The Underside of Politics: Global Fictions in the Fog of the Cold War 9780823254347, 2013006704, 0823254348

This book argues that during the Cold War modern political imagination was held captive by the split between two visions

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The Underside of Politics: Global Fictions in the Fog of the Cold War
 9780823254347, 2013006704, 0823254348

Table of contents :
Cover
Contents
Acknowledgments
Prelude
Introduction. Writing the Cold War: Literature, Democracy and the Global Polis
1 Kafka and the Cold War: Fantasies of the Invisible Master
2 The Vicissitudes of Popular Sovereignty
3 National Security in the Age of the Global Picture
4 All Power to the Networks!
Concluding Remarks: Transnational American Studies in the Fog of the Cold War
Notes
Index
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
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The Underside of Politics

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The Underside of Politics Global Fictions in the Fog of the Cold War

sorin radu cucu

Fordham University Press new york 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fordham University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. Fordham University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Fordham University Press also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Cucu, Sorin Radu. The underside of politics : global fictions in the fog of the Cold War / Sorin Radu Cucu. pages ; cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8232-5434-7 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Fiction—20th century—History and criticism. 2. Cold War in literature. 3. Political fiction—History and criticism. 4. National characteristics in literature. 5. Cold War—Social aspects—Europe. I. Title. PN3448.P6C83 2013 809.3’935809045—dc23 2013006704 Printed in the United States of America 15 14 13

5 4 3 2 1

First edition

A book in the American Literatures Initiative (ALI), a collaborative publishing project of NYU Press, Fordham University Press, Rutgers University Press, Temple University Press, and the University of Virginia Press. The Initiative is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more information, please visit www.americanliteratures.org.

To my grandfather, Radu Necula

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Contents

Acknowledgments

ix

Prelude

1

Introduction. Writing the Cold War: Literature, Democracy and the Global Polis

11

1

Kafka and the Cold War: Fantasies of the Invisible Master

47

2

The Vicissitudes of Popular Sovereignty

74

3

National Security in the Age of the Global Picture

116

4

All Power to the Networks!

156

Concluding Remarks: Transnational American Studies in the Fog of the Cold War

206

Notes

213

Index

249

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Acknowledgments

This book is the result of a series of fortunate intellectual encounters. My mentors at the Comparative Literature Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Joan Copjec, Rodolphe Gasché, Ernesto Laclau, and Henry Sussman, have inspired this project since its early stages. I thank them for their generosity and guidance. I have benefited from discussing contemporary literature and political theory with many close friends and collaborators. I am indebted to John Brenkman and Roland Végsö, who have given me many opportunities to defend, challenge, and rethink my arguments. Special thanks are due to Helen Tartar for believing in this book and to Jeffrey Peck, Tom Hayes, and Phyllis van Slyck for believing in me. This would not have been possible without the support of my wife Erin and my family in Romania—Cipri, Sorica, and Ioan. Sections of Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are significantly revised versions of previously published articles: “The Fantasy of the Invisible Master (the ‘Unnamable’ in Kafka and Postmodern Literature),” The Journal of the Kafka Society of America (June 2008): 53-64; “The Spirit of the Common Man: Populism and the Rhetoric of Betrayal in Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist,” Philip Roth Studies 4, no. 2 (Fall 2008): 171–87; and “Media on Target in the Global System: Military Strategy and Narrative Practice,” Worldpicture 7 (Sept. 2012) n.p.

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Prelude The adventure of interpretation . . . implies a relation to power. To read a work . . . is to allow yourself to lose the bearings which assured you of your sovereign distance from the other, which assured you of the distinction between subject and object, active and passive, speaking and hearing (to interpret is to convert reading into writing), the difference between one time and another, between past and present (the latter can neither be suppressed nor ignored), lastly it is to lose your sense of division between the space of the work and the world on to which it opens. —claude lefort

“Writing, the test of the political” (Écrire: à l’épreuve du politique)— this enigmatic phrase, coined in 1992 by the French political philosopher Claude Lefort, inspires, among possible intellectual reflections on its meaning, the main topic of this book: the shift of paradigms from political interpretations of literary texts to literary interpretations of the political.1 This noun awkwardly and reluctantly translates into English the French term le politique (and the German das Politische), a word that carries in its philological biography meanings that convey the conflicted identity of modern political communities. These meanings take shape through writing and bear witness to how and why political thinkers have differentiated the political/polity from the commonly used term, politics.2 Following Lefort, the historian Pierre Rosanvallon has offered a spirited argument on behalf of this conceptual difference: In speaking of “the political” as noun, I thus mean as much a modality of existence of life in common as a form of collective action that is implicitly distinct from the functioning of politics. To refer to the political rather than to politics is to speak of power and law, state and nation, equality and justice, identity and difference, citizenship and civility—in sum, of everything that constitutes political life beyond the immediate field of partisan competition for political power, everyday governmental action, and the ordinary functions of institutions.3

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At the same time, according to Rosanvallon, the “return of the political” should not be understood as an embrace of political philosophy under the guidance of Rawls and Habermas, but as the task to conceive of democracy as “a question left unanswered, in the sense that no conclusive and perfectly adequate response can ever be provided to it.”4 Rawlsian and Habermasian political liberalism is thus an attempt to “dissipate the enigma” of the modern political regime by “an imposition of normativity.”5 The critique of liberalism is a point of conjunction for theoretical narratives of the political. Against the universality of rational communication and the idealism of consensus, Chantal Mouffe, for instance, advocates an agonistic form of pluralism. In her view, democratic politics cannot do away with the dimension of antagonism—another way of delineating the political—that permeates social relations. Following this reasoning, Mouffe conceives of politics as an “ensemble of practices, discourses and institutions which seek to establish a certain order and organize human coexistence in conditions that are always potentially conflictual because they are affected by ‘the political.”6 Having briefly introduced possible reasons for talking about the political rather than politics does not eliminate the confusion created by the translation of the phrase à l’épreuve du politique into English.7 One possible translation-adaptation of this phrase calls for a literary and philosophical writing that is tested (or challenged) by the political: Over the course of time, I have become better aware of the peculiar connection between literature and political philosophy, or the movement of thought and the movement of writing, when they are subjected to the test of the political. . . . To go straight to the things themselves, let us say that the novelist refuses to take the detour of argumentation, while the author of a political work rejects the detour of fiction. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the first can awaken our thought and the second can provoke in us a troubled feeling (my italics).8 According to Lefort, the art of writing is not simply the medium of an abstract philosophical exercise, but also the trace of a “singular enigma that [their] present poses for” writers and political philosophers. “Thinking the political—writes Lefort—goes beyond the bounds of every doctrine and theory.” Approaching the political via argumentation, or thinking it by means of literary fictions, is thus a dramatic event for the philosopher and the novelist alike: “Through writing, [the political] sustains the tension inhabiting it; it submits to the exigency that one take on the questions that are at the heart of every human establishment and the

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exigency to face up to what arises” (my italics).9 Following this imperative, we can explain the centrality of the political to Lefort’s work by taking into account not only his sophisticated readings of classic works by Machiavelli, Tocqueville, or Marx but also (more importantly) his analyses of the new society born in the Soviet “democratic” experiment. What lies behind Lefort’s intellectual commitment to the political is the rejection of totalitarianism in Western Leftist thought. He notes that “this concept is political and the Left does not think in political terms,”10 hence Lefort’s sustained polemic with thinkers “unable to discern freedom in democracy . . . and servitude in totalitarianism.”11 This quote is from a paper originally delivered at the Center for the Research of the Political (organized in the late 1980s by Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe LacoueLabarthe), in which Lefort coins his signature statement: “Democracy is instituted and sustained by the dissolution of the markers of certainty.” As a historical society, the democratic social form constantly revises itself; it thus “inaugurates a history in which people experience a fundamental indeterminacy as to the basis of power, law and knowledge . . . at every level of social life.”12 We can explicitly grasp the indeterminate character of this experience by thinking of the democratic-political in terms of its protean spatial, temporal, and discursive identities as it is addressed through philosophical and literary writing. The theoretical path that this present study takes begins not simply by recognizing the many forms or figures that can be named political—or, even better, the political as the fact of being-incommon that escapes figuration—but by emphasizing the two generative narratives of modern democracy: “On the one hand, democracy was the attempt to organize the political space around the universality of the community, without hierarchies or distinctions. . . . On the other hand, democracy has also been conceived as the expansion of the logic of equality to increasingly wider spheres of social relations—social and economic equality, race equality, gender equality, etc.”13 These reflections summarize a post-foundational direction or approach to writing political theory guided by the interrogation of “metaphysical figures of foundation—such as totality, universality, essence, and ground.”14 As the result of the disentanglement of the theologico-political matrix, the place of power becomes “empty” and no metaphysical foundation can guarantee a stable order and certainty to political communities. The autonomy of modernity’s political character is, however, only apparent. It cannot be derived, for instance, from the political structure of the state, located in the administrative body of the polis; at its heart thus lies a peculiar heteronomy, the grounding of the political in the failed unity of the social:

4 / prelude

“A merit of Lefort’s political philosophy is to recognize that even with the disappearance of another place, modern societies continue to manifest an exteriority of society within itself.”15 From this post-foundational perspective, democratic theory bears witness, however, to the event of totalitarianism. How can we be contemporary with Lefort’s interrogation of the political now that the historical and theoretical moment of totalitarianism seems to have passed?16 How are we to come to terms with his thought’s contemporariness now that the body of the Soviet regime (and its hold on Eastern Europe) has dissolved in the historic events of 1989–1991? If these are difficult questions, it is because of the inherent ambiguity characterizing the term contemporary—especially when it is used as qualifier for grand-narrative concepts like history, politics, art, literature, or culture, and especially when it partakes in the conflicts between interpretative paradigms that explore the political realm and, given its failed autonomy, its contamination by the “spheres” of war, economy, biology, or religion. Consider, for instance, how Roberto Esposito’s recent critique of totalitarianism frames the problem of contemporary history: “Decisive events of contemporary history—the world wars, the emergence of technology, globalization, and terrorism are in themselves philosophical powers that struggle to control and dominate the world—or the predominant interpretation of the world and therefore of its ultimate meaning.”17 Esposito’s argument follows from here: Free yourself from the philosophy of history and its inconsistent categories (such as totalitarianism) and you will be able to understand (since you are no longer blinded by theoretical or ideological narratives) history as philosophy. Where does, however, this peculiar philosophical power of events derive from, if it does not simply exist as a matter of some inner essence (which would imply a return to a metaphysics of history)? Events become “philosophical” by demanding to be interpreted—that is, by being open to interpretation. In other words, it is only possible to conceive of history as philosophy because history does not exist as such, but only as figure of history. We are reminded here of Eric Auerbach’s remarkable observation: “History, with all its concrete force, remains forever a figure, cloaked and needful of interpretation.”18 There is no reason to exclude totalitarianism from the list of contemporary historical events with a distinct philosophical power. If we take a closer look at Esposito’s argument—which only mentions Lefort briefly and focuses instead on Arendt’s “genetic” history of Nazism and Communism—we notice that he is, in fact, working with an abstract concept rather than the historical “figure” that mediates between the transformations of the

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political in the aftermath of the Russian revolution and its ideological foundations in Marxist thought. In order to identify the “aporias of the entire totalitarian paradigm,”19 Esposito proposes a theorization of the relation between democracy and totalitarian Communism that is misleading in that it assumes that their shared ideological resources (the emphasis on egalitarianism, for instance) forecloses the possibility of their opposition: “How can totalitarianism,” he asks, “be defined in opposition to what it originates from?” There is no aporia or contradiction here; the crucial difficulty we face in interpreting the historicophilosophical event of totalitarianism becomes obvious if we consider Esposito’s question as marking a terminus a quo—that is, a limit from which the potential closure of the political constituted a critical moment in the contemporary history of democracy. From a Lefortian perspective, this is, however, only the beginning of the interrogation, as we must continue to “ask what democratic society means and by what route it opened the way for Communism. We must ask whether Communism, when it broke away from democracy, kept the latter’s imprint. In short, we should ask if the Bolshevik revolution was antidemocratic in its consequences and principles.”20 The Underside of Politics explores how the interpretation of the political, not only by philosophers but also by writers, is linked to the question of what it means to be contemporary. Writing at the “challenge of the political” (à l’épreuve du politique), constitutes for Lefort the task of asserting the legitimacy of a political concept (totalitarianism) rejected by the European Left. He is able to describe the peculiar “logic of totalitarianism” because he does not settle on simple solutions (such as the self-alienation of the working class), but takes intellectual and moral risks in order to comprehend the novelty of the domination under the Soviet regime. The investigation of the political, which Lefort begins as a philosopher and a militant Trotskyist in 1940s France, necessitates an expansion of the intellectual horizon of the interpretation: from the philosophy of history—based on the Marxist conception of “the proletariat as agent of history”—to “history as philosophy.” Developing a phenomenology of the political present, Lefort discovered the symbolic mutations of power that made possible the reconfiguration of democratic space into the monolithic body of the totalitarian regime; at the same time, adopting the psychoanalytical vocabulary of Freud and the Lacanian school, he was able to demonstrate how the fantasy of the People-as-One enabled and sustained the totalitarian perversion of democratic narratives: the universality of the community and the logic of equality. In order to

