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3 Introduction If we postulate as polar opposites “natural horror” (earthquakes, ecological disasters, death by prolonged illness) and “art horror” (the genre that includes Dracula and Stephen King, thrillers as well as Artaud and Beckett) terrorism would be somewhere in between. zulaika and douglass, Terror and Taboo The Great Bequest In July 1877, in the course of a lengthy review of his great compatriot Leo Tolstoy’s latest novel Anna Karenina, Fyodor Dostoevsky struck an unexpectedly plaintive note: “If we have literary works of such power and execution, then why can we not eventually have our own science as well, and our own economic and social solutions? Why does Europe refuse us our independence, our own word? These are questions that cannot help but be asked. It would be absurd to suppose that nature had endowed us only with literary talents.”1 Yes, absurd, even at the zenith of literature’s social relevance in midnineteenth century Russia, even to a writer such as Fyodor Dostoevsky. For a great nation such as Russia, literary talents—however big—were too little. Dostoevsky took the absurdity of this proposition as proof in advance that Russia was destined to make an even greater bequest to the world than mere words, and encouragement that his literary project 4 Introduction was sure to work out precisely what this bequest might be. Arguably, Dostoevsky’s quest was cut short when the writer died without producing the capstone of his career, the planned sequel to The Brothers Karamazov. But some two months later, on April 11, 1881, what may be taken as a confirmation that Dostoevsky’s ambition for Russia had in fact been realized came from an indubitable source. In a letter to his daughter, Jenny, the aging Karl Marx inquired: “Have you been following the trial of the assassins in Petersburg? They are sterling people through and through, sans pose mélodramatique, simple, businesslike, heroic. Shouting and doing are irreconcilable opposites . . . they try to teach Europe that their modus operandi is a specifically Russian and historically inevitable method about which there is no more reason to moralise—for or against—than there is about the earthquake in Chios.”2 In 1881 Marx was struck by what became one of Russia’s most momentous contributions to political modernity, a new “modus operandi,” a strategy of political violence that would become known as “terrorism .”3 Marx was most taken by its laconic heroism and unpretentious stoicism—and by the fact that it did not upset his theory of revolution too much. This form of flagrant voluntarism was, Marx temporized, ultimately inevitable in Russia and no more subject to moral judgment than a natural disaster. As far as Marx was concerned, Dostoevsky needn’t have worried, much less moralized. My study begins, in any case, with the point on which the two men converged: the valorization of the deed over the word. Even for Dostoev­ sky, there were words and then there were words, by which he meant something entirely different than those produced by even such literary talents as Tolstoy. Written in Blood in fact argues that revolutionary terrorism was just as much Russia’s (literary) word as its (revolutionary) deed, and that it issued from the bourn of a literary culture whose marks it indelibly bore. This is why there must be a literary history of terrorism. Without Russia’s far from negligible “literary talents” it is by no means certain that there would be any historical terrorism at all. Terrorism: A Story about the Violence “The assassins” whom Marx praised were six members of the first revolutionary organization that devoted itself to terrorism, the People’s Will (Narodnaia volia). After eighteen excruciating months and six Introduction 5 failed attempts, they had achieved their ultimate goal: the assassination of Tsar Alexander II on March 1, 1881. The three-day trial of the conspirators , Andrei Zhelyabov, Sophia Perovskaya, Nikolai Rysakov, Timofei Mikhailov, Nikolai Kibalchich and Gesia Gelfman, was covered more thoroughly in the international press than in the severely censored Russian media, and Karl Marx, along with the rest of the world, was duly apprised of the efficacy of this innovation from the depths of a backward “oriental despotism,” as the Russian Empire appeared to “Western eyes.”4 Marx was struck by this peculiarly Russian “modus operandi,” but the “Russian Method,” as it came to be known, was just one strategy of sub-state political violence to mature in the last third of the nineteenth century. Other—possibly...


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