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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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X. Detours: Writing Of Terror(ism) and the Holocaust

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← 228 | 229 →

X.   Detours: Writing Of Terror(ism) and the Holocaust

A question to Mallarmé: What kind of a bomb, then, is the book? A question to Blanchot: What kind of explosions take place in the writing of terror(ism)?

Certainly, the novels I have discussed over the course of this study do not provide any conclusive answers to these questions. Furthermore, if all of them leave behind ruins, these “bombs” differ in their “placement,” their “activation,” (Glamorama 296) and their consequences. They all, however, link the theme of terrorism with an exploration of language and the act of writing, the role of the imagination, and the force of literature. Reminiscent of Stockhausen’s comments on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Benjamin Sachs of Paul Auster’s Leviathan speaks about his terrorist campaign “with the assurance of an artist who knows he has just created his most important work” (231). In Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, Merry Levov tells her father that she lost her lifelong stutter “when she was with the dynamite” (259); yet, already before that, at least according to her uncle Jerry, “every word she spoke was a bomb” (279). In Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, the models-slash-terrorists’ explosions are “statements” (296) in “ill-conceived,” contradictory and ever-changing movie scripts whose “writers seem to be making it up as it goes along” (195). All three novels thus call up the long tradition of avant-gardist attractions to political violence and the quest for a transparent language beyond representation;...

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