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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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VI. Writing (II): Terror, Freedom, and Death

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VI.   Writing (II): Terror, Freedom, and Death

The choice of Sachs’s bombing targets, miniature replicas of the Statue of Liberty, already indicates that Leviathan weaves together freedom and terror(ism) in its meditation on writing. In doing so, the novel moves within a poetological field demarcated by the freedom of the writer on the one hand and the terror of writing on the other. Rather than representing oppositions, however, Leviathan suggests that freedom and terror are existentially linked to one another. In this story of two writers, one of which turns to terrorist violence, the central motif of the Statue of Liberty, which marks every major turning-point in Sachs’s development, serves to firmly establish this link and expose the contradictions of freedom.

The first time we encounter the Statue of Liberty is when Aaron narrates a visit by the six-year old Sachs and his mother to Bedloe’s Island, and their competing, subjective versions of that trip. Forced by his mother to wear his formal Sunday clothes in order to honor the national symbol, Sachs points to the irony of that visit: “There we were, about to pay homage to the concept of freedom, and I myself was in chains. I lived in an absolute dictatorship, and for as long as I could remember my rights had been trampled underfoot” (33). Winning the bet with his mother that her friend’s sons will wear casual clothing, Sachs receives the right to dress in the...

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