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The Writing of Terrorism: Contemporary American Fiction and Maurice Blanchot


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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II. Infinite Conversations: Reading Auster with Blanchot


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II.   Infinite Conversations: Reading Auster with Blanchot

When Blanchot died in 2003 at the age of 95, an obituary in the British Times Literary Supplement maintained that he was “probably the least-read yet most influential French writer of the postwar era” (“Maurice Blanchot”). Although scholarly interest in Blanchot’s work has increased significantly since the 1990s, most literary criticism perceives it through the angle of his writing’s implicit engagement with the Holocaust and the questions of memory, trauma and testimony (cf. Caruth, Bernard-Donals). In this way, Blanchot’s standing has probably benefited from his life-long conversations and close friendship with Emmanuel Levinas, whose non-ontological philosophy of alterity has increasingly been recognized as one of the most significant philosophical responses to the Holocaust. Blanchot is also discussed in the context of other French thinkers, most notably Georges Bataille, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Gilles Deleuze, yet he largely remains on the fringes of poststructuralist discourse. As one example of his marginal status in American Studies one can point to his absence from the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Literary Theory (2001/2010), something that Brian Dillon has counted “[a]mong the less pleasantly astonishing omissions” of the anthology.

One can come up with a number of reasons for the relative neglect of Blanchot’s work. Yet perhaps his marginalization is not necessarily to be mourned, as it indeed may have pleased an author who lived as a recluse and from the 1940s onwards...

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