The contemporary American novel, as exemplified by Paul Auster (Leviathan, 1992), Philip Roth (American Pastoral, 1997), and Bret Easton Ellis (Glamorama, 1998), and the essays and fiction of Maurice Blanchot may at first sight seem strange bedfellows. And yet, as this intriguing study shows, following the fall of Soviet Communism and the so-called ‘end of history’ that shortly followed, the 1990s not only witnessed the publication of numerous novels in the United States deeply concerned with the apparent rivalry between the terrorist and the contemporary avant-garde artist, each committed, as it were, to producing a uniquely spectacular, often devastating experience destructive of all complacency, but also saw the translation into English of a number of essays and récits by Blanchot, some of which were translated by Auster himself, while still in Paris searching for his own voice, and others by his partner at the time, the writer Lydia Davis. As early as 1947 Blanchot, drawing on Jean Paulhan’s convoluted opposition between Rhetoric and Terror (i.e. Classicism and Romanticism), had made much of Hegel’s Phenomenology in the effort to bind the concept of the Terror, as manifested by the French Revolution, with the absolute freedom of the artwork. In enlisting Blanchot’s thinking in order to understand better the relation between literature and violence, Christian Kloeckner does not aim, however, to examine the thematic treatment of terrorism in selected novels as such, but rather ‘to analyse [them] for the ways in which they relate terrorism to the act of writing and the question of literature’s power’ (p. 19). To this end, he offers an often astute, well-informed analysis of Auster’s early prose and poetry, and tracks with illuminating persistence the trace left on Auster by his encounter with Blanchot. But it is not until the discussion of Auster’s Leviathan that the book properly comes into its own, providing a compelling and detailed account of the novel’s multiple doublings, its precarious condition of radical incompletion, and its strange dual logic of construction and destruction, reminiscent, the author suggests, of Blanchot’s thinking of the ‘neutre’. In Auster’s novel, Kloeckner concludes, ‘there is a rupture radically different in nature to that of the bomb’, insofar as it is in writing, not political violence, that one finds, in Blanchot’s celebrated phrase, ‘la violence la plus grande, car elle transgresse la Loi, toute loi et sa propre loi’. Turning to American Pastoral, a markedly different text in ‘intention, scope, and style’, as he plainly acknowledges, Kloeckner similarly explores ‘transgressions and erosions of boundaries’ as a manifestation of the Burkean or Kantian sublime. Examining the fictional violence of Glamorama as (in every sense) a ‘borderline case’, he argues that in the end the often desperate radicality of modern experience is to be found less in political terror than in writing. As Mallarmé famously put it, following an anarchist attack on the Assemblée nationale in 1893, in words to which Kloeckner returns time and again throughout this thought-provoking book: ‘Je ne sais pas d’autre bombe, qu’un livre’. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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