February 12, 2007

Thurschwell on DeLillo and Literature After 9/11

Adam Thurschwell (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law) has posted on SSRN his paper, Writing and Terror: Don DeLillo on the Task of Literature After 9/11. From the abstract:
Over the past thirty years, Don DeLillo has become the novelist-laureate for our age of terror, exploring the inner life, cultural causes and symbolic significance of terrorism and terrorists of all stripes. He is therefore perhaps the ideal subject for a consideration of the status of literature after the disaster of September 11, 2001. Indeed, DeLillo himself published a moving essay shortly after 9/11 in which he posits cyber-capital and terrorism as competing world narratives and argues that "it is left to us" - writers, among others - "to create the counternarrative."

In this essay, written for a symposium on "Law and Literature After 9/11," I take a closer look at DeLillo's proposal through a reading of some of his recent novels. In the wake of his essay critics were quick to respond that DeLillo's own works portray writers whose attempted resistance is defeated by the all-consuming forces of market capitalism. I address this criticism, but devote more time to what is potentially an even more devastating obstacle for DeLillo's program, Maurice Blanchot's thesis that the act of literary writing is itself, in its essence, already "terrorist." After briefly explicating and defending Blanchot's initially implausible-sounding notion, I attempt to show how DeLillo's novels suggest the affirmative possibility of a meaningful "counternarrative" that, without refuting Blanchot's conception of literature, still offers an (ambiguously) hopeful alternative view.

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