6 / prelude

become contemporary with the historical moment of Lefort’s work, we will examine the opposition between democracy and totalitarianism in the context of the global historical discourse that attempted to restrict the meaning of the political and dissolve its ambiguities by incorporating it into the geopolitical discourse of a new global order under the figural powers of the Cold War. Is, today, the democracy-totalitarianism paradigm the disavowed remainder of the global picture assembled in presumably strict Manichean terms at the end of World War II? Or is it simply the reminder that, what survived from the age of the Cold War is not only the embalmed corpse of totalitarianism, but also the trembling flesh of our democratic society, caught indefinitely between an apathetic present and a global future forever to come? By asking these questions, we make explicit our effort to be contemporary, to engage our age not only through the master-signifiers of the current moment—neoliberal globalization, war on terrorism, biopolitics—but also through the narrative of a past epoch that perhaps is still ending. In this regard, we take into consideration Giorgio Agamben’s definition: Contemporariness is . . . a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and an anachronism. Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every respect, are not contemporaries, precisely because they do not manage to see it: they are not able to firmly hold their gaze on it.21 Given that the plurality of contemporary literary responses to the political present cannot be reduced to a unifying theme or genre, our task is to distinguish, in their poetic and fictional worlds, the interrogation of “the movement of democracy in its most problematic dimensions.”22 The investigation of the ways by which the literary encounters the political in the aftermath of World War II benefits from considering this hypothesis: Literary writing does not dispel the “tension” inhabiting the political but attests to it. As literature begins to address and sustain the impasses that have characterized the modern democratic experience,23 as it begins to bear witness to the novelty of totalitarian domination, the contemporariness of literary writing makes up the fundamental blueprint of its being in the world. In order to substantiate this claim, this book does not attempt to construct what literary critics often call “an interpretative model” based on the work of Lefort (or of any other thinker of “political difference” and social ontology). In fact, we strongly believe that if we take seriously the formulation of the democratic experience presented

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here, the very idea of a political interpretation according to a doctrine or theory fails to account for the “dialogue” between the literary and the political. The key question, then, is whether specific literary forms, poetic styles, and thematic concepts provide an exemplary narrative that identifies the poetic, cultural, and historical coordinates involved in engaging the “lack of fulfillment—the fractures, the tensions, the limits, and the oppositions—that have been emblematic of democracy.”24 Among literary responses to the political in the second half of the twentieth century, American and Eastern European novels that espouse interpretive historical narrative fictions constitute, in our view, one of the representative case studies. Reading this diverse corpus of texts, we notice how writers on both sides of the Iron Curtain face “the challenge of the political” in that different contemporary horizons shape their sense of the world and, therefore, the means through which their literary imagination confronts the underside of politics, the fictions of global order and emergency that emerged during the Cold War. How does political globalization challenge, in this historical context, the relations between individual subjects and the imagined community of a national people? What is the role of bureaucratic organizations and network structures (such as the Party, the state or the secret police) in determining the social configurations of global modernity? As literature takes these questions into account, it interprets the political by exploring the conflicting temporalities of historical experience in both democratic and totalitarian societies. This argument can be clarified if we consider briefly contemporary (national and regional) literatures in the context of the global circulation and the international reception of literary works during the Cold War. The novels from Eastern Europe that we discuss in the following chapters had all been translated into English and published in the West before 1989; The Joke (Milan Kundera) underwent a long process of translation and adaptation, from a first English edition (1969) to the fifth edition, fully revised by the author and published by HarperCollins in 1992. Like other books by Kundera (Laughable Loves and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting), A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš had been published in the prestigious Penguin series, Writers from the Other Europe, edited by Philip Roth, while The Royal Hunt (D. R. Popescu) was published by Quartet Encounters, among books that featured prominent Eastern European texts by Eugène Ionescu, Ismaïl Kadare, Miroslav Krleza, and Osip Mandelstam. The novels that have “crossed” the Iron Curtain have a peculiar relation to the contemporary horizon of Cold War democracies since, in an attempt to translate the totalitarian experience of the Eastern Bloc into the language of

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Cold War ideology, readers in the West have often used these texts as the confirmation of their own views about totalitarian domination. The Cold War thus operated a discursive apparatus that appropriated the work of cultural translation and, therefore, framed the reception of Eastern European literature in simple political categories. In fact, as Czech writer Ivan Klima noted, “the Empire where I lived . . . was much more complex from the inside than it looked from without. . . . Moreover, the Empire changed. . . . Time blunted the brutality of the revolutionary era: The rule of fanatics, ready to murder in the name of an idea, was followed by the rule of bureaucrats (though often police bureaucrats), who established some ground rules, which allowed people to adapt and carry on with their lives.”25 Communist regimes, having initially tried to annihilate the temporal plurality of democracy and—during the cycles of terror—having attempted to produce a type of homogeneous social time, were ultimately faced with the banal reality of their society’s finite historical existence. With or without Soviet intervention, totalitarian politics did not die with Stalin, yet moments of cultural liberalization have allowed Eastern European writers—such as Sławomir Mrożek, Ludvík Vaculík and György Konrád—the freedom to envision literary narratives in the absurdist and grotesque aesthetic tradition through which they could expose the masquerade of power in the Communist states: “Whatever its harshness, the communist system was anything but an efficient and smoothly operating mechanism. It was monstrously corrupt, inefficient, bungling and wasteful.”26 At the same time, writers like Milan Kundera were also able to focus on the absurd Kafkaesque moments in ordinary people’s existence in nonallegorical terms and, by means of interpretive fictions, designed narrative compositions allowing us to examine the various temporalities that merge in the collective identity of the people, as a guarantee to the political community’s power to last over time. Focusing on novels that use interpretive fictions to respond to the task of writing under the pressure of the political, we are able to describe a literary form that is ostensibly not a subcategory of historiographic metafiction. The construction of an interpretive narrative is made possible by juxtaposing two or several temporalities in the world of the novel and, often, by subverting—via metaphor and metalepsis—the clear border between the world of fiction projected by literature and the world of “reality” from which it has emerged. Interpretive narratives are thus not literary allegories about historiography (history as text) but fantasies, which inspire writers to

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design symbolic narrative structures that support their desire to be contemporary by allowing them to “firmly hold their gaze on their time” and to make sense of “their” time in spite of its obscurity.27 In this current study, we explore three narrative forms that correspond to the interpretive fictional model outlined above: a. Milan Kundera’s The Joke and Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist make sense of traumatic political experiences of the 1950s by integrating them in a dialectical narrative that “recuperates” this past decade from the perspective of a fictional present—the end of the 1960s in the former and the 1990s in the latter text. b. In the case of Robert Coover’s The Public Burning and D. R. Popescu’s The Royal Hunt—the only two narratives that qualify as detective fictions—the interpretive function of the novels does not derive from the characters’ quest for meaning but from the texts’ relation to the context of their narrative discourse (récit). Written in the 1970s, the novels perform an indexical relation to “current” events, the Watergate scandal and the Neo-Stalinist socialist humanist turn in Ceauşescu’s Romania, which destabilizes the 1950s “political allegories” of the novels’ plots and allows for reflections on the political that involve questions about popular sovereignty in the age of global security. c. A more difficult notion of political temporality emerges in Don DeLillo, Libra, and Danilo Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, two novels that organize their interpretive fictions in relation to an archive that both supports and constrains the novelists’ investigative fictional work into the world of political secrecy. In these novels, “contemporariness inscribes itself in the present” not so much by “marking it” archaic—as Agamben claimed—but archival.28 What picture of the political Cold War emerges through these staged dialogues between interpretive fictions from the United States and Eastern Europe? For Klima, “the bipolarity of a world divided between two superpowers” constitutes the embodiment, in the Cold War figure, of an ideology based on “age-old simplifications, which sees everything dualistically, as a clash between good and evil.”29 His account of the writers’ relation to this historical figuration of the opposition democracytotalitarianism echoes the political attitude of American novels about the Cold War—I Married a Communist (Philip Roth), The Public Burning (Robert Coover) and Libra (Don DeLillo)—when he proposes an ethicalaesthetic imperative for contemporary literature: “Writers . . . should reach under the surface of things, their picture of the world should embrace more than the vision of politics.”30 As these novels written on

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both sides of the Iron Curtain use their imaginative-interpretive power to go beyond the mere vision of politics, their narratives engage the trials of modern democracy and the dead end of totalitarianism by projecting fictional worlds in which the decades of the Cold War age emerge as temporal forms of the political.

Introduction. Writing the Cold War: Literature, Democracy and the Global Polis Thought itself arises out of incidents of living experience and must remain bound to them as the only guideposts by which to take its bearings. —hannah arendt, Between Past and Future

The Fog of the Cold War Can literature and art mediate our relation to the historical present? If we want to be contemporary, we cannot avoid this question. At the end of the twentieth century, we witnessed an “epochal threshold”: a picture of the world ended and a new one (the end of History) timidly emerged, only to be violently replaced by new representations of the global era, dominated by ever more expansive networks—military, technological, financial. At the same time, we discovered the return of the repressed: unruly politics without public discourse; deceptive myths of social and economic opportunity; religious fanaticism; and the near free fall of the open markets. Presented in these terms, our age looks at least gloomy and obscure! Yet this is why we must strive to be contemporary, in the sense given to this term by Giorgio Agamben: “The contemporary is he who holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness. All eras, for those who experience contemporariness, are obscure. The contemporary is precisely the person who knows how to see this obscurity, who is able to write by dipping his pen in the obscurity of the present.”1 Let us consider, in view of our initial question, two statements made by Don DeLillo, the fiction writer who is most faithfully devoted to understanding the dilemma of his own present, in that the invisible force of large historical events has, under the guise of the Cold War, allured his imagination. In Mao II (1991), a novel about media culture, mass

12 / introduction

movements, and transnational terrorism, the protagonist is the solitary novelist Bill Gray. In his conversations with the shady George Haddad, the fictional novelist acknowledges that, after Beckett, the writer’s task is to compose “the new tragic narrative” of the world, to describe “midair explosions and crumbled buildings.”2 However, through Bill Gray, DeLillo states his belief in the “novel [as] a democratic shout”3; in The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera suggests that a similar sharp contrast takes place between the totalitarian universe and the world of the novel.4 This judgment does not reflect, however, the idea that literary language can free all means of expression. It thus avoids Sartre’s critique of intransitive language, which he sees as an obstacle to creating a politically committed literature. At the same time, the novel is that literary space of exploration of the small and the large, the private and the public, the everyday and the historical, the local and the global. In another statement, DeLillo conveys a similar message as he describes the relation between the writer (who is powerless to influence history) and the “public figure”: Fiction will always examine the small anonymous corners of human experience. But there is also the magnetic force of public events and the people behind them. There is something in the novel itself, its size and psychological reach, its openness to strong social themes that suggests a matching of odd-couple appetites— the solitary writer and the public figure at the teeming center of events. The writer wants to see inside the human works, down to dreams and routine rambling thoughts, in order to locate the neural strands that link him to men and women who shape history.5 This paragraph is taken from “The Power of History,” an essay-commentary on Underworld, DeLillo’s sprawling narrative of Cold War America. Understood in this specific context, the fictional examination of the small and large corners of collective human existence is not just a matter of seeing the contemporary age becoming past and entering History, but of “working through” the dilemmas of the “present”—this is also visible in the novel’s composition, with episodes moving in reverse from the 1990s to the 1950s. We know from Freud that “working through” is an “arduous task”6; reading the massive novels of Cold War America— from Underworld to Gravity’s Rainbow—we discover, however, that these Freudian terms operate beyond their psychoanalytic usage. In other words, “writing through” signifies an engagement with the “evanescent spectacle of contemporary life that makes the novel so nervous.”7 The novelist “works” to construct a fictional collective memory of the recent historical decades out of the cultural and political amnesia of the present.

introduction / 13

Who can hear today, not just the words of Churchill’s 1946 speech, “Sinews of Peace,” which we now can comfortably watch on YouTube, but also its ominous tone? This is the crucial passage: “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intend in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies. . . . From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.” The geopolitical reference points in Churchill’s speech achieve their meaning through the “iron curtain,” which designates the internal inconsistency of the global peace established by the end of World War II and signifies, in turn, the development of complex global military strategies, spurred not only by concrete ideological demands or by rational policy-making but also by the “fog of the Cold War.” In the words of Molotov, “the situation is unclear. A great game is underway.”8 I derive this term from Clausewitz, who alludes to the “fog of war” a few times in his writings, without using the phrase in this precise formula: “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of factors on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser certainty.”9 While some military historians consider this metaphor as superfluous, it reflects, in my view, the contingent nature of war intelligence—the formation of a corpus of knowledge about one’s enemy that is always insufficient, a foundation for military operations that could always crumble.10 That this metaphor is more important to the study of political and military Cold War than it is to classic theories of warfare, which remains too closely linked to nineteenth-century European conflict, we know from Errol Morris’s 2003 documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, and also from historical commentary. Take, for instance, Eric Hobsbawm’s remark that the US involvement in Vietnam is “almost impossible to understand, except as part of that dense cloud of incomprehension, confusion and paranoia through which the main actors in the Cold War tapped their way.”11 In this sense, for statesmen and citizens, but also for political thinkers and writers, being in the “fog of the Cold War” carries the weight of an experience marked, on the one hand, by the indefinite global state of peace between the United States and the USSR and their military interventions in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, on the other. While attempts have been made, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, to see this conflict as an objective antagonism of sorts, the interpretation was itself an attempt to dispel the fog (i.e., the uncertainty) by providing

