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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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VII. Responsibility: The Anarchic Leviathan of the Book


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VII.   Responsibility: The Anarchic Leviathan of the Book

In this novel about a terrorist, there is surprisingly little politics at issue. Sachs’s revolt is directed at the state, political hypocrisy, and national myths, but the novel is not very specific about Sachs’s grievances. The reader only learns through Aaron’s occasional comments that Sachs finds America to have “lost its way” (38) and that he wants “America to look after itself and mend its ways” (217). Christopher Donovan has therefore good reason to call Leviathan “politically undirected” (149) and to criticize that “Auster takes the corruption Sachs rebels against for granted, supplying few examples, if any, of the lack of ‘democracy, freedom, and equality under the law’ that runs counter to the Lady Liberty ideal” (158). However, as Varvogli correctly points out, Auster approaches the political by way of the aesthetic and the personal, where questions of writing and the relationship between I and Other are at least as important. These latter aspects raise their own political questions. Auster’s fiction thus takes a middle position between an exploration of world and self (World 147), neither solely interested in, to borrow from Philip Roth’s 1961 essay “Writing American Fiction,” worlds “thoroughly and wholly imagined” (232) nor in America’s “distressing cultural and political predicament” (233). In interviews, Auster provides reasons for this course. On the one hand, he argues that one cannot get away from politics anyway because art, consciously or unconsciously, always addresses a community and...

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