I’m Dr. Lucia Lorenzi, and I am a 2017-2019 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) postdoctoral fellow in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, and a 2016 Laureate of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. Presently, I am based primarily out of Vancouver, B.C.
Unspectacular and Always Human (which takes its title from a line in W.H. Auden’s poem “Herman Meville”) is the research blog for my two-year research project on perpetrator narratives, which I am conducting under the supervision of Dr. Amber Dean.
After years of advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, and after having written a dissertation on sexual violence in Canadian and Indigenous literatures, I found myself more and more intrigued by the stories of people who do harm; not just stories about them, but texts produced by perpetrators themselves: letters, blog posts, videos, etc.
Whether they are produced and disseminated by perpetrators themselves, featured in documentaries and television specials, unearthed from various archives, or re-mixed by survivors, perpetrator narratives have the capacity not only to provoke swift reactions, but also to challenge and complicate public perceptions about how the public understands, responds to, and consumes stories of sexualized and gendered violence. Thus, I ask: why are readers simultaneously horrified by and drawn to these stories? What do they reveal about violence, and how does this square with our commonly held beliefs about the origins of or rationales for these crimes? What status do these narratives occupy within public archives, including those housed online? How are they circulated, how are they categorized, and what roles do they play in strategies of advocacy or memorialization, if any? If, as trauma theorist Alan Gibbs argues, there is “a moral resistance to perpetrator narratives” (171), what is risked when we ignore them? Does our consumption of these narratives show a moral resistance, a voyeuristic curiosity, both, or perhaps something entirely different?
In taking up these questions, my research emphasizes the importance of rethinking how perpetrator narratives contribute to public discussions of violence. While I am interested in what perpetrators have to say, I am as interested in what we say about these stories, and what we end up doing with them. By tracing a history of the production and reception of these texts, the goals of my research are not only to challenge a tendency for our discussions to focus on whether or not such stories should or can be told, but also to illustrate that perpetrators’ stories can reveal as much about public assumptions and beliefs as they do about those of the perpetrators themselves.
This research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.