14 / introduction

the sense of a possible choice between two mutually exclusive worlds.12 The “fog of the Cold War” is thus the figural term by which we attest the process in which the contingencies and trials of the political have been obscured; unsurprisingly, deception, masquerade, and simulacrum loom large in the literary narratives and films of the period. In his prologue to Underworld, DeLillo’s interest in the “fog of the Cold War” is shaped by the juxtaposition of two events presented by The New York Times on October 4, 1951: “Giants Capture Pennant, Beating Dodgers 5–4” and “Soviet’s Second Atomic Blast in 2 Years Revealed by US; Details Are Kept A Secret.” These two memorable headlines frame not only the way two historical narratives (one cultural, the other geopolitical) emerge within the (media) public sphere, but also the novelist’s task—a third narrative (and a fictional one) that no longer informs the public but bears witness to these events and illustrates their symbolic meaning. This meaning is, however, in itself mediated by literary language and staged as a provisional archetypal scenario. Compare the text of Churchill’s speech to DeLillo’s fictional scene, in which J. Edgar Hoover is conveniently imagined at the legendary Polo Grounds as a spectator at the 1951 baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers; he is not only the “public figure” at the heart of events, but also one of the architects of a nation-state politics embodying a doctrine of reason of state that affirms security and secrecy as the two pillars of Cold War democratic sovereignty. After finding out that the Soviets “explode the atomic bomb,” Hoover discovers, in a page from Life magazine, a reproduction of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, “The Triumph of Death.” With dark humor, DeLillo substitutes the destructive capacity of nuclear technology—the unrepresentable image of atomic war—with the religious apocalyptic imagery (now mass-reproduced): “Across the red-brown earth, skeleton armies on the march. Men impaled on lances, hung from the gibbets, drawn on spoked wheels fixed to the tops of bare trees, bodies open to the crows. Legions of the dead forming up behind shields made of coffin lids.”13 The ekphrasis illuminates, within the metaphorical name “Cold War,” the concrete possibilities of the imminent closure of History, indefinitely haunted by the specter of Soviet-style totalitarianism and the threat of the nuclear holocaust, the apocalyptic arrival of the dark angel of the end of History. At the same time, this image is a mere mass-reproduced copy of a masterpiece; DeLillo smuggles it into the scene, not for its theological or aesthetic significance, but as an allegory of the Cold War’s formative function to US national culture. Churchill’s diagnosis of postwar geopolitics is a representation that attempts to address the shift from

introduction / 15

a global imaginary geography of the worldwide military conflict to an image of a world divided by “peace”; DeLillo, however, points out that this image is, in turn, associated with the emergence of an apocalyptic discourse, a negative eschatology that lurks in the deep structure of the postmodern polis’s cultural identity. As an introductory example to the literary imagination of the political, DeLillo’s prologue to Underworld exposes the challenges facing this book. Even if we begin to understand what made DeLillo speak—as Claude Lefort would suggest—that is, his prudent reaction to the triumphalism of the 1990s, what made him revisit (with ironic nostalgia) the four decades of contemporary history, we interpret this fictional birth scene of Cold War America as an attempt to “see” through the historical narrative, to actualize, through J. Edgar Hoover’s vision, the otherwiseobscure mechanism by which the ideology of national security achieved legitimacy in the political imaginary of US democracy. If “political institutions offer different solutions to political contingency,”14 the National Security State is the solution to a contingent problem that the democratic system could not contain because it unleashed a mythological experience of historical reality, marked by apocalyptic “terrors” that political modernity had promised to leave behind. Participating in the imaginative effort to reconstruct the myth that interrupts the US narrative of democracy, DeLillo does not identify a specific feature of poetic composition as political. Neither is he equating literary politics with a cultural attitude, such as “the writer as bad citizen,” even though dissent informs his writing. The relation of literary writing to the political realm cannot thus be explored following the interpretative model of ideology critique or against the background of the writer’s political opinions.15 At the same time, DeLillo’s novel does not define stricto sensu the conceptuality of the political—in a predominantly global context—or designate a specific logic through which it can be distinguished from the commonly used term “politics.” It is thus important to keep the literary examination of human experience at a minimal distance from the thought of political philosophers in order to enact imagined dialogues between them. Reminding readers of the deceptively simple idea of public freedom that still gives meaning to politics in the second half of the past century, Hannah Arendt foregrounds the analysis of the anti-political attitude in the West with an emphasis on the “experiences—totalitarianism and the atomic bomb— [which] ignite the question about the meaning of politics in our time.”16 To a large extent, DeLillo, who has by now witnessed the collapse of totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and the “end” of the atomic age,

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inadvertently takes Arendt’s premise into account without positing the Greek public realm or the American Revolution as exemplary moments of the democratic experience. Another brief example: In Democracy (1984), a novel about America’s political class during the 1960s and 1970s, Joan Didion interrupts the story of Inez Victor to offer readers a rare moment of theoretical reflection and authorial introspection. It is the spring of 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War, and the writer (now narrator-character) teaches a class at Berkeley about “the idea of democracy in the work of certain post-industrial writers . . . the hypothesis being that the way a writer constructed a sentence reflected the way that writer thought.”17 This pedagogical exercise traverses its fictional setting; close-readings of texts by George Orwell and Henry Adams lead to a lyrical passage, to carefully constructed sentences that seem to reflect the paralysis of the democratic idea. The narrator sees herself at two distinct moments in her adult existence: “In 1955 on this campus I first noticed the quickening of time. In 1975 time was no longer quickening but collapsing, falling on itself, the way a disintegrating star contracts into a black hole.”18 Let us consider how the experiences of history are embodied here by Joan Didion’s prose, her fragmented, elliptical syntax showing the inability to signify anything but the exhaustion of the writer’s engagement with the public narrative of her present. The sense of this experience appears in the “sentimental sojourn,” in the melancholy state worthy of a Cold War Prufrock, who has “less time left for visions and revisions.”19 In Didion’s novel, the literary encounters the political through an elegy of American democracy, a story of political loss that cuts through the imagined life of public figures, professional politicians, and agents of the covert US military apparatus, while having ended in the reconfigured geopolitical space of the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In more explicitly political terms than DeLillo, Didion writes a national allegory that connects the characters’ private lives to the global scene of US military and diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia. This does not mean, however, that Democracy qualifies as political novel more than Underworld does. Titles can be misleading; in the case of Didion’s novel, the literary work may, in fact, suggest that the term democracy does not carry a self-evident meaning. If the novel offers a “bleak political vision,”20 the prophetic fiction it proposes is neither Orwellian nor Kafkaesque (even though it may have aspects of both), but realistic, in spite of its elegiac tone, because it refers to concrete phenomena that test the people’s capacity to safeguard the political dimensions of their being-in-common—not simply the cultural, religious, social aspects

introduction / 17

of communal existence. The danger is that of autoimmunity—to use Derrida’s term—a self-inflicted attack of the body-politic through “a national security apparatus designed to maintain America’s global influence; a media-based politic that elevates style over substance, and a loss of connection with the past.”21 These aspects of Cold War political culture are addressed by my book through a constellation of theoretical concepts such as the state of exception, the democratic simulacrum, and the disintegration (and falsification) of political tradition. It is important to note, however, that Democracy begins the conversation with political philosophy by telling a narrative about the Cold War, which for Didion does not simply designate a world historical period, but a set of discursive practices whose legitimacy derives from linking the global expansion of ideological views of world history to the universalist vocation of Western modernity. According to Andrew Hammond, Cold War discourse “concealed the wide-raging and violent extension of US global dominion, foregrounding images of tranquil stasis”; the “performative functions”22 of the Cold War metaphor have thus remained central to the political imaginary of the age, in spite of numerous policy shifts that have occurred between 1947–1990 in both the United States and the USSR. The following chapters stage literary-philosophical dialogues about the conflicting meanings of the Cold War discourse.23 I borrow this interpretative term, “imagined dialogues” from Gordana Crnković, one of the few critics who have written about “Eastern European Literature in Conversation with American and English Literature.” I employ the term “imagined dialogues” not only to discuss American and Eastern European literature’s varied responses to Cold War discourse, but also to envision a space of conversation between literary and politicotheoretical writing. Whereas I agree with Crnković’s critique of the pervasive methodological dogmatism in literary studies today, which unavoidably leads to the production of academic cultural capital and intellectual commodities, my solution to this problem is, however, different. “The specificity of literature and its liberating potentials”24 is meaningful to me only as it encompasses the rhetorical capacity of literary writing to engage the problematic aspects of human experience, particularly those aspects that political thought has defined by means of theoretical concepts. My readings of literary and theoretical texts map the transnational narratives that connect elements of the Cold War discourse such as the Atomic Bomb, Stalinist show-trials, anti-Communist propaganda, totalitarian terror, secret military operations, the targeting of ordinary

18 / introduction

citizens or political leaders, and Western Communism. The novels discussed here bear witness to the shaping of the Cold War’s political and cultural geography, as they illuminate the articulation of a national and global discursive system that consistently alters these elements’ conceptual identities. This theoretical point can be illustrated by a simple example. The meaning of “Atomic Bomb” at the end of World War II changes from a symbol of US military supremacy into the technological horizon of total warfare or Mutually Assured Destruction, once it has entered into relation with other central signifiers of Cold War discourse. Among the significant directions in contemporary discourse theory, Laclau and Mouffe’s contribution has introduced a paradigm shift to social and political research—“from ‘ontically’ given objects of investigations to their ‘ontological’ conditions of possibility.”25 Two main arguments of discourse theory will prove instrumental to the “ontological” approach of this current study. First, we will reject any attempts to consider the Cold War as a closed discourse, because the transformation of the elements mentioned above (Atomic Bomb, totalitarianism, secrecy, etc.) in “moments” of Cold War discourse cannot be complete.26 For instance, “totalitarianism” is not only a central part of American Cold War rhetorical practices that enabled rationales for creating the National Security State, but also an irreducible element linked to the expansion of Soviet power in the Eastern European bloc. Secondly, adopting Laclau’s critique of the Foucauldian distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices, we can emphasize the “material character” of Cold War ideologies; that is, they are not “simple systems of ideas but are embodied in institutions [and] rituals.”27 Because the Cold War, like any other discursive formation, is not “unified in the logical coherence of its elements . . . or in the unity of an experience,”28 our point of departure is the historians’ frail consensus on a plausible definition. On the one hand, Barry Buzan refers to “a total war, representing diametrically opposed strategies for organizing the political economy of industrial society, though much restrained by warweariness and fear of nuclear conflict.”29 David Held, on the other hand, as a leading theorist of globalization, argues for a dialectical understanding of this concept of totality since, in his view, the Cold War represented a “unique system of global power relations which, paradoxically, both divided the globe into rival camps and yet unified it within a strategically interconnected global order.”30 While most historians accept today that “ideologies and perceptions mattered inside the soviet bloc and in the US,”31 Westad recognizes that the global direction in Cold War historiography needs to account for the American hegemony of the Cold War,

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a term that now signifies the uneven distribution of discursive practices among the two camps: Although a critical term at first, the term “Cold War” in the 1950s came to signal an American concept of warfare against the USSR: aggressive containment without a state of war. The Soviets, on the other side, never used the term officially before the Gorbachev era, since they clung to their fiction that their country was “peaceful” and only “imperialism” was aggressive, in a way similar to how US (and Western European) leaders used the “Cold War” to imply a Soviet threat.32 The Cold War was not only a crucial moment in the enactment of a global order, but also the framework through which political globalization developed in the aftermath of World War II. For the US president Roosevelt, the creation of a global peace based on Wilsonian principles of self-determination, open markets, and collective security implied a geopolitical shift from the imperialist order that had attempted the worldwide expansion of European political power.33 Emerging right after Roosevelt’s death, American Cold War discourse adapted his foreign policy principles to the antagonistic language of a conflict at the heart of modernity, in that they provided the US government with a morally legitimate vision of the world, opposed to the Communist project of globalization through political struggle.34 My book rejects, however, William Pietz’s position according to which totalitarianism was solely the intellectual fiction that provided the Cold War with a “theoretical anchor.”35 His argument assumes that there is a discursive center, a nodal articulation point, that can potentially suture the Cold War’s heterogeneous elements.36 I do, however, find his analysis quite pertinent in other respects: “In regards to the Soviets, [this discourse] justified a policy of global anti-communism by reinterpreting all struggles for national self-determination in terms of geopolitical context for zones of power against totalitarian Russia . . . ; in regard to Nazi Germany, it saved the traditional pre-war faith concerning the ‘values of Western civilization’ . . . by displacing the human essence of fascism into the non-Western world.”37 Given the scale of the totalitarian terror unleashed by fascist and Communist regimes, Cold War discourse aimed to restore the legitimacy of political modernity. At the same time, its defining slogan, in US public space, the conflict of ideologies, achieved conceptual identity only as an ideology of national security, which, in turn, became meaningful by providing a narrative of global order. This geopolitical conception of order is shaped through competing rhetorical

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structures made explicit by the language of diplomacy, foreign policy, and international relations, particularly the West’s preference for the term “security” compared to the East’s focus on “peace.”38 The vocabulary of foreign affairs contains, in its rhetoric, clues about the ideological underside of any political narrative that founds in the imaginary of power sources for its legitimacy. For instance, one of the central roles of Cold War ideology in the United States was to “placate class antagonism,” in the name of national security, by instituting anti-Communism as a moral imperative for politics.39 This argument is central to Hardt and Negri’s genealogy of political globalization. On the one hand, they emphasize the specificity of the Cold War for the “passages of sovereignty” (from the European nationstate to today’s “Empire”); on the other, they establish a grand narrative of American imperialism consistently developed throughout history. As “world cop and mastermind of repression of liberation struggles to defend the ‘free world’ against communism,”40 the United States would thus stay on route to its destiny. This story line fails to address, however, the conditions of possibility for American Cold War discourse by treating it only as the background to the de-colonization and de-centralization of the world. In other words, Hardt and Negri miss the novelty of this peculiar moment in political modernity: The Cold War was a rhetorical framework that aimed to produce a horizon of intelligibility for the globe’s diverse yet interconnected experiences of the political, but failed to embody a notion of totality that would ostensibly give meaning to all aspects of global history from the 1950s to the 1990s. In order to determine the rhetorical specificity of Cold War discourse, it is worth considering its leading metaphor in the context of the historical staging of universalism: The Cold War was—in the ideologies of its two protagonists—the last manifestation of the Enlightenment: that is, that we were dealing with ideologies which distributed the ensemble of the forces operating in the historical arena in two opposite camps, and which identified their own aims with that of a global human emancipation. Both “free world” and the “communist society” were considered by their defenders as projects of societies without internal frontiers or divisions.41 The drama of universalism consists not so much in the opposition of ideological camps as in their common aspiration to enact on the global stage visions of political totality. These ideological projects are founded on the same theoretical premise: the conviction that, being legitimate

