Unspeakable : Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11 book cover
1st Edition

Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11

ISBN 9780367249007
Published September 25, 2019 by Routledge
224 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11 explores the representation of terrorism in plays, novels, and films across the centuries. Time and time again, writers and filmmakers including William Shakespeare, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Gillo Pontecorvo, Don DeLillo, John Updike, and Steven Spielberg refer to terrorist acts as beyond comprehension, “a deed without a name,” but they do not stop there. Instead of creating works that respond to terrorism by providing comforting narratives reassuring audiences and readers of their moral superiority and the perfidy of the terrorists, these writers and filmmakers confront the unspeakable by attempting to see the world from the terrorist’s perspective and by examining the roots of terrorist violence.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Speakable/Unspeakable: The Rhetoric of Terrorism

Chapter 1: "A Deed without a Name": Macbeth, the Gunpowder Plot, and Terrorism 

Chapter 2: Terrorism in the Nineteenth Century: the Stevensons, Greer, James, Conrad, and the Rosetti Sisters

Chapter 3: When Terrorism becomes Speakable: Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers and the Literature of the Troubles

Chapter 4: Israel/Palestine: Unspeakability in John le Carré, The Little Drummer Girl, Steven Spielberg, Munich, and Mohammed Moulessehoul [Yasmina Khadra], The Attack

Chapter 5: "Why do they hate us?": Updike, Hamid, DeLillo

Epilogue: Where Do We Go From Here? Nadeem Aslam, The Blind Man’s Garden and Amy Waldman, The Submission

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Peter C. Herman is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.


Peter Herman’s expansive study causes us to question and reconsider what we think we know about terrorism and about those who engage in such acts. The range of the text − from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11 – highlights the paradoxical impulses (to speak and not to speak) at the heart of any narrative about terrorism. -- Tim Gauthier, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This is a must-read book for anybody interested in the cultural interpretation of terrorism. By zooming in on the speakability/unspeakability paradox, characteristic of acts of terrorism, Peter Herman succeeds in revealing how literature and film create a counter-narrative that undoes simplistic ideological interpretations of political violence. His readings demonstrate how the possible worlds of fiction and film create a triangulating discourse that runs counter to the reductive us-versus-them rhetoric, current in journalistic and political interpretations of terrorist events. -- Kristiaan Versluys, Ghent University, Belgium

Peter Herman’s book is a fine demonstration of what the humanities might provide to the study of terrorism, usually left to social sciences...Historians and literary and film scholars, in particular, will find the book a welcome addition, but one might hope that terror experts in the social sciences will read it for a new perspective from the humanities for understanding terrorist events in their human complexity. --Ann Larabee, Modern Philology

For Herman writers of fiction ‘have always offered us the tools for a better understanding of terrorism. We just need to pay attention.’ This scholarly, insightful, and illuminating book gives these writers their due attention, and it also shows how the one-dimensional representations it critiques have too often obscured our historical understanding of terrorism, and too often left us dangerously blind in one eye. -- Matthew Carr, Infernal Machine