of valour and stoicism whereas he has given in to his wife and disavows traditions together with his "place-bound identity".

For the reader the question of sentimentality at times arises here as it did in Last Orders. Even if sentimentality can be found in the main character there seems to be hardly any in the performance of the text because a considerable distance is created between the reader and the protagonist with whom no recipient will truly identify. Jack's stream-of-consciousness regarding the dog blanket and the flag (153-156) may serve as one example of the "self-conscious, deliberate drives into the sublime banal" (Wood 2003, quoted from James 2008: 105) Swift is so capable of literalizing. The construction of reflector figures and narrator in Wish You Were Here defies a slipping into sentiment, partly because this is countered by Black Humour and the border-crossings into the macabre, partly because the internal reality of the main focalizer, contrasting with his physical appearance as sweet-tempered giant, reveals itself as gloomy and mostly depressed by the feeling of guilt. Moreover, Wish You Were Here again exhibits the "narrative mode of the fiction as one of mourning and/or melancholia, inscribing the melancholic narrative personae into the broader cultural pathologies of nation, empire or age" (Benyei 2003: 40).

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4 Conclusion

Swift said once that he has accepted the label 'terminal novelist' attributed to him by a reviewer, which accounts for the melancholic mood of his novels, but he 'cheerfully' continues "Mortality runs through my work" (Swift 2009: 305). In fact, death by violence permeates his narratives. Recurring motifs in his novels are furthermore the character constellation of two brothers, especially in connection with the war theme, generational conflicts, emotional coldness, and social class with a growing interest in the life-worlds of unpretentious people. To return to the starting point of Swift's statement on "the place of place in fiction", the local here obviously provides the focus which ties up the internal and external roaming of the narrative personae in time and space, and where also memory-time, which in the fictional text denies linearity, is steadied. Paradoxically, this effect is intensified through the leitmotifs of the journey and the detour that in the two novels investigated here as in Last Orders point out the meandering of the unpredictable. As a result of the dissolution of linear time and the spatial dispersion of violence a chronological sequence has to be arduously constructed by the reader, whereas places – of origin, of remembrance, of destination – as natural anchors seem to remain unchallenged; in Wish You Were Here they even become iconic to the internal focalizer. Yet the insight is penetrating that violence and aggression threaten the safe, separate places. Departure and homecoming as points of crisis where spatio-temporal indicators intersect stand out in these narratives, and as a key phrase the hyper-paradoxical "never to return" is repeated several times in the repatriation novel, always in connection with the projected death of a character: George and Fred, Tom and Jack Luxton. On the historical level, repatriation with the performance of the ritual shows the extreme effort at restitution in order to counter this "never to return" through an act of symbolic representation. On the level of the (im)personal, merged with the political, the past comes home to the main character "in a flag-wrapped parcel, by way of Iraq", so that he is also irresistibly drawn back to the spot about which he has always felt "it was his proper place" (Swift 2009: 3): Jebb farm. Place can cast an evil spell because it also stands for violence and death, yet to abandon a commitment to place leaves a trace of irresponsibility and is treated with ambivalence, as the representation of Ellie's and her mother's decisions show. They appear as pleasure-loving women contrasting with the steadfastness of male characters, their mourning and fear, but also with Clare Robinson, Jebb Farm's new owner's melancholic wife, where signs of violent death intrude and can no longer be negated.

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After all, ambiguity characterizes place as perceived by the focalizers in the two narratives discussed here. Violence permeates them as it pervades locality which it turns into an everyday topography of terror. As benchmarks in an unhinged world the narrativized material objects and visual signs are continually focused on, with an increasing impact in Wish You Were Here. Their meaning, however, turns out to be dependent upon changing and increasingly ambivalent perception, as the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Union Jack covering a coffin most obviously show: though earlier-on signifiers of national identity and pride they are rejected in Swift's latest novel by the main character. The importance of official monuments and material objects which pay tribute to particular national interests diminishes, while that of personal belongings and memories increases. The protagonist in Wish You Were Here takes a further step away from violence when he plans to shed himself of the gun in the same manner he had secretly employed for the medal; Harry in Out of This World rejects the arms factory he inherits from his father. Considering the generational aspect, the deep unease these characters – intellectual or dumb – feel hints at the lack of agreement about the use of violence and the communal view of war in current British culture and society.22 If the organizing consciousness behind the novels reveals itself as that of a pacifist it possesses nonetheless an acute awareness of national identity and conservative as well as popular conventional national narratives. It is the heritage of the past that strains and depresses many of the characters and incessantly causes them to question and struggle with the cultural value system they were raised in. To reviewers of Swift's 2011 novel the represented performativity of 'the country' is disquieting.

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Primary Literature

Swift, Graham (1997): Out of this World London: Picador. All quotations in the text follow this edition. [1988]

Swift, Graham (1999): Waterland. Last Orders (in one volume). London: Picador. All references and quotations in the text follow this edition. [1983, 1996]

Swift, Graham (2009): "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside" Making an Elephant. Writing from Within. London: Picador, 291-312.

Swift, Graham (2011): Wish You Were Here. London: Picador. All references and quotations in the text follow this edition.