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heirs to European modernity, they could claim to embody the solution to the “crisis of contemporary technological society as a whole, the crisis that Heidegger describes as the ineptitude of humanity face to face with the planetary power of technology.”42 While Václav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” (1978)43 is a historical document known for offering a lucid reflection on totalitarian power and the dissident movement (particularly Charta 77), it also provides a commentary on the future of the political that rejects the simple alternative offered by Cold War politics: totalitarianism—in his terminology “post-totalitarianism”— or parliamentary democracy. The defining feature of totalitarianism is not only its ideology, which, being a “secularized religion,”44 has transformed social reality into a “world of appearances,”45 but also its capacity to convert the Communist movement into a state apparatus incarnated by impersonal power structures and their authoritarian rituals.46 At the same time, in the conclusion to his essay, Havel sees the technological side of modern civilization as the dead-end of the political across the Iron Curtain. While he considers the dissident movement in Eastern Europe as an exemplary model of democratic participation, he acknowledges the efficiency of the ideological mechanism that operates in Western liberaldemocracies: “Traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial—consumer society, for they, too, are being dragged helplessly along by it. People are manipulated in ways that are more subtle and refined than the brutal methods used in post-totalitarian societies.”47 Given that misrecognition operates on all levels of social reality, ideology crosses the dividing lines imposed by Cold War geopolitics, international law, and foreign policy. It is not, however, free from the political culture that it inhabits as it asserts its role in the modern nationstates’ desire to control the sense of (global) history. The work of ideology does not happen in the ideal world, but in the modern life-world where it provides, in Hannah Arendt’s view, a “pseudo-science and a pseudophilosophy” that undoes, by means of apparent logic, the “mysteries of the whole historical process”;48 at the same time, it also constitutes the “veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo.”49 There is a third way to understand the work of ideology—a solution to the impasse of orthodox Marxist critiques.50 Rather than focusing on “the misrecognition of a positive essence” as the central feature of the ideological, we need to consider this phenomenon from the perspective of its dialectical underside: “the non-recognition of the precarious character of any positivity, of the impossibility of any ultimate suture.”51 Ideology operates as

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that rational fiction that enables people in totalitarian and democratic societies to hide truths that would challenge their collective identities: for instance, the truth of the failed Communist revolution and the truth of Cold War American imperialism. The secret of ideology is, however, that both the Communist and the democratic society are unable and unwilling to recognize the precarious nature of their imagined communities. This point requires us to distinguish another act in the historical drama of global universalism. The historical process behind the “formation of a single world-space” provided, according to Lefort, the “logic” for the Communist project as well as for the current utopia of the free market; at the same time, the global foundation for universalism cannot revert into its dialectical opposite, the universal foundation for global order.52 So far, we have noted that the ideological opposition Communism vs. democracy is sustained by a formal semantic equivalence (rather than difference) between “free world” and “Communist society”—an equivalence grounded, according to Havel, in the technological crisis of modern civilization. On the one hand, the “mirroring” of these two signifiers can only produce a partial suture of Cold War ideologies.53 On the other, the “precarious character” of the Cold War refers to the asymmetrical relation between totalitarianism and democracy and illuminates the latter’s singularly treacherous (and difficult) global adventure. The asymmetry points to the fact that “Cold War” was not fully integrated in the USSR’s political discourse (and to the specific work of ideology in the totalitarian system of the Eastern Bloc), while it played a hegemonic role in US political discourse, to the extent that it became the hinge connecting foreign and domestic policy while providing an essential feature to American national identity. The history of democracy in the twentieth century requires us to acknowledge the prospect of emergencies that could bring the democratic-political to a dead-end: “There is always a possibility”—writes Lefort—“that the democratic logic of democracy will be disrupted in a society in which the foundations of the political order and the social order vanish,”54 but that possibility is not, a priori, totalitarianism. As a mode of representation that captures the political in the simple schema of a global antithesis, Cold War discourse masks this complication of history.55 It is thus not only Communist totalitarianism that “puts to the test history’s complications,”56 but also the opposition between liberaldemocratic and Communist-totalitarian societies and its role in the imaginary of political power. In order to examine the antagonism that emerged on the scene of political modernity with the Cold War, we need to take into consideration

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a theorization of the political that stands in utter contrast to Lefort and to other Leftist thinkers of political ontology. Written from the 1920s to the 1960s, under the spell of a nostalgic dream of the past, of an era of the jus publicum Europaeum, “when relations between sovereign states were conducted with comitas (courtesy) and with jus (probity),” the work of Carl Schmitt, the famed conservative legal scholar, emphasized the utter antagonistic nature of any political relation.57 The starting point of The Concept of the Political (1932) is a notion of retreat, historically illustrated by the collapse of the political-theological structure of authority and the transformation of the modern state by various forms of “depoliticalizations characteristic of the liberal nineteenth century”58 as well as by the overlap between state and society. On the one hand, the political, as the principle of sovereignty is not the normative order as such but the function that makes possible the bracketing of that specific order, as in the case of the state of exception (the central topic of Schmitt’s Political Theology). On the other, given the “retreat” or the dissolution of State authority, the political appears incorporated by the neutral domains (religion, culture, education, the economy), which “cease to be neutral.”59 Schmitt’s challenge is to find proper political categories, to identify specific criteria that would indicate “all actions with a specifically political meaning.” As a solution to this problem, he suggests that there is a criterion (rather than a definition) “to which political actions and motives can be reduced.”60 Yet like all other domains of human experience, the political is founded on an antithesis between two terms that acquire meaning by nature of their opposition. In his view, the friend-enemy distinction functions as a minimal universal test for politics, inasmuch as beautiful-ugly or the good-bad distinctions are properly used in an aesthetic and a moral sense. While it is not the task of this introduction to explore the validity of this analogy, it is worth mentioning that we need to go beyond apparent argumentative weaknesses in order to discover Schmitt’s intriguing mix of jurisprudence and philosophical-theological thinking. The formulation of the political is thus no longer exclusively a philosophical task (as in Lefort, Arendt, or Rosanvallon). We learn soon, however, that for Schmitt, the specificity of distinctions is not just a matter of intellectual discipline, but of polemical affirmation. His opposition to the “proceduralism” of the market-model instituted by liberal politics takes shape as a theoretical nodal point: On the political scene, the fight between friends and enemies is not to be taken in the symbolic or metaphorical sense of mere competition, but as an existential category. More specifically, the distinction constituting the “concept of the political” is not a normative category within

24 / introduction

politics but the concrete way of accounting, in Schmitt’s perspective, for an autonomous—in other words, un-contaminated—identity of the field of politics: “Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy.”61 All conflicts can become political if they are “strong” enough—if they reach a certain degree of intensity, which alters their identity and enables their conversion. Following a Hegelian-Marxist schema of quantity becoming quality, Schmitt sees the political as sovereign among human endeavors, as it represents the “height” (see the Latin summum) of any conflictual rapport that has the potential to legitimate the killing of one’s enemies; all the possible meanings of politics are thus derived from the oppositional logic of the antithesis friend-enemy. “The real possibility” of the enemy is the criterion for the political, as it manifests itself in an existential sense, neither as a neutral competitor, nor as the foe (i.e., “the private adversary whom one hates”).62 In the context of possible antagonisms between political groups and nation-states, there is no political without this form of existential negation presupposed by enmity. A different logic of negation is at stake, however, in the affirmation of political authority: In Political Theology (1922), Schmitt derives his theory of sovereignty from the temporary negation of the legal order of the state, a suspension of the normative through a pure and free act of personal decision. In The Concept of the Political, he writes that “the concept of state presupposes the concept of the political”; the “simple and elementary statement”63 that explains all political actions is thus not based on the state, but on the essential antithesis friend-enemy. The argument in Political Theology begins with another clear definition—“sovereign is he who decides on the exception,”64—which leads the strategic attack against neo-Kantian legalism and liberalism. In the third chapter of the book, we learn, however, that a theory of the state relies on “secularized theological concepts”: “The omnipotent God became the lawgiver” while “the exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.”65 This axiom of secularization does not include, however, the concept of the political, which Schmitt discusses on the basis of a specific antithesis that needs to be fully distinguished and never confused with other antitheses in morality, aesthetics, economy, and so on. The ultimate political criterion, the friend-enemy distinction, is specific to politics insofar as it stands by itself in an existential sense. We have already discussed this point, but what we have not yet considered is that no religious antithesis is mentioned in The Concept of the Political. The irony here is that Schmitt’s project

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cannot account for a political theology of the political per se, or for the relation between agonistic legalism (founded on the idea of international law as containment of war) and democratic theology. To find a theological analogy to antagonism, to the friend-enemy distinction, would entail nothing less than returning to the early Christian problem of dualist Gnosticism. This is not the theological doctrine that Schmitt, as a good Catholic, has in mind when he argues for the legitimacy of political theology in his modern theory of the state. According to Kenneth Reinhard, “the friend-enemy distinction remains significant when we understand it as a symptom of political theology, an attempt to formalize the political against the threat of the theological—that is, as the political’s defense against destabilizing aspects of its own theologism.”66 Schmitt’s challenge is thus to theorize a conflict between various political entities that is strictly political. The truth is that the political is under permanent threat from mythological figuration and only in theory can it be protected by the old (semi-fictive) legal doctrine of the jus publicum Europaeum. About the Cold War, which had instituted a newly complicated relationship to an absolute military conflict under the name of nuclear war, Schmitt writes: The Cold War totally ignores the classic distinctions between war, peace, and neutrality, between the political and the economic, military and civilian, soldier and civilian, with the exception of the friend/enemy distinction, whose logic presides at the birth of war and determines its nature. Nothing surprising, then, if the old English word foe has left the four hundred-year-old lethargy of its archaism to return to common usage, over the past two decades, next to the word enemy.67 According to Schmitt’s account of the onto-technology of the Cold War, the global conflict between the USSR and the United States undermines the friend-enemy distinction and, at the same time, destabilizes his political-theological narrative of modernity. In other words, the rhetoric of violence that is presupposed in the usage of the archaic term “foe” consolidates the mythical underside of political antagonism. Coinciding with the age of the global picture, the Cold War attempted to represent the global system as a “whole” within a mythological-political matrix. The antagonism that emerged on the scene of global history with the Cold War does not simply show “the primacy of external politics (relations between sovereign states) over internal politics (inner social antagonisms),”68 which would be consistent with Schmitt’s work, but the primacy of myth in political modernity.

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The dominant cultural and juridical order of 1950s America, the National Security State, whose apocalyptic aura is metaphorically captured by DeLillo’s ekphrasis, exposes in a nuanced way the troubled fate of the political and requires an analysis of political myth that is not solely dependent on the narrow fields of geopolitics or jurisprudence. While it aimed to ensure the containment of Communism, the main ideological function of the National Security State was to activate the myth of American exceptionalism, which “empowered US citizens to see themselves as exceptions to the rules that regulated the World of Nations and to identify their will with the will of the State of Exception that governed the international political order.” More so, “rather than protesting against the state’s abrogation of its rules, US citizens fantasized themselves as the sovereign power that has suspended the law in the name of securing the nation” (my italics).69 Donald Pease skillfully demonstrates that an apparent contradictory or irrational attitude counts as unconscious motivation: For many US citizens the manifestations of American global hegemony have not been perceived as trespassing the regime of law or the democratic norms that the US continued to represent in postwar historical conditions, but as necessary exceptions. It is thus not simply by disinformation and deception (in one word, by propaganda) that the US government was able to pursue its role as world power; within the horizon of global emergency, the “fog of the Cold War” thus enabled American exceptionalism to play a mediating role between the indefinite state of exception, which demands some suspension of legality and or ethical values, and the institutions of the liberal-democratic society.70 The conceptual matrix that permeates Pease’s analysis recalls the Lefortian vocabulary of disembodied power in democratic societies, as well as Giorgio Agamben’s recent argument concerning the transhistorical paradigm of the legal-philosophical notion of the state of exception, in his view, constitutive of the political as such.71 In part, due to the reception of Agamben’s work, few concepts in political theory have laid their hypnotic spell on the humanities in the last decade as much as sovereignty, which reemerged as the point of intersection of discourses about global security and human rights in the context of the “war on terror.”72 Agamben’s contribution to the current theoretical debates surrounding sovereignty offers a rather bleak—some say nihilistic—view on the formation of political communities:73 (1) The original political relation is the ban (the state of exception as zone of indistinction between outside and inside, exclusion and inclusion). (2) The fundamental activity of sovereign power is the production of bare life as originary political element and as threshold between nature and culture, zoe and bios. (3)

