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The Writing of Terrorism: Contemporary American Fiction and Maurice Blanchot

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Christian Klöckner

Terrorism has long been a popular subject for American fiction writers. This book argues that terrorism in 1990s novels by Paul Auster, Philip Roth, and Bret Easton Ellis serves as a key trope to interrogate the limits of writing and the power of literature. Based on the complex literary and philosophical thought of Maurice Blanchot, this study deals with the writer’s terrorist temptation, language’s investment in violence, and literature’s negotiation of radical alterity. Auster’s, Roth’s, and Ellis’s novels elucidate contemporary political and economic developments as well as our cultural fear of, and fascination with, terrorism. The writing of terrorism can thus become the foundation of a different politics where, according to Maurice Blanchot, «there is no explosion except a book.»

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I. The Writing of Terrorism: Contemporary American Fiction and Maurice Blanchot. Introduction

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I.   The Writing of Terrorism: Contemporary American Fiction and Maurice Blanchot. Introduction

In a book that deals with the question how American novels of the 1990s engaged with terrorism, to begin with 9/11 may seem incongruous. Yet, precisely because 9/11 was not the beginning of a new era, let us start with what is not our affair and ponder the German avant-garde musician Karlheinz Stockhausen’s comments about the terrorist attacks that still haunt our collective memories. At a press conference five days after September 11, 2001, Stockhausen considered the significance of the terrorist attacks and went on to compare the destruction of the World Trade Center to the creation process and the impact of an artwork:

That minds could achieve something in one act, which we in music could not even dream of, that people rehearse like crazy for ten years, totally fanatically for one concert, and then die. This is the greatest work of art imaginable for the entire cosmos. […] You have people who are so concentrated on one performance, and then 5,000 people are chased into the afterlife, in one moment. I could not do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing. […] Imagine that I could create a work of art now and you were not only astonished, but you would immediately collapse, you would be dead and then reborn because it is simply too insane. Some artists also try to cross the boundaries of the thinkable and the...

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