Secondary Literature

Armstrong, Nancy/Tennenhouse, Leonard. (Eds.) (1989): The Violence of Representation. Literature and the History of Violence. London: Routledge.

Bach, Susanne (Ed.) (2010): Gewalt, Geschlecht, Fiktion. Gewaltdiskurse und Gender-Problematik in zeitgenössischen englischsprachigen Romanen, Dramen und Filmen. Trier: WVT.

Bakhtin, M.M. (2011): "The Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel". in: Michael Holquist (Ed.): The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays, Austin, TX: University of Austin Press, 84-258. [1981]

Benyei, Tamas (2003): "The Novels of Graham Swift: Family Photos", in: Eds. Lane, Richard J. et al. Contemporary British Fiction. Cambridge: Polity, 40-55.

Cooper, Pamela (1996): "Imperial Topographies: The Spaces of History in Waterland", in: Modern Fiction Studies 42.2, 371-96.

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Craps, Stef (2009): "An Interview with Graham Swift", in: Contemporary Literature 50.4, 637-61.

Craps, Stef (2005): Trauma and Ethics in the Novels of Graham Swift: No Short-Cuts to Salvation. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Finney, Brian (1995): "Narrative and Narrated Homicides in Martin Amis's Other People and London Fields", in: Critique. Studies in Contemporary Fiction 37.1, 3-15.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel (2006): "Violence Biting Its Own Tail: Martin Amis's Yellow Dog". in: Durand, Alain-Philippe/ Mandel, Naomi (Eds.): Novels of the Contemporary Extreme. London: Continuum, 132-42.

Glaser, Brigitte (2008): "Women and War: Representations of Histories of Violence in Contemporary Canadian Fiction", in: Sturgess, Charlotte/ Kuester, Martin (Eds.): Reading(s) from a Distance. European Perspectives on Canadian Women's Writing. Augsburg: Wißner, 66-78.

Gymnich, Marion (Ed.) (2012): Who's Afraid of …? Facets of Fear in Anglophone Literature and Film. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht unipress.

Hartung, Heike (2002): Die dezentrale Geschichte. Historisches Erzählen und literarische Geschichte(n) bei Peter Ackroyd, Graham Swift und Salman Rushdie. Trier: WVT.

Harvey, David (2011): "Time-Space Compression and the Postmodern Condition", in: Connell, Liam/ Marsh, Nicky (Eds.): Literature and Globalization: A Reader. London: Routledge, 5-17. From David Harvey (1991). The Condition of Postmodernity. An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 284-307. [1989]

James, David (2008): Contemporary British Fiction and the Artistry of Space: Style, Landscape, Perception. London: Continuum.

Lay, Frank (2007): "Violence, Transgression, and the Fun Factor. The Imagined Atrocities of Will Self's My Idea of Fun", in: Kutzbach, Konstanze (Ed.): The Abject of Desire: The Aestheticization of the Unaesthetic in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 291-308.

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Malcolm, David (2003): Understanding Graham Swift. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.

McLuhan, Marshall (1971): The Gutenberg Galaxy: the making of typographic man. London: Routledge. [1962]

Mecklenburg, Susanne (2000): Martin Amis und Graham Swift. Erfolg durch bodenlosen Moralismus im zeitgenössischen britischen Roman. Heidelberg: Winter.

Ryan, Kiernan (1999): "Sex, Violence and Complicity: Martin Amis and Ian McEwan", in: Mengham, Rod (Ed.): An Introduction to Contemporary Fiction: International Writing in English since 1970. Cambridge: Polity Press, 203-18.

Schmidt-Haberkamp, Barbara (2006): "Introduction" (3-6), in: Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp (Ed.): "Section I: Violence and War in Anglophone Cultures", in: Houswitschka, Christoph et al. (Eds.): Anglistentag Bamberg 2005, Proceedings. Trier: WVT, 3-115.

Smethurst, Paul (2000): The Postmodern Chronotope: Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Tancke, Ulrike (2011): "Misplaced Anxieties: Violence and Trauma in Ian McEwan's Saturday", in: Bragard, Véronique et al. (Eds.): Portraying 9/11. Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 89-101.

Weiss, Timothy (2003): "Where is Place? Locale in Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans", in: Ahrens, Rüdiger, et al. (Eds.): Anglophone Cultures in Southeast Asia: Appropriation, Continuities, Contexts. Heidelberg: Winter, 271-94.

West-Pavlov, Russell (2004): "Space Invaders: Space and History in Historiographic Metafiction: Rushdie, Swift, Barnes", in: Anglia 122.3, 435-56.

Winnberg, Jakob (2003): An Aesthetics Of Vulnerability: The Sentimentum and The Novels Of Graham Swift. Goteborg: Goteborgs Universitet Acta Univ.