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Today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.74 New American Exceptionalism is a rare engagement with these ideas, in that Pease submits the theory of exception to the test of US political and cultural formations. Pease’s psychoanalytical-inspired vocabulary ensures interpretations of the political that can account for the interplay between the diverse registers of the modern democratic imaginary: the utopian, the ideological, and the mythical. In this sense, the mythology of American exceptionalism provides national collective fantasies with a permanent ideological resource for the shaping of US national identity, but its true significance is realized in the alluring (utopian) image of sovereignty that does not rule but leads the world in the atomic age.75 This notion of national sovereignty, emerging in the “fog of the Cold War,” is further evidence of the historical complication that tied democracy to its other, Soviet totalitarianism. This brief analysis of the Cold War moment in the global history of the political fleshes out the difficulty in conceiving of literature’s relation to the political, which has deeply marked contemporary literary criticism. Marxist critics, for instance, have avoided this issue completely and have instead talked of political literature—especially in the sense of politically unconscious literature—whose significance is derived from the dogmatic centrality of class struggle to their view or from the ideological commitments of various writers. The true promise of Marxism was, according to Fredric Jameson’s known analysis, “the resolution to the dilemma of historicism”;76 in other words, the production of a “single great collective story” guided by the oracular words of The Communist Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” The modus operandi of this new hermeneutic, which, in Jamesonian language, constitutes the “absolute horizon of all reading and interpretation” (PU 17), concretizes the desire of the literary critic to possess the ultimate interpretative method. The object of desire is no longer the aesthetic secret or the specificity of literary language, but “detecting the traces of that uninterrupted narrative” (PU 20). Jameson could thus find, for example, in reading the novels of the nineteenth century, the traces of History, that history of oppression, which is not simply a forgotten, but a “buried and repressed reality” (PU 20). The psychoanalytically inspired concept and procedure, the political unconscious, which conveniently compensates, in the early 1980s, for the inherent limitation of the Hegelian-Marxist dialectics, demands, however, the fetishization of this labor of reading, and is subsumed, in turn, by a fundamental fantasy.77 In this archeological mission, the literary critic imagines to discover in the interpretation of literary texts the secret by which ideology operates, the

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mechanism by which it suppresses class antagonisms from the collective consciousness of a particular society. There are numerous problems with this approach; the most significant, I believe, is “the increasing gap between the classical Marxist dogma . . . and the actual turn of events [which] opened a theoretical vacuum that various intellectual projects attempted to fill.”78 The gap between the philosophy of Marxism and historical action could not be filled, however, by theoretical projects that do not recognize that class politics cannot (not even in potentiality) function as ultimate ground of the political. But once we begin the work of unthinking the central categories of Marxism (class, emancipation, dialectical materialism), we can no longer accept the premises on which the political unconscious of literature is founded. Where to go from here? What theoretical choices do we have in considering literature’s interpretation of the political, now that we acknowledge that the deconstruction of Marxism is the necessary condition for a concept of the political that does not rely on a given dialectical formula of history, but rather on the Lefortian-Machiavellian principle of social change in which “All human affairs are in movement and cannot stand still”?79 In what way can interpretive novels orient us in the right direction by offering insights into the literary narratives’ difficult attempts at “writing at the challenge of the political” (Écrire: à l’épreuve du politique) posed by the Cold War? The paradigm shift from Marxism to post-foundational thought—that is, to a democratic theory that recognizes the importance of indeterminacy and antagonism—does not guarantee an answer to these questions, but it is nonetheless instrumental in providing an alternative way to conceive of literature’s engagement of the political as a matter of defining its contemporariness.

Prophetic Constellations We have so far explored the reasons to consider the Cold War as a ripe rhetorical terrain for analyzing the art of philosophical and literary writing that engaged the political dimension of contemporary societies: What makes communities political today and how arduous is their path towards democratic freedom? It is time now to shift the focus to the means by which literature enters a dialogue with the political. The question of whether literature’s discourse is itself mediated by cultural doxa or the writers’ opinions cannot be easily settled and, regardless of the answer, the potential for democratic engagement of literary writing cannot be denied. We can formulate this problem of mediation in different terms, particularly since our case study—writing literature in the fog

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of the Cold War—demands that we do. Franco Moretti’s “sociology of literary forms” functions as a precedent to the logic of our argument. If “literary texts are historical products organized according to rhetorical criteria,”80 for literary criticism, the concept of “literary genre” is that proper mediator between rhetoric and history. By the same token, rhetorical criteria structure literary responses of the political by setting into motion a discursive mode of address that, crossing the border of literary genres, sets the tone for the texts’ interrogation of the vicissitudes of the democratic-political. One text in which we find clues about the risks involved by “writing under the pressure of the political” is the recently published foreword to the centennial edition of George Orwell’s 1984 by Thomas Pynchon. This essay enables us to identify the dominant discursive mode that organizes the Cold War novels’ engagement of the political character of modern societies. In order to contextualize the novel’s imagination of a totalitarian world, which cannot occupy the space of already-existing totalitarianisms but that of dystopian fiction, Pynchon distinguishes a number of relevant political themes that concerned Orwell in the late 1940s: the “despair over the postwar state of ‘Socialism’ . . . in too many instances concerned only with maintaining itself in power”; the popularity of Stalinism among Western Leftists “in the face of overwhelming evidence of the evil nature of the regime”; and the condemnation of the mistakes made in the “wake of World War II,” the “peace” that laid the ground for the Cold War.81 A lot more is at stake, it appears, in Orwell’s writing than to embody anti-Communist politics and thus to let itself be abused by the American propaganda of the 1950s—an unfortunate fate for a book that so powerfully denounced information control and thought manipulation. Even if it has been heard before in the texts of other critics, Pynchon’s most pertinent argument remains that Orwellian literary fiction has a peculiar relation to the history of the twentieth century, not only to the phenomenon of totalitarianism, with its fascist and Communist elements, but also to liberal-democratic societies. Pynchon, a step ahead of Habermasian liberalism, describes the process of public communication in Orwellian terms and commands us to remember the deceptive mechanisms of modern American political culture: “Public opinion is the target of rewritten history, official amnesia and outright lying, all of which is benevolently termed ‘spin,’ as if it were no more harmful than a ride on a merry-go-round.”82 Yet the game of recognizing in our world situations previously imagined by Orwell only leads to paranoid scenarios. A story that would simply claim to recognize a pattern of predictions in 1984 can only generate a Leftist

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dystopian fiction, a nihilistic affirmation of a post-political universe ruled by some surrogate Big Brother that has hijacked the sovereignty of democratic states. Pynchon does not fall in this trap; for him, Orwell’s legacy does not lie in having made predictions, but in having created a true prophetic literary statement. Following my previous brief discussion of DeLillo and Didion, my hypothesis is that the realist and elegiac are discursive modes through which contemporary novelists attempt to write prophetic engagements of the political in the Cold War. If the narrative voice of Joan Didion’s Democracy gravitates towards the elegiac, the mega novels of American postmodernism, starting with Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, gravitate towards prophetic realism.83 Immediately after the novel’s publication, Irving Howe suggested a reading of 1984 that would take into account “the urgencies of prophetic expression.”84 Readers of this book, argues Howe, should not allow their aesthetic preferences to stay between them and Orwell’s writing. As a prophetic text, the novel does not need to conform to modernist aesthetic standards. The critic rejects what could be called an “aesthetic fallacy” (instead of an “affective fallacy”) in order to postulate the moral superiority of a writing that “concerns the life of our time” and therefore “does not take us away from, or beyond, our obsession with social reality.”85 But in order to reach his goal, Orwell does not have to write a great book, like Kafka—the only other modern writer that Howe conveniently compares him to; in fact, he needs to make style useless, as style might distract the readers from the “dreadful vision” of 1984’s true fiction. In an odd way, the overconfidence of liberal critics such as Irving Howe (and philosophers such as Richard Rorty) that they can read Orwell is mirrored by the failed reception of 1984 on the Left. Etienne Balibar’s discontent with the Orwellian imaginary, which presumably “pushes the idea of domination to the point of absolute conditioning . . . and political propaganda to the point of creation of an artificial language,”86 takes only a few paragraphs in the conclusion of his essay, “Spinoza, the Anti-Orwell: the Fear of the Masses.” It is not simply the literary genre (dystopian fiction) that is rejected here, but the idea that there is a prophetic dimension to a literary text that embodies political nihilism and forecloses the political path opened by Spinoza’s philosophy: “Spinoza is the anti-Orwell. A reduction and absolute control of the meaning of words is not thinkable for him, any more than either an absolute reduction of individuality by the mass or of the mass by absorption into the individuality in power. These extreme cases . . . are fictions which are physically impossible and, as a result, intellectually useless and politically disastrous.”87 A liberal critic like Irving Howe could not reconcile

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Orwell’s literature with the political, but the reasons are obviously different. On the one hand, even when he uses the term politics, Howe discovers that 1984 is after something else, “a model and a vision—a model of totalitarian state, in its ‘pure’ or ‘essential’ form and a vision of what the state can do to human life.”88 On the other hand, he sees literature as stifling Orwell’s writing of the “extreme instance”89 of totalitarianism, a distraction from this serious affair: “The last thing that Orwell cared about when he wrote 1984, the last thing he should have cared about, was literature.”90 To pursue this thought further would amount to claiming that 1984 is a prophetic text precisely because it has given up, or was stripped of, its literary dimension. In an article about Orwell, originally published in 1984, that was later included in the collection of essays, Writing: The Political Test (Écrire: à l’épreuve du politique), Claude Lefort convincingly refutes Howe’s interpretation of the novel. The point of contention is not Orwell’s “profound insight”91 about man’s life in the totalitarian world; as a matter of fact, the interpretation of the political—as Lefort himself has argued—begins with acknowledging that a new form of society, totalitarianism, has emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Orwell “formulated a number of themes that were being treated during the same period by Hannah Arendt”; yet it is crucial to note that “in order to say what he wanted to say, in order to put into words and to share his experiences of the totalitarian universe, it really was a novel that Orwell wanted to compose, a literary investigation that he undertook.”92 If the interpretation of the political began, at the same time, in literature and political philosophy, Lefort’s own text would constitute the setting for a belated encounter, the space where the intersection of Orwell’s literary writing and Arendt’s philosophical argument can finally take place, in a way that does not presuppose the dismantling of 1984 to a skeleton of political themes.93 Lefort demonstrates that Orwell’s artistry is crucial in this interpretation of the political, and, in fact, it is the novelistic discourse that allows for 1984 to be such an exemplary, albeit misunderstood, text about totalitarianism. Before returning to Pynchon’s remark about the prophetic, which I think needs to be read in dialogue with Lefort’s analysis, I would like to point to one of its crucial moments: Orwell’s [narrative] design is far more complicated. He does not limit himself to describing the intertwining of Winston’s thoughts, his two-pronged quest for political truth and for the truth that dwells in him as an individual. He suggests that what most deeply

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moves Winston’s thoughts, the desire that feeds him, is destined to be his downfall from day one not only because that has no place in the universe in which he lives but also because there is something in him that lends itself to the phantasm governing totalitarianism. (my italics)94 The prophetic character of 1984 is thus enabled by Orwell’s craft as a novelist. As a philosopher, Lefort recognizes that what makes Orwell’s intervention so valuable is the ability to investigate, via Winston, the human dimension of totalitarianism. Because it is not an aberration, which could have appeared only at a distinct moment of a history that ended twenty years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the essence of totalitarianism may re-appear in a different political body, perhaps under the guise of a new political form (not yet imagined). This is why Orwell himself claimed, right before his death, that “something resembling [the society of 1984] could arrive.”95 This is no Bogey Man intellectual posturing or a self-serving scare tactic for democracy that would foreclose any project of political emancipation! The emphasis of possibility over certainty ensures that Orwell does not consider himself a futurist, an artist, or journalist who can guess or predict the future based on a pattern of coherent logic. As Pynchon determines the nature of Orwellian prophecy, he pursues, albeit without the apocalyptic tone of Cold War writing, the lure of a history that can bring to life the soulless world of Orwellian fiction: Specific predictions are only details, after all. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul. Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own—the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power, were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the third Reich and Stalin’s USSR, even the British Labour party—like drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living? (my italics)96 Pynchon’s focus in regards to the task of the “working prophet” may be easily considered as a problematic metaphysical gesture configured by the idea of a vision that transcends ordinary ways of seeing. Yet what Pynchon has in mind is a counter-intuitive definition, which

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differentiates between factual predictions (which are always projected towards the future) and a proper prophetic insight. While it may appear too ambiguous in its formulation, this conception of prophecy is not as elusive as the one suggested by E. M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel. On the surface, it would appear that Pynchon simply repeats Forster’s claim: “With prophecy in the narrow sense of foretelling the future we have no concern. . . . What will interest us is an accent in the novelist’s voice,”97 but he is in fact not interested in this term purely as an immanentstylistic quality of masterful prose writing.98 In fact, while suspected of metaphysical blunder, Pynchon’s idea of the prophetic resonates with the conception of prophetic speech introduced by André Neher, a FrenchJewish scholar who has influenced the work of Maurice Blanchot and Emanuel Lévinas.99 In Prophètes et prophéties: L’essence du prophétisme (1955) (translated as The Prophetic Existence), Neher remarks: The term “prophecy” does not adequately describe the idea, which this book wishes to analyze. We can hardly separate the concept of prophecy from that of anticipation. In common usage, the prophet is a man who foresees and foretells. We place the entire accent on the prefix. The seeing and telling seem to be secondary; they appear to be but forms of the substance of prophecy, which aims at the discovery, the unveiling, and the announcement of the future. On the other side, the prophecy whose essence we wish to make clear is not necessarily bound up with anticipation. Its vision does not have to be tied with the future, but has a value of its own, a value for that moment. Its telling is not a foretelling but exists immediately in the moment of the word. In that prophecy the vision and the word are in search of a discovery.100 Orwell’s unique role as a modern prophet repeats the mythical status of the visionary poet, yet what is seen in his book is not some esoteric arcanum, but something that had already been laid bare by history, an imagined dead-end of political life that had shown itself in plain sight. No cheap romanticism compromises Pynchon’s account of an Orwellian vision, which does not intend to distort historical truth, as long as it writes its most terrifying version. What does O’Brien tell Winston, after evoking the failure (sic!) of other political systems of terror, the Inquisition and the Stalinist purges, which used heresy as the reason for arresting and executing their victims? “You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you. . . . You will be lifted clean out of the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you: not a name in a register, not a

