Two powerful but conflicting accounts have animated contemporary discussions about violence. On the one side have been those, from Walter Benjamin to Michel Foucault, who have insisted that violence is intimately related to and even primarily disseminated through discourse. Increasing powerful in recent years has been a very different view, which - paradoxically - may have emerged from the former. In this account, violence is essentially unspeakable, that is, it is resistant to the organizing mechanisms of cognition, and representation. What theories of language, violence, cognition and history underwrite these views? In what kinds of political arguments are they enmeshed? What is at stake in claiming that violence is either all we speak, or always unspeakable? This course will trace out these views are they are articulated by theorists, novelists, and even some poets. We will pay particular attention to the special status of literature in this debate. The course will be organized by keywords, which will include trauma, terrorism, torture, murder, and hate speech.