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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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VIII. The Sublime Other: Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and History’s Terror


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VIII.   The Sublime Other: Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and History’s Terror

Hill’s assertion at the end of the previous chapter that the law’s function is to rescue human order “by affirming the necessity of the limit” (Blanchot 187) is widely shared by the characters of the novel I turn to now. In fact, the last third of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is devoted to the puzzlement of various dinner party guests whether the social and cultural upheavals they are witnessing will ever stop. As one of the novel’s characters declares: “I think everybody here is wondering where the limit is and worrying where the limit is every time they look at the papers. Except the professor of transgression” (365). In this investigation of the writing of terror(ism), let us then continue with the transgressions and erosions of boundaries in a novel that explores similar themes as Auster’s Leviathan but with markedly different intention, scope, and style.

In an interview, Auster has acknowledged the fundamental difference between Roth’s and his own writing:

I admire Roth very much, but of course my thinking is altogether different from his. My imagination runs, so to speak, in the opposite direction. In no way do I believe that the novelist’s task is to pursue sociology, to describe the realities of a culture, or to write the history of my own country, the so-called “Great American Novel.” I try instead to get at the reality...

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