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memory in the living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.”101 This statement evokes a scenario that is both possible and impossible at the same time—an open wound at the heart of history, a black hole of oblivion in which countless Winstons have permanently disappeared. This prophecy goes far beyond the political form of society that has the name totalitarianism, yet it was the shadow of World War II in Western democracies and the new phase of Soviet political experiment (the colonization of Eastern Europe) that made Orwell speak. Taking the risk of having his text misunderstood, or used as a propaganda tool, Orwell recognized that the historical age that began in the 1950s was also the time when the trials of the political (and of political modernity) would become apparent to literature by means of prophetic rhetoric. In its archaic past, “prophetic experience occupies a place among all attempts—real and illusory, historical or mythical—to connect the divine with the human”;102 my book will explore a secular and aesthetic version of this experience relevant to the novel form. In the second half of the twentieth century, literary interest in the prophetic does not come by mystical gift; it is a faculty singularly produced by the risk, or the test, of writing. In this sense, the prophetic is mainly a rhetorical mode in relation to which novelists address the political, social, and existential crisis signified by Cold War discourse. Understood in this sense, the writing towards a prophetic mode is not predicated on the figure of the prophet. If the novel can echo the voice of a community and address that community, the universality it presupposes fails, however, to realize itself as a nation, a people, or as humanity. This secular prophetic rhetoric does not take revelation seriously; hence it most often camouflages itself in parody or satire of religious-political themes. This is most visible in the refusal to reduce the prophetic to the apocalyptic mythology it is usually associated with. This is particularly relevant in this context because “the cold war state adapted the apocalyptic imagination to represent its sovereignty and to legitimate its monopoly over legitimate acts of force.”103 The claim that a “working prophet”—in this case Orwell—is “able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul” should be considered as a belated ars poetica on Pynchon’s part. His novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, still considered by many the exemplary text of Cold War American postmodernism, exposes new theoretical problems that are implied by the main subject of this book, including various poetic spin-offs of prophetic rhetoric employed against the Cold War’s religiously inflamed apocalyptic imagination. The prophetic is thus the discursive mode employed by Pynchon himself in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), a text that, in its complex

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poetic design, imagines a “world out of joint” appearing in 1945 Europe as the war comes to an end and a new age of history begins.104 What Blanchot adds to the definition of the prophetic is a reflection on its rhetorical status; following this point, Orwell would not simply be a visionary, but also a masterful writer who was able to incorporate into the narrative language of his prose the dystopian vision of the political, peculiarly suspended between the pregnant time of a history emerging out of the dark shadow of the world war, and a political future secretly nurtured by the reality of the totalitarian experience.105 Blanchot’s claim that prophecy is “a dimension of language that engages it in relationships with time that are more important than the simple discovery of events to come”106 begs the question: What is, then, the temporality of the prophetic speech? Blanchot’s answer to this question allows us to discuss the relevance of the prophetic to Cold War literary narratives: “When speech becomes prophetic, it is not the future that is given; it is the present that is taken away and with it any possibility of a firm, stable, lasting presence” (my italics).107 Through this imagined Pynchon-Blanchot dialogue, we notice that writers become “prophets” not because they might have some supernatural ability—a divinatory faculty, similar to the talents of so many of the hilarious characters employed by fictional secret services in Gravity’s Rainbow. There is a prophetic dimension, however, to the fictional writing that envisions the inner workings of History by imagining its underside. As a consequence of the novel’s discourse, “the present is taken away” (French: retiré): It withdraws from plain sight, in the case of Orwell, under the heavy burden of a dystopian world; in the case of Pynchon, under the sublime excesses of “encyclopedic” writing. The “communist practice of ideological enforcement through ‘brainwashing,’”108 that is one of the totalitarian practices evoked by Orwell, meets the scientific-capitalist conspiracy against Slothrop, one of the main characters in Gravity’s Rainbow, who is the test subject for a team of Pavlovian doctors led by Dr. Pointsman. As Pynchon reminds us, “brainwashing” constitutes a “set of techniques said to be based on the work of I. P. Pavlov, who had once trained dogs to salivate on cue, as Soviet technocrats after him were conditioning their human subjects into political reflexes that would be useful to the State.”109 The ideology of Pavlovianism nurtures both the Soviet state’s desire to condition and control all its subjects and Pynchon’s fictional account of military tactics that would make up the secret history of World War II and the biopolitical arcanum of Cold War democracy. The first part of Gravity’s Rainbow describes the funny and bizarre activities of members of the White Visitation and focuses in fact on the expansion of the war and intelligence

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apparatus through occultism (séance sessions), paranormal psychology, drug therapy, and exploration of sexual perversions.110 It is at this level of tragic parody that the prophetic character of the novel hits its mark. Years before the 1977 US Senate investigation into the abusive practices of Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification, Pynchon gives us a realistic portrait of the CIA’s rogue sovereign power that had grown like a tumor on the flesh of the democratic state. Experiments in behavioral drugs and alcohol; hypnosis; acquisition of chemicals or drugs; “magicians’ art useful in covert operations”; and sleep research and behavioral changes during psychotherapy are thus not simply a matter of literary fiction but of now-unclassified historical record.111 While it is possible to speak of an Orwellian dimension of Pynchon’s novel, unlike 1984 the narrative of Gravity’s Rainbow is intentionally out of focus—no character or story dominates the novel in the way Winston and Julia’s struggle appears in 1984. What is then the innovative character of Pynchon’s writing?112 What kind of political vision does it entail? We are asking these questions in this introduction because in this novel lie the sources of a narrative about the vanishing or paralysis of the democratic-political: the rise of a military-industrial complex that subjects the state to humiliating abuses and the fragmentation of all counter-force powers that could stage resistance or imagine the revolution. Even if we consider just one episode from the novel’s interweaving of narrative plots with an indefinite number of real or imaginary conspiracy-plots, it may be risky to interpret Gravity’s Rainbow as a “simple condemnation” of Cold War politics. However, it cannot be ignored that American cultural anxieties of the 1950s and 1960s fuel the paranoid universe that motivates Lt. Tyrone Slothrop’s journey into the heart of Nazism’s decaying military-industrial complex.113 In Friedrich Kittler’s words, “Gravity’s Rainbow is . . . Thomas Pynchon’s attempt to read the signs of the time as a novel. Despite post-war fantasies, these signs were written by the last world war, the ‘mother’ of the technologies that have affected us.”114 Yet postwar fantasies, which soon became Cold War anxieties, are more important to the novel’s conception than Kittler may want to admit.115 For instance, one of the “central achievements of Cold War culture” was “a union of the scientific and military establishments under the rubric of national security.”116 If in Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon responds to this official master-narrative of Cold War America, he achieves this goal through a series of coded terms, which target the ethical image of the alliance between science, particularly medical experiments, and military technology, from the conditioning of

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human subjects to the development of the atomic bomb. Pynchon also acknowledges the discourse of national security, which emerged in NSC 68 (1950), the classified document preparing the ground for the reformulation of the balance of power between the executive branch and the US Congress. The final section of the novel, “The Counterforce,” begins with Pirate Prentice flying a plane towards central Germany: “The plane seems permanently out of trim to him, so he still fiddles now and then with different tabs. Right now he’s trying the War Emergency Power to see how it works, even though there seems to be no War, no Emergency, keeping an eye on the panel, where RPMs, manifold pressure, and cylinder-head temperature are all nudging their red lines” (GR 619, my italics). Does Pynchon’s text signal a political reality beyond its fictional world? Does it take seriously the conception of an emergency power without emergency?117 These are questions that the dense narrative of Gravity’s Rainbow does not illuminate and, therefore, the indefinite state of emergency in the Cold War—legitimized by the nuclear security state— remains in an ambiguous relation with the enigmatic power structure designated by the figure of the invisible They.118 Critics have long noted that Pynchon created an excessive literary art, made visible by his “encyclopedic narrative.” Yet what strikes us as equally important is Pynchon’s reliance on hyperbole to envision the emergence of a new power paradigm (call it postmodern, if you like), in imagining the Zone, a non-State entity populated by secret agents and military commandos, during the collapse of the Third Reich.119 The fictional world of Gravity’s Rainbow is thus a convoluted system of ordering and allegorizing, which computes in its textual maze a number of cultural discourses interlinking the development of media technology and information exchange to modern warfare and the formation of American national identity. In this process of synthesis, the encyclopedic principle of linear ordering and of rendering epistemological clarity negates itself. The overflow of information in the novel produces, at the very least, a wild encyclopedic text, which is, in itself, a hyperbole signaled by the parabola, “the curving trajectory, the arch” (OED) of the mythical Rocket. The novel is literally “thrown over” (hyperballein) its own status as literary medium and projects a discourse whose task is to conceptualize a new phase in the history of modernity and to suggest (ambiguously) the role of the political in that process. A reflection by Milan Kundera, in The Art of the Novel, will shed some light on the significance of this hyperbolic style that characterizes prophetic writing by taking us from Pynchon to Kafka: “The society we call democratic is . . . familiar with the process that bureaucratizes and

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depersonalizes; the entire planet has become a theater of this process. Kafka’s novels are an imaginary, oneiric hyperbole of it; a totalitarian state is a prosaic and material hyperbole of it.”120 Kundera hints here at the troubling, complicated history that links and separates democratic societies from the nightmare of totalitarianism. As previously noted, Arendt and Lefort have drawn attention to the immanent vulnerability of democracy, which can always change in its other. Yet there is no clear logic of power that designates what democracy can become in its time of crisis. The twentieth century, hijacked by fascist and Communist ideologies, has shown us that, masquerading themselves in the costume of popular democracy, totalitarian systems of power emerged on the stage of History. The same cunning of History has taught us that between democracy and totalitarianism there are numerous other possible social formations whose identities are not clear, and whose employments of power and use of terror could be equally frightening. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon offers not only an imaginary, oneiric hyperbole of the unhappy modern consciousness, but also of its Kafkaesque representation. In this process of symbolic mutation from Kafka to Pynchon, in the “Stateless German night” (GR 566), a new State is formed, “a State that spans oceans and surface politics, sovereign as the International or the Church of Rome, and the Rocket is its soul” (GR 566). Like the elusive conspiratorial figure They, which embraces “possibilities far beyond Nazi Germany” (GR 25), the Rocket Cartel as a transnational power structure enables “arrangements” (a coded word for transactions, exchanges) that possibly “Stalin won’t admit . . . doesn’t even know about” (GR 566). What are the possible implications that can be deduced from this story? The legacy of World War II is the shaping of an other of democracy, other than Nazism and Stalinism: the democratic simulacrum that hides a paranoid structure of power behind the veil of day-to-day politics. Concerned with a convoluted narrative system that links military technology to imperialism and espionage to a metaphysics of history, Pynchon takes the politics of his novel for granted. In its attempt to enlist its narrative fiction to a secular-aesthetic prophetic discourse, Gravity’s Rainbow envisions a global picture of history that shows en abyme the collapse of the political in the fiction of a mechanistic society held together by its military-industrial apparatus. We should, however, be careful in considering the idea of global technological post-humanism as the prophetic message of Pynchon’s novel and as the legacy of US postmodern fiction. If Pynchon is indeed secularizing “the nature of prophetic revelation,” his novel stages what Max Weber once called “the conflict between empirical reality and

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this conception of world as meaningful totality”;121 paranoid imagination—unsurprisingly—carries, in the global system, the mediating role of this prophetic speech, as it becomes the only feasible paradigm that gives history and universality a voice to speak, to defend itself in the space of atomized cultural particularisms. At the same time, Cold War modernity also “speaks” from the underside of the Pynchonian simulacrum, reminding us how political imagination can be held captive by Cold War geopolitics and by a culture of secrecy that links national identity to global security. We see here that the “retreat of the political” that Pynchon might have prophesized occurs only at the level of fictional allegory. At the level of discourse, the novel’s articulation of global posthumanism as post-political frees itself from symbolic form as Gravity’s Rainbow ends with the powerful prophetic call to the present community: “Now everybody—”

The Kafkaesque Cold War For Claude Lefort, the thought of the political begins with a reflection on the term “Machiavellian,” which denotes in popular language the immorality of politics (imposture, duplicity, machination); he thus convincingly argues that The Prince is not Machiavellian at all, according to this definition.122 While in this book, my argument focuses on the global literary fictions addressing of the political in the “fog of the Cold War,” its point of departure is a reflection on the Kafkaesque, which I see as the “prophetic” matrix by which literary imagination encounters manifestations of political power that are no longer shaped exclusively by national or culture-specific conditions.123 While the Kafkaesque is a metaphor (a catachresis, to be more precise) that designates in ordinary language the dark comedy of absurdity and terror that has become part of our modern social and political experience, Kafka is a “writer who grasps his way through time, through the suffering and negativity of his own time, towards an immutable, infinite realm beyond.”124 The Kafkaesque is thus a name that carries the fable of existential anguish beyond the cultural specific conditions of Central European fin de siècle, into a global or trans-cultural space. At the same time, as Kafka enters the circle of prophetic writers, as he joins Orwell and Pynchon, he is instrumental to the examination of the Cold War’s mark on the political. In Orson Welles’s filmic adaptation of The Trial we discover, for instance, the most explicit attempt to interpret the Kafkaesque situation both as an existential version of the Cold War paranoid scenario and as the most comprehensive narrative about the paradoxical figuration of modern authority. Hannah

