- Topologies of Fear in Contemporary Fiction: The Anxieties of Post-Nationalism and Counter Terrorism by Scott McClintock
Although he examines contemporary Indian and US novels to interrogate "the impact of global terror networks and state counter-terrorism on 20th-century fiction and culture," Scott McClintock is much more invested in the political and transnational stakes inherent to reproductions of terrorism, with his close readings often serving as anecdotal offerings to the book's more central concerns (1). The imperative concern for scholars of terrorism—on which the project rests—is our ethical obligation to expand readings of terrorism beyond the exclusionary parameters of the 9/11 attacks, specifically as a means of recovering transnational legacies of terror that figure into its varied yet circular manifestations in the longer twentieth century. Such a framework of terror aims to subvert Western privileging of "American exceptionalism, of the singularity, the unprecedentedness of the attacks, as if nothing like them had ever happened to anybody" (35).
In chapter 1, McClintock argues that "terrorist acts exist only to be reproducible in media representations" while "the real subjects of terrorism disappear into their media reproductions, and with them, the order of the 'real' itself" (2). In other words, while those codified as terrorists depend on media in order to produce events that propagate fear and anxiety, media in turn must negotiate terrorism as a means of exploiting it within the political and social imaginary. Such a dichotomy, furthermore, relates to the ways in which the Bush Administration "seemed calculated almost to exploit and sustain the fear of the population in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, to convert the real fear of terrorist attack into a more diffuse, free-floating state of anxiety" (39). As McClintock suggests, this state of anxiety generated complicity with a mimetic and virtually invisible war on terror whose purpose was obscured to propagate violence and regulation on the home front and abroad. Utilizing Dorothea Dieckmann's novel Guantánamo, McClintock demonstrates the ways literature substantiates the body of the terrorist within the social imaginary by rewriting the terrorist's identity into being.
In chapter 2, McClintock draws connections between Franz Kafka's "In der Strafkolonie" and the photography of Guantánamo Bay to demonstrate that the secret location of Guantánamo and "the pornography of power" (45) were employed in the photographs to dehumanize terrorists by transforming their bodies into [End Page 186] sites of abstract being and then erasing terrorists' identities to reify US nationalism and exceptionalism. Much like Kafka's portrayal of the prison island in "Strafkolonie," the photography suggests "the double movement of a writing that destroys what it writes," in which terrorist bodies are written as both accessible to the imaginary, yet wholly unknowable (179). Much like the disappearance of terrorist bodies into the media that commodifies and reproduces them for US consumption, however, McClintock's reading of Kafka is at times absorbed into the background of his argument. In this particular chapter, McClintock's use of literary analysis and theory proves problematic at times, particularly when he employs Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler to comment on the implications of the closeted environment of Guantánamo. Decontextualizing queer theory for the aims of his text, McClintock risks undermining his ethical attention in recontextualizing twentieth- and twenty-first-century implications of terrorism oftentimes effaced by 9/11. However, this chapter is productive in its framing of the terrorist body "as a subject not before the law but in the liminal condition outside of it" (49). Thus, through his critical assessment of images of terror orchestrated by the US, McClintock lays the groundwork for reproductions of terrorism by the (alleged) antiterror state through surveillance and violence, which figure more prominently later on.
In chapters 3 and 4, McClintock employs close readings of Indian writers as a means of problematizing transnational political violence to recontextualize "the violence carried out directly or sponsored by the states of India and Pakistan" that is not as easily incorporated into codifications of terrorism (86). While his...