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Telling Terror in Contemporary Australian Fiction

Tino Dallmann

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, terrorism as a literary theme has flourished in Australian literature. This book examines how terrorism as a theme has been represented in five exemplary novels and elaborates a distinctively Australian approach to the topic. The novels taken into consideration focus on strategies of fictionalisation rather than the actual violence or the threat of it. By doing so, the author argues, Australian literature provides a powerful antidote to the widespread fear of a terrorist attack. Without competing with media and political sciences, this book underlines the contribution literary studies can make to the expanding field of terrorism research.
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3.4 The Unknown Terrorist: Fashions of the Terrorism Question


“Naturally there have been a good many theories aimed at pinpointing the exact moment in time at which Katharina first formed her intention to commit a murder or devised her plan for murder and decided to carry it out. Some people think that first article in Thursday’s News did the trick; others regard Friday as the crucial day because that day the News was still stirring up trouble and destroying (subjectively, at last) her neighbourhood and the apartment of which she was so fond.”

Heinrich Böll, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

Whereas the previous novels highlighted the search for identity and meaning, Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist illustrates how concepts of both identity and meaning can be manipulated. Terrorism in this novel is more than a background of events against which the actions are set, it gains a new urgency as it is depicted in the form of a Foucaultian epistème: a general form of thinking which shapes the way one perceives the environment (Zulaika and Douglass 91). As a theme, terrorism has thus an enormous influence on both the story and the plot of Flanagan’s novel. ← 101 | 102 →

Terrorism in The Unknown Terrorist is an event and a non-event at the same time. Similar to the previous novels, it enters the stage via the media. The protagonist listens to a nearby radio which is repeating news of “distant horror and nearby mundanity” (12):

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