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Arendt notes in 1948, “Kafka does not belong among the more recent prophets”; at the same time, she proves this claim by saying, “we still experience a feeling of unreality upon reading his most horrific and atrocious stories, even though, by now, reality has fulfilled them or even surpassed them.”125 Does not Arendt capture here, in fact, a significant feature of the prophetic—in the way Neher, Blanchot, and Pynchon discussed it? Is not Kafka’s writing irreducible to concrete historical events and situations it has, retroactively, deemed uncanny? Announced, the future loses its temporal identity. This is why, as Blanchot put it, “prophetic speech announces an impossible future, or makes the future it announces . . . something impossible, a future one would not know how to live and that must upset all the sure givens of existence.”126 Political theorists have recognized the importance of Kafka’s fiction to the political imaginary of modernity; for Agamben, it embodies the negation of democratic-political as it presumably exposes its underside, the “state of exception.” We engage this argument in Chapter 1. For now, let us simply acknowledge the paradoxical sovereignty, featured by the fictional world of The Trial and “In the Penal Colony,” which appears to sustain a flawed mechanism of justice. K.’s experience in the court, albeit based on the theme of abandonment, cannot be associated with an exact theoretical formulation such as Agamben’s thesis on the sovereign ban. At the same time, the machine that writes the law on bodies would have more likely given biopolitics a literary image, if only this machine were not to break at the end and appear to the observer as the material reminder of a political community brought together by their fascination with suffering and death. The status of Kafka’s writing remains, however, unclear. Has literature vanished in the air of Agamben’s intriguing political ontology? Has Kafka, the “creator” of riddles and aphorisms, the author of stories and novels, become a philosopher who can take part in the debate about the “force of law” side by side with Kant? Is Kafka’s text supposed to mirror the logic of sovereignty, similar to the way Shakespeare “eternalized” the metaphor behind the medieval legal doctrine of the King’s Two Bodies (“Shakespeare made it not only the symbol, but indeed the substance and essence of his greatest plays: The Tragedy of Richard II is the tragedy of the King’s Two Bodies”)?127 In Testaments Betrayed and The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera has attempted to defend Kafka against interpretative allegories, which have made the author of The Trial the strange religious, ideological, and philosophical protagonist of Kafkology. Originating in Max Brod’s writings, in his rather successful attempt to create a fascinating and appealing literary brand, Kafkology begins in assuming the exceptional centrality

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of biography in reading Kafka’s texts. Kafka then becomes the protagonist of numerous hagiographies—religious, secular, and leftist—that aim to isolate the writer from the domain of aesthetics.128 It is possible to see in Kundera’s own writings ways to reconsider the relation between Kafka’s literature and philosophy. In The Art of the Novel, Kundera talks about “the legacy of Kafka,” which he defends as a “personal heritage” because it is a “tremendous example of the radical autonomy of the novel” (AN 117). Is it possible to speak of Kafka’s politico-philosophical legacy? Benjamin and Arendt have prepared the ground for this kind of theorization of the exemplarity of Kafka’s writing, which remains a profoundly literary phenomenon even though not a radically autonomous one—one that is, perhaps, radically heteronymous—as it defines itself in relation to other forms of writing/inscription such as theological fables or the bureaucratic document. Is not this heteronomy of Kafka’s writing already implied by Benjamin’s observation that “Kafka was a writer of parables, but he did not found a religion”?129 The argument of this book draws from these formulations of Kafka’s legacy, but in my view neither Kundera’s “personal inheritance” of the Kafkaesque, nor Agamben’s speculation, do justice to this legacy. If Kafka has given us in The Trial, the literary image of a paradoxical sovereignty, the image of an invisible master who does not bother to legitimate himself in the social space, the legacy of his writing cannot be restricted to literary themes or poetic techniques, but should be expanded to political concepts. The Kafkaesque is such a political concept—yet a necessarily weak concept—precisely because it is not ideological or sociological. As an ambiguous notion, the Kafkaesque names real-life situations of power, or their fictional representations, in contemporary literature. At the same time, it magnifies—Kundera is right on this point—ordinary encounters in the landscape of modern life to the point that they become uncanny. How Kafka’s politico-theoretical legacy is preserved, defended, and altered by American and Eastern European writers in the second half of the twentieth century is one of the main concerns of this book. In its Kafkaesque version, literary politics does not presuppose the art of social commentary or the critique of ideologies. If “criticism is completely useless”130 it is not simply because this fictional world resembles the totalitarian universe of Orwell’s 1984 but because “there is no longer a revolutionary desire that would be opposed to power, to the machines of power,” no illusion that art under the mobilization of the avant-garde spirit would be a step closer to a self-promised emancipation (as Pynchon also suggests). As “Capitalist America, bureaucratic

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Russia, Nazi Germany are knocking at the door of Kafka’s moment with segmental and contiguous blows,”131 it will become difficult to keep this door locked. “History” will let itself in, using the back door of allegorical interpretations, but Kafka’s legacy will remain intact precisely because its hyperbolic representation of modern life will continue to haunt contemporary writers from America to Japan with the same persistent intransigence. Not bad for a writer who wanted his legacy destroyed! All of the writers discussed in this book are to some extent Kafka’s heirs, as his anti-philosophical (that is, literary) exploration of sovereignty’s legitimacy crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century has become the fictional double of a political life decimated by totalitarian violence. It is thus only normal to speak about Central European fidelity to Kafka as a question of aesthetic and cultural survival, as the creation of a new minor language or literature against the Soviet “Eastern Europe.” On the other side of the Iron Curtain, American writers have had the opportunity to read Kafka since the 1940s, when Schocken and Alfred Knopf started publishing translations of his work by Willa and Edwin Muir. After Kafka had imagined America in his first novel as the space where Karl Rossman would disappear, it was now America’s own turn to reinvent Kafka. While some American writers, such as Philip Roth and Paul Auster, have written novels that bear the stamp of Kafka’s direct literary influence, others have produced poetically excessive fictions that have no obvious resemblance to the minimalism of The Trial, but are interested in political themes that are linked nevertheless with the Kafkaesque imagination. In The Public Burning, for example, Coover appears to struggle with Kafka’s political legacy, particularly on the question of sovereignty. In Coover’s novel, the trials of the political are embedded in the satire of Cold War American democracy, in which Uncle Sam appears as the paternal authority figure that is above and within the law at the same time. In Chapter 3, we focus on the novel’s critique of the false religious prophetic rhetoric embedded in the core doctrine, which predicts the global hegemonic future of American history. Unlike the Pynchonian paranoid narrative—a hyperbole of Kafka’s The Trial, of the hostility against K., which looks like a secret conspiracy, yet it is not named as such—Coover’s literary vision penetrates all possible dark corners of American politics. Almost nothing is secret anymore, especially not the thoughts of his protagonist, Richard Nixon. While Coover has mentioned Kafka as one of his favorite writers, The Public Burning is not a text that would remind us of The Trial or “The Metamorphosis.”

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If we consider, however, the politico-theoretical dimension of one of Kafka’s texts about law and sovereignty, “In the Penal Colony,” we discover a literary theme that resonates with the highly symbolic public ceremony, which transforms the execution of the Rosenbergs in a performance and mocks the exercise to legitimate sovereign power in American democracy. The legacy of Kafka’s writing haunts Coover’s novel and provides us with a radically different literary perspective on the link between mythical symbolism and political machinery as instrument of justice: Kafka presents this remarkable apparatus of suffering and death literally, as the product of the Old Commandant/ Sovereign’s technological imagination, while Coover’s writing suggests, under the metaphor of the national circus, that all the different institutional levels of the American democratic system have been brought together by Uncle Sam, unified to take part in the Cold War’s most significant ritual of public exorcism. We also need to see Kafka as the hinge between two distinct literary imaginations of political power—that is, an imagination of the distinct ways in which the power of the nation state, explicitly involved in the world-system and affected by the global picture of modern universality, derives from equating sovereignty with security and secrecy. In a Cold War sense, the Kafkaesque thus names the vicissitudes of Cold War democracy and the destructive tendencies of Communist totalitarianism. Novels about the 1950s, the historical scene of Senator McCarthy’s campaign and Eastern European Stalinist regimes, are thus central to our study.132 Literary writing can be a form of political experience that emerges from within a strictly defined cultural or national space but it often attempts to overcome its historical and ideological conditions. We thus believe that the American literary response to the Cold War can be illuminated through a comparative study that takes into account the Eastern European novelists’ struggles to come to terms with their individual and collective experience in totalitarian societies.133 Rather than representing the geopolitical polarization of the world, novels written on both sides of the Iron Curtain seem to enact a fictional vision that exposes the oppressive rule of totalitarian control and the deceptive promise constitutive of liberal-democratic regimes.134 But this is only part of the story: American novels by Pynchon, Didion, and Coover, and Eastern European novels by Kundera, Kiš, and Popescu, utilize a prophetic rhetoric to investigate the backstage of History in order to capture the mythical underside of public events. While employing different poetic strategies—among which the allegorical satire of historical events and the nostalgic investigation of the

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past are the most significant—Kundera, Roth, Coover, and Popescu envision possible global articulations of modern nations’ political mythologies. Coover and Popescu fictionalize the retreat of the modern state to a social organization based on archaic rituals and blind fanaticism; their artistic visions allegorize, albeit in an indeterminate sense, the central principle of modern politics: Power comes from the people. Furthermore, these narrative forms use mythical material, not only to provide a contemporary reflection on crowd psychology (Popescu) or popular addiction to spectacle (Coover) but to also to suggest the link between political emergency—defined either in explicit terms as Cold War panic, or simply as the ambiguous response to an identified threat to a small village community—and the challenge posed to political communities by the rhetoric of (global) security. The final chapter of the book explores two literary attempts to grasp the theological metaphors underlying the Cold War’s discursive articulation of sovereignty as the right to security and as the power of secrecy. In Libra, DeLillo imagines the theological-political dimension of state secrecy; this is a literary fiction about the assassination of President Kennedy and the man accused of the crime, Lee Harvey Oswald. DeLillo’s prophetic exploration aims to show that conspiracy as social fiction (that is, the figure of an invisible master, or of a parallel power) is embedded in the two most significant Cold War narratives about democratic sovereignty: the technological-political language of military targeting and the theological-political language of secrecy. The Serbian writer Danilo Kiš (A Tomb for Boris Davidovich) considers the Comintern as the “mad” network of secret power, which targets individuals randomly in the name of an absolute sacrifice, but he does not focus on totalitarian ideology, seen by many researchers of the Communist phenomenon as a secularized religion. According to Danilo Kiš’s novel, the show trials and the purges aim at securing the position of “embodied power” (in a Lefortian sense), by excluding it from the system (the sovereign is Stalin, the one who, in reality, cannot be targeted). There are obvious challenges in reading American and Eastern European writers as two sides of one literary-political legacy. In one of the few essays that compare American and Eastern European contemporary fiction, Jonathan Brent argues that, in spite of the innovative or “subversive textual aims” and the interest in the material displayed by Kiš by and DeLillo, their projects are ultimately incompatible: In comparison with a truly postmodern American novel, Libra (1988) by Don DeLillo, one can see the extent to which A Tomb

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for Boris Davidovich has retained a liberal-humanist perspective while bearing the values of that fading culture into a life-and-death struggle against totalitarianism. The totalitarian system of thought was not fought by postmodernism but by an indigenous, Eastern European strain of liberal humanism with its perplexing and oldfashioned belief in the individual, whose center of consciousness is the agency of moral value.135 Can we still embrace such simple distinctions between American postmodernism and Eastern European humanism without reenacting the official ideology of the Cold War? Underside of Politics suggests that we can and should not; the book argues that Cold War novels take the risk of interpreting the political, of approaching the fate of democracy, a few centuries after the theologico-political began its separation. While these novels contribute to the ongoing debate about secularization, their theoretical contribution is presented under the guise of particular fictional scenarios, structured both as meaningful narratives and as poetic expressions. In these texts, the novelists think the enigma of democracy without ever expecting to offer a political solution to its paradox, but only literary responses. Nevertheless, in engaging Cold War discourse, this literature bears witness to the global picture of political sovereignty and is thus able to frame, in necessarily incomplete fictional worlds, the rhetorical dimension of political ontology and the experiential engagement with a historical process that is incommensurable. To illustrate why I believe that we need to return to the intricate relationship between democracy and Communism when we discuss the present and future of political sovereignty, I would like to tell a short story about Stalin and Roosevelt. On April 12, 1945 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, died of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage at the age of sixty-three. The unexpected event did not lead to any publicly expressed suspicions of foul play; however, in his condolence letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin made a baffling suggestion—that FDR’s death was not accidental and that the American president was assassinated: “After a few lines of sympathy, the Soviet dictator implied that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been poisoned, and he went on to offer his assistance in any investigation that Mrs. Roosevelt might conduct. Apparently, etiquette in Stalin’s Kremlin included suggesting the possibility of murder to a grieving widow and encouraging her to find the perpetrator.”136 Stalin’s gesture, which appears somewhat ridiculous today, needs to be read as a symptomatic act rather than a gratuitous joke. The death of a president, Stalin’s letter may imply, cannot

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be a natural, apolitical phenomenon, but is always, necessarily, the effect of a confrontation with enemies.137 Stalin lacks any interest in assuming a different notion of enmity at the heart of American politics and he considers himself uniquely qualified to solve the mystery of Roosevelt’s death. The story about Stalin’s letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, a relatively unimportant document from the prehistory of the Cold War, functions as our introductory anecdote about twentieth-century narrative fiction and political sovereignty. The moral of the story is not that only a paranoid leader like Stalin would see the natural death of Roosevelt as a political assassination, but that only a totalitarian figure like the Soviet leader would assume that, at its core, American democracy is plagued by conspiracy and treason.138 The irony is that, looking at many events in the history of the Cold War, we are more likely to agree with Stalin than to dismiss his unfounded speculations as a product of paranoia.

