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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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IV. Ruptures (II): Coincidences, The Fall, and the Neutre


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IV.   Ruptures (II): Coincidences, The Fall, and the Neutre

As I have shown in the previous chapter, Leviathan evokes a structural relation between the motif of the doppelganger and the disruption of temporal continuity. In the following, I analyze Auster’s other main method of rupture, his extensive use of chance and coincidences that invariably shape his novels’ plots. Perhaps because they are often linked to the figure of the doppelganger and their obsessions, some scholars have interpreted these coincidences as a form of the uncanny (cf. Dimovitz “Portraits” 449, Brooker 155–57), an externalized return of the repressed, in which random events take on an air of the inevitable and always reaffirm previously held notions. Freud himself suggests the connection between coincidence and the uncanny in the “factor of involuntary repetition which surrounds what would otherwise be innocent enough with an uncanny atmosphere, and forces upon us the idea of something fateful and inescapable when otherwise we should have spoken only of ‘chance’” (237).

I argue, however, that Freud’s return of the repressed and its attendant “uncanny” effect cannot account for the range of coincidences at play in Auster’s novels that defy reduction to exteriorized effects of a troubled psyche. Rather, these coincidences come and remain Other, as an unmitigatable outside of possibility that—similarly to the dissymmetrical doppelgangers—disrupts temporality. Although Leviathan’s characters continually try to make sense of these often traumatic events, I contend that Auster’s primary instantiation of coincidence,...

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