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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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V. Writing (I): Paradoxical Demands


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V.   Writing (I): Paradoxical Demands

The preceding two chapters have shown how Leviathan’s doublings and coincidences attest to ineradicable gaps in being, in art, and between two human beings that result in a crumbling of temporal linearity and a breakup of space. I have also begun to chart the dissymmetrical relationship between Peter Aaron and Benjamin Sachs. In the present chapter, I continue to investigate these themes by focusing on the paradoxes of writing, which Auster explores through the figures of Aaron and Sachs and which also lie at the heart of the novel’s engagement with terrorist violence as the next chapter will show. Central for my interpretation of Leviathan will be Blanchot’s essay “Literature and the Right to Death,” as it will allow me to transition my analysis into the relationship between literature and terrorism and raise the question of the possibility of social change through writing. What is the relation between Sachs’s disappearances and Aaron’s writing, the unfinished manuscript and the book we are reading? If we follow Blanchot and posit the absence of the book as literature’s ultimate goal and essence, as argued in chapter III, has Sachs succeeded where Aaron has failed? Why does Aaron write this book although he would prefer that it never be published? What effects does the writing process have on Aaron’s and Sachs’s positioning towards one another in the final book?

As Aaron sees it, he writes the book as an act of...

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