Why We Did It : Thoughts on A Terrorist Manifesto (ii)

The character is named “Dupin,” presumably after Poe’s famous detective. The narrator mentions several authors and genres of literature he is interested in and has read. What, if any, were the major influences on you while writing this piece?

Charm: Certainly Marx’s Communist Manifesto, of which the title is a play on though the story has little or no resemblance to Marx’s work. Michel Houellebecq’s Platform was also in my mind while writing it. Kenzaburo Oe’s Seventeen and Slovoj Zizek’s Violence were also very important inspirational pieces. The mention of true crime novels is purely an invention on part of the character; I’ve never actually read one of these novels.

L.N.: Zizek’s Violence was key for me, although no theory from it was directly applied here. Dostoevsky was also in the back of my mind. After all, Smerdyakov (from Brothers Karamazov) can be seen as a terrorist. Smerdyakov’s childhood contains violent episodes and rejection. Smerdyakov also manages to get away with murder. The question of why he did it is the most fascinating aspect of the novel.

The character’s relationship with his mother is frequently mentioned in his childhood memories. Is she meant to be sympathetic or hostile to him?

L.N.: Neither one trusts the other on some level. He does not comprehend how she seems to have two sides. If she notices that he is having problems, she does not pursue them, or he wants to believe that she does not. Similarly, in his adulthood, he has mixed sympathy and contempt for abused women.

Charm: The relationship between the narrator and his mother, though I don’t think we intended it to “mean” anything more than what it is, is certainly two-sided. However, if we reflect on the relationship on the mother-child relationship in general and look at some of the general trends of our times, I do think that our narrator’s relationship with his mother is somewhat typical. Since the so-called sexual revolution, the Freudian dynamic between mother and child has changed. The mother’s role, according to Freud was not only to provide sustenance (the breast petit objet a) but also to provide love. Mothers still probably provide the same amount and quality of “love” to the child, but the state of subjectivity has passed from “I am hungry” (one of Freud’s subjective necessities) to “I am afraid” [this line of reasoning taken from Zizek’s Living at the End Times]. So: although the narrator does love his mother – and father, for that matter – he is equally afraid of them, their actions, their attitude toward him, the uncertainty regarding them. To take it one step further, today, we are not really afraid of losing our lives – we are more afraid of losing our livelihood, that is, the means to sate our hunger.

Also, as LN mentions, in his adulthood the character’s attitude toward women is ambiguous. On the one hand, he desires them; on the other, he conjectures that their desire is based on wanting men who are seemingly the opposite of his own person. This opposition is only on the surface because although he is neither cowardly or brutal, he intentionally commits acts of violence against large groups of people. This kind of violence is not a display of “power” per se, the kind of power brute physical force that might attract a woman. It is of a radically different order: the power to destroy without any hesitation, to kill indiscriminately without any remorse (even genocides single out a target, “kill only these, not these”).

Does your story imply, in part, that people become terrorists based on bad experiences in their lives, rather than simply for ideological reasons?

L.N. The “aesthetic of terror” does attract the so-called “disaffected,” but to oppose “ideological” with “personal” reasons is inadequate. As Zizek writes in In Living in the End Times, there may not really be pure, non-ideological reasons to begin with.

Charm: Certainly one’s life experiences affect the way one attains being in the world. However, as LN mentioned before, not everyone with similar experiences to, let’s say, our narrator, will turn out to be a terrorist. Here is where the ideological dimension intervenes, along with a purely personal application of individual will. Even if one’s ideology inclines one to terror, this does not necessarily mean one will commit acts of terror. In a sense, terror is about willing ideology as opposed to mere praxis; it takes a tremendous amount of energy to plan and execute any kind of major terrorist act.

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