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Plotting Terror

Novelists and Terrorists in Contemporary Fiction

Margaret Scanlan

Publication Year: 2001

Is literature dangerous? In the romantic view, writers were rebels--Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators of mankind"--poised to change the world. In relation to twentieth-century literature, however, such a view becomes suspect. By looking at a range of novels about terrorism, Plotting Terror raises the possibility that the writer's relationship to actual politics may be considerably reduced in the age of television and the Internet.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-16

In the wake of the Second World War, as our Japanese and West German enemies turned into model citizens working economic miracles, the fear and loathing that fascism had so recently inspired were channeled into Communism. Some forty years later, the collapse of the...

Part I: The Terrorist Rival

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Chapter 1: Don DeLillo’s Mao II and the Rushdie Affair

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pp. 19-36

Terror, like a toxic airborne event, floats across the deceptively shiny surfaces of Don DeLillo’s fiction, turning the reassuring rituals of even suburban life—filling up at the self-service pump or playing golf—into desperate acts. The intersecting planes of that world...

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Chapter 2: Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man

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pp. 37-56

Lurking behind Bill Gray’s encounter with terrorism is the possibility that writers are so powerless, their books so seldom read, as to render the question of their political influence moot. In Resurrection Man, a 1994 novel about the Northern Irish Troubles, Eoin...

Part II: Displaced Causes

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Chapter 3: Mary McCarthy’s Cannibals and Missionaries

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pp. 59-74

Both DeLillo and McNamee observe the mass media closely; DeLillo emphasizes the novelist’s waning political influence, McNamee the possibility of the writer’s complicity with terrorism. The career of Mary McCarthy illustrates how a writer’s past political activism...

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Chapter 4: Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist

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pp. 75-92

Like Mary McCarthy, Doris Lessing had a long history of Leftist activism; unlike McCarthy, she joined the Communist Party and remained a member until the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Like McCarthy, she is a keen satirist of the personal shortcomings of political...

Part III: Novelist as Terrorist: Terrorism as Fiction

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Chapter 5: J. M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg

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pp. 95-107

In violent times, some novelists abandon literature altogether, taking to the streets or barricades; others, of course, bring the streets and barricades into their fiction, exposing suffering and injustice, arguing, pleading, and persuading. Those who do neither will stand accused...

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Chapter 6: Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Assignment

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pp. 108-120

Throughout the twentieth century, most terrorist fiction, even that critical of popular beliefs about terrorism, continued to follow the conventions of nineteenth-century realism. For their part, government officials and the press still construct terrorism much as popular...

Part IV: Is Terrorism Dead?

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Chapter 7: Philip Roth’s and Robert Stone’s Jerusalem Novels

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pp. 123-138

Dürrenmatt’s suspicion of realism takes to one extreme that loss of confidence that we have already seen: a failure of belief in the power of art, and in particular of the realistic novel, to bring about meaningful change in the world. But is terrorism really more...

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Chapter 8: Volodine’s Lisbonne Dernière Marge

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pp. 139-154

Throughout this study, we have noted variations on the terrorist as the writer’s rival, double, and secret sharer, tracing their origins from the romantic conviction of the writer’s originality and power through a century of political, social, and technological developments...

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Epilogue: Conrad and the Unabomber

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pp. 155-162

In an apocryphal story, taught as fact to American schoolchildren for a century, Abraham Lincoln is introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe. “Ah,” remarks the melancholy president, “so this is the little woman who made the great war.” Tiresomely, Stowe’s biographer points out...


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pp. 163-182


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pp. 183-194


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pp. 195-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780813921921
E-ISBN-10: 0813921929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813920313
Print-ISBN-10: 0813920310

Page Count: 199
Publication Year: 2001