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Internet sources

Barthes, Roland (1967): "The Death of the Author". [11.09.2014]

Charles, Ron (2012): "Book Review: Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here". The Washington Post. [11.09. 2014]

D'Erasmo, Stacey (2012): "An Island of One. Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift". The New York Times Sunday Book Review. [11.09.2014]

Markovits, Benjamin (2011): "Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift". The Guardian/The Observer. [11.09.2014]

O'Mahony, John (2003): "Triumph of the common man". The Guardian. [11.09.2014]

Robson, Leo (2011): "Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift: review". The Telegraph. [11.09.2014]

Sassoon, Siegfried (2011): Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration. [1917] [11.09.2014]

Tonkin, Boyd (2011): "Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift". The Independent [13.01.2012]


1 For a summary of this development see for example West-Pavlov 2004: 435-45. He, like Cooper (1996) and Smethurst (2000), researches spatio-temporal fictionalization in Waterland.

2 The use of the term goes back to Mikhail Bakhtin: "In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole" [1937] (Bakhtin 2011: 84). The concept has recently been investigated by Smethurst (2000).

3 Waterland 336; cf. "the land of their past" in Wish You Were Here 210; see also Out of this World 192-94.

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4 Cf. Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author" (Barthes 1967: n.pag.)

5E.g. Gymnich 2012; Bach 2010; Schmidt-Haberkamp 2006 (3-115); Armstrong/Tennenhouse 1989.

6 To name a few studies: Tancke 2011; Glaser 2008; Lay 2007; Ganteau 2006; Ryan 1999; Finney 1995.

7 The protagonist of Wish You Were Here (2011: 285) literally repeats this.

8 Hartung (2002: 158) addresses the "Heritage Industry" as shaping Sophie's and her husband's images of England.

9 The topic of trauma and narrative literature has variously and elaborately been dealt with by recent scholarship, concerning Swift especially by Stef Craps (2005).

10 In Swift's short story "Seraglio" the protagonist wishes to exert power over his wife, which also causes him to constantly read to her from a guide book; here the narrator's occupation as a tourist guide serves an attempted recovery of orientation and control over her own life.

11 The expression "global village" was used by McLuhan from the late fifties on; it first appeared in print in The Gutenberg Galaxy in 1962: "The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village" (1971: 31). – After the attacks on the Twin Towers the director of Télévision Suisse Romande was reported to have said "Tout est impliqé dans tout" (quoted from Weiss 2003: 271).

12 A more recent outstanding example of this effect of a terrorist attack in fiction is Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), where several life narratives about atrocities complement the experience of 9/11; 2005 saw in Britain the publication of Ian McEwan's Saturday which focuses on violence as omnipresent.

13 Markovits in his review associates the opening of the novel with the first line of Wilfred Owen's poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth"; this can also be found in the novel itself, where cattle, civilians and soldiers are seen as murder victims. The key symbols here are the burning pyre and billowing smoke (Swift 2011: 3), which are for Tom Luxton the infallible signs of violent death (Swift 2011: 197-99).

14 The culturally established custom to determine specific circumscribed dates and spaces for commemoration, thus channeling mourning in a defined place and ceremony, is doubly epitomized in Wish you Were Here: in Remembrance Day and the 'pseudo-funeral' of Corporal Luxton (the reviewer in The Guardian writes "a funeral of sorts") – a ritual only performed for the sake of relatives and the public; those who carry the coffin observe that it is too light to contain a man's body (Swift 2011: 273). Ron Charles in The Washington Post sees the narrative representation as "showcasing the weirdness of our death rituals" (Charles 2012: n.pag.).

15 For a theoretical explanation of the connection and disjunction between place and identity see Weiss 2003: 274-80.

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16 Harvey's theoretical statements on the radical social change following globalization, which include the irony lying in the preservation of history in a 'museum culture' and the compression of space in theme parks (Harvey 2011: 15), have found a fictionalized expression here. Of the latter Julian Barnes's satirical novel England, England (1998), where a theme park on the Isle of Wight (re)presents and finally replaces the country and national history, provides a striking example.

17 Title of a monograph on Swift by Jakob Winnberg (2003, emphasis in original).

18 The protagonist's act of hurling his ancestor's DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) into the sea reenacts a famous historic episode from World War I: in 1917 Siegfried Sassoon threw his Military Cross, which he had received as a distinction, into the River Mersey as a sign of his opposition against the continuation of the war, while his protest note was being read out in the Commons. He was thereupon diagnosed a victim of shell-shock and hospitalized – his opposition was socially inacceptable (Sassoon 2011: n.pag.).

19 For the self-restrictive, narrow aspect of British society introduced by the authorial consciousness in Swift's earlier work cf. Hartung 2002: 204-205. D'Erasmo's headline "An Island of One" with the accompanying illustration also points to the protagonist's limitations in Wish You Were Here.

20 An analysis of the fact that optimism and joy are emotions that can only be given to the male characters by women – Vera Luxton, Alice Merrick, who deserted the family, and her daughter Ellie, who is not embarrassed to state that the death of their family members promoted their happiness, which she can fully enjoy – would exceed the limits of this article.

21 In the only chapter with Tom as focalizer the impression is intensified that his motifs are not rooted in patriotism. He was sent to Bosnia followed by the invasion of Iraq and, being a soldier, never discusses political issues, which would necessarily touch upon 'the global'.

22 In London the largest demonstration to this day took place on 15 February 2003 against Britain's armed forces' involvement in the invasion of Iraq.