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Kafka and the Cold War: Fantasies of the Invisible Master

The Unnamable in Kafka’s The Trial via Orson Welles Orson Welles’s 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial presents Joseph K.’s wanderings in the labyrinth of a perversely enigmatic justice system as the setting for a paranoid conspiracy. In this process of literary adaptation, the skin of the Kafkaesque fiction is stretched to cover the anxiety signified by the Cold War moment in the history of political modernity. The Trial was filmed in Zagreb, at the time a town in Communist Yugoslavia, and in the deserted train station on the Parisian Left Bank, the future Musée d’Orsay. In Orson Welles’s political film, the fictional world of the novel, and the modernist literary paradigm created by Kafka, become quintessentially linked to Cold War discourse, more specifically, to the aesthetics and the cultural politics of the 1960s: “Welles rewrote and reordered the text. His dialogue remade the world of Prague into the world of the Cold War.”1 As depicted in the film, the story of The Trial aims at an abstract approach to totalitarianism, but also at issues like secrecy and concealment that Orson Welles put at the center of his 1946 film, The Stranger (the story of a Nazi officer who successfully hides in Harper, Connecticut). Orson Welles’s The Trial is a modernist masterpiece that confirms the exhaustion of this particular aesthetic expression, only thirty-five years after Kafka’s own struggle to write his novel. While this very notion (i.e., “exhaustion”) echoes John Barth’s theoretical examination of postmodernism, I am using it in this particular context to emphasize Orson Welles’s interest in creating a

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visual format for The Trial but also to consider Kafka a contemporary (from an aesthetic and from a political perspective). In this sense, Kafka does not “prophetically” announce the infamous abuses of power in the second half of the twentieth century. Rather, it is Orson Welles who retrospectively emphasizes the significance of Kafka’s prophetic work by attaching it to the paranoid politics of the Cold War era, as well as to the consolidation and dissolution of modern totalitarianisms: Welles’s references are as much to a world caught between the two conflicting ideologies and damaged by this tension. With the sense that one is guilty even (or especially) when one does nothing being reinforced by the show trials under and after Stalin, and by Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” and its Cold War aftermath, Welles’s cinematic message was clear. This was certainly not a message that would have made for a popular success and it did not.2 In Orson Welles’s film, Joseph K. is brilliantly played by Anthony Perkins, best known for his role as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Whereas Kafka’s text mostly relies on Joseph K.’s interior monologue, Welles uses Perkins to illustrate the feeling of confusion that closes in on this character, from the time of the “arrest” to the moment of his violent death. Perkins thus gives a dramatic performance as Joseph K., whose intense emotions are obvious in his final meeting with his lawyer. Orson Welles’s particular reading of Kafka’s novel is thus achieved “by way of reinterpreting the place and the function of the famous parable on ‘the door of the Law.’”3 The film opens with a voiceover telling the allegorical story of the Law, while ancient-looking engravings are projected on the screen. In the episode “In the Cathedral,” K.’s advocate (played by Orson Welles) tells the parable one more time, taking the role designed, in the novel, for the prison chaplain. As Joseph K. has already dismissed him, and decided to defend himself, the lawyer makes a last attempt to change K.’s mind. Trying to find the exit from the basement of the church, Joseph K. stumbles upon a slide projector conveniently showing slides that aid the lawyer’s allegorical presentation of one’s relationship to the Law. Determined to become his own defender in the trial, K. is already in defiance of the court and his particular behavior is considered a “mad gesture.” While most of Kafka’s parable is present in the 1962 feature, the focus of the film is K.’s particular revolt against the increasingly psychotic universe that surrounds him. Preparing to tell K. the infamous parable of the Law, the lawyer asks rhetorically: “Are your particular delusions described in the writings

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which preface the law?”4 Surprisingly, in Orson Welles’s film, Joseph K. presumably knows the allegorical story; he is one step ahead of the lawyer and reacts angrily to the attempt to “cover up” the perverse functioning of the juridical system with the pseudo-theological message of the enigmatic parable: “I heard it before,” K. screams back, “we all heard it.” In the film, Joseph K. rejects the lawyer’s attempt to start an interpretation of the parable, to have a “civilized” conversation about the possible meanings of this text. Orson Welles follows Kafka’s text in a closer way than it first appears, as the film emphasizes Joseph K.’s own struggle to detach himself from the mystifying nature of infinite hermeneutics: “[K.] was too tired to take in all of the consequences of the story; they led him into unaccustomed areas of thought, toward abstract notions more suited for discussion by the officials in the court than by him.”5 The lawyer speculates that Joseph K. simply wants to plead insanity in order to escape the consequences of his trial: “Do you think you can persuade the court that you are not responsible, by reason of lunacy?” In fact, Orson Welles’s intervention in the original Kafkaesque scenario brings us closer to the theoretical aim of this chapter, the paranoid fantasy of political conspiracy: “You’ve laid some groundwork by appearing for yourself to be the victim of some kind of conspiracy.” The term conspiracy does not appear in Kafka’s text, but its projected meaning was clearly implied by The Trial, if we think of the juridical system facing K. as a politico-theological embodiment of a secret society. Orson Welles is careful in his own creative reading of Kafka’s novel, and adapts the notion of “conspiracy” to the abstract nature of the text. Even through “conspiracy” is central to the Stalinist terror as well as to the global strategy of US’s containment policy, any attempt to bring forward a specific content, a more particular image about this so-called conspiracy in Kafka’s fiction, would be negated by The Trial’s exploration of the empty character of the law as a modern conception. In this respect, Joseph K. makes it clear that he does not consider himself “the victim of the diabolical plot of a mysterious state agency,”6 but a “member of society,” an ordinary subject. Another key gesture is Joseph K.’s refusal to identify himself as a martyr—a role that would guarantee another fantasy projection, his sacrifice in the name of the greater good of the community. What Kafka’s text only implies, in Joseph K.’s final disagreement with the priest on the meaning of duty and responsibility (demanded by the Law), Orson Welles explicitly brings forward in the character’s powerful articulation of conspiracy as ideology: “[Lunacy?] I think that is what the court wants me to believe. Yes, that’s the conspiracy, to persuade us that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. . . . That’s the

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dirty game. So, I’ve lost my case. What of it? You’re losing too. It’s all lost. Lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?” For Slavoj Žižek, the political lessons of Joseph K.’s act are made obvious by Orson Welles, while they seem to be concealed in the original text of The Trial: “If we are to overcome the ‘effective’ social power, we have to break its phantasmatic hold upon us.”7 Is there a better summary for Žižek’s own theoretical project, as it was first developed in The Sublime Object of Ideology in the early 1990s—namely, the political significance of the psychoanalytic “traversal of fantasy”? Žižek differentiates between two predominant readings of The Trial, “the obscurantist religious one” according to which K.’s guilt is derived from “his very naïve protestation of innocence, his arrogant reliance on naïve-rational argumentation,” and the “enlightened, humanist interpretation.”8 As the latter is further developed, Kafka appears “as a deeply ambiguous writer who staged the phantasmatic support of the totalitarian bureaucratic machinery, yet was unable to resist its fatal attraction.”9 As Orson Welles’s film has become for Žižek a mere example of a successful reading of Kafka, it illustrates (in that quality) how one can tear the veil of ideology. Kafka’s own novel, however, risks creating uneasiness as it may not be free from the fictional universe it projects: “In the end, did [Kafka] not participate in the infernal machinery he was describing, thereby strengthening its hold instead of breaking its spell?”10 To what extent is it, according to this claim, necessary to think of Kafka’s ambiguity as a burden, in order to have, fifty years later in Orson Welles’s film, a clearer dimension of the contemporary meanings of political struggle? In my criticism of Žižek’s failure to closely read Kafka in this particular essay, entitled “I Hear You With My Eyes,” I am not advocating a return to the main principle of New Criticism, but an examination of the critical methodology used in order to discuss the political relevance of modern aesthetic artifacts.11 While I firmly disagree with Žižek’s claim that Kafka’s text participates in the oppressive apparatus it exposes, I will not simply dismiss it as an “abuse” of Kafka’s novel, but consider it as a symptom for a more general failure to consider, in political terms, the rhetorical dimensions of the empty (so-called meaningless) structures in Kafka’s fictional world. If one considers the political implications of narrative-aesthetic approaches of conspiracy myths from a radically modern perspective, one cannot always expect the sort of “closure” a Cold War-inspired Orson Welles has found for Kafka’s The Trial. Žižek does not do justice to the literary-ness of Kafka’s work because he ignores the aesthetic transformation of fictional narrative taking place throughout The

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Trial, the radicalization of strangeness or unfamiliarity (see the Russian ostranenie, the classical notion imposed by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, in his 1917 essay “Art as Technique”/ “Art as Device”) that I believe to be the poetic dominant of Kafkaesque modernity. As literary technique, the radicalization of strangeness is made evident by the politico-rhetorical configuration of The Trial’s narrative: On the one hand, K. faces the infinite postponement of his judgment, on the other, he is confronted with the underside of the law, which has been invoked to have him declared guilty of an unknown (or rather unnamed) offence. In other works, Žižek proves that he is in fact aware of the radical innovation in literary style brought about by The Trial: “[the book] is quite ‘readable.’ The main outlines of the story are clear enough. Kafka’s style is concise and of proverbial purity. But it is this very ‘legibility’ that, because of its overexposed character, produces a radical opacity . . . as if Kafka’s text were a coagulated, stigmatized, signifying chain repelling signification with an excess of sticky enjoyment.”12 The new narrative (of radical strangeness) that Kafka invents is not a mere effect of an anti-art program (a Dadaist or avant-garde cause). At the same time, the Kafkaesque fictional world does not try to supplement the “sickness of a tradition”13 with the promise of aesthesis, or the “religion of art extended to a cult of the artificial.”14 For Benjamin, “Kafka’s writings are by their nature parables;”15 however, into their new form (through misery and beauty) they overcame the tradition where they originated, and turned against it. As with most readers of Kafka, Orson Welles cannot resist the temptation to break the allegorical surface of The Trial; his intervention is, however, a subtle act that does not abuse the original. Accordingly, what happens in the novel, the hostility against Joseph K., for instance, is named and seems to acquire some sort of meaning as it is attached to a signifier (i.e., conspiracy). On the one hand, Joseph K. rejects the lawyer’s allegation that this so-called conspiracy is the effect of K.’s paranoid fantasy; on the other, he takes advantage of the lawyer’s statement in order to unmask or see through “the fiction upon which the social link of the existing power structure is founded.”16 What does Orson Welles’s character unmask? What is the ideological mechanism he exposes? According to Žižek, “the true conspiracy of power resides in the very notion of conspiracy, in the notion of some mysterious agency that ‘pulls the strings’ and effectively runs the show, that is to say, in the notion that, behind the visible, public power, there is another obscene, invisible, ‘crazy’ power structure.”17 As a result, conspiracy theories appear as the effect of “ordinary,” suspicious hermeneutics, in other words, as erratic

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“religious” beliefs or superstitions that have emerged in our modern political experience. If Kafka had used it in his novel, the notion of “conspiracy” would have belonged to a series of semantically distorted or dislocated terms as “the law”18 or “the arrest.” Frau Grubach thinks, for instance, that Joseph K. is arrested, “but not the way a thief would be” (T 23). In her confused view, “[this arrest] seems like something scholarly [etwas Gelehrtes]” (T 23) she is not able (and does not need to) understand. In the film script he prepared for The Trial, Orson Welles chooses the term “abstract” (instead of “scholarly”) to convey this process in which certain privileged signifiers are being emptied out of meaning. In its “emptiness,” the Law becomes “the blind spot”19 of Kafka’s universe. The same argument can be made about the term “arrest” and, therefore, about the whole action against K. that is unnamed by Kafka and perhaps unnamable. The radical character of Kafka’s writing derives from projecting an unknown agency of power and from showing how this “mysterious” entity is founded on a rhetorical (and consequently, ontological) indeterminacy. From K.’s perspective, the reality of his nineteenth-century civil life (as citizen and young professional) once dominated by rational certainty becomes intrinsically related to a disjointed world, a threatening bureaucratic universe populated by unfriendly, corrupt guards, humble victims, unapproachable judges, and passionately lewd women. Clear geographical borders no longer separate the familiar and the uncanny, as the very structure of the modern city becomes an intricate topological structure that connects the familiar historical life to its frightful underside. The notion of the “underside of contemporary life”20 is seminal to Kafka, albeit it does not refer to anything historical or concrete and has become, as the Law, a mere abstraction. Consequently, the secret group/agency in Kafka’s Trial is not simply the opposite of a religious Order that Balzac talks about, for instance, in his novel The Wrong Side of Paris (L’envers de l’histoire contemporaine). If that were the case, we would simply discover a negative theology at the core of the violence against Joseph K. The alternative is to examine the “conspiratorial” agency in The Trial as a displacement of the politico-mythological entity, the secret society. The three men who invade K.’s room on the morning of his thirtieth birthday belong to an unnamed power structure. From the very beginning, the situation raises questions of political legitimacy. What K. finds out is simply that these guards only represent a larger (potentially infinite) organization. In the narrative fictions of the Cold War, this form of authority is simply addressed by the term “They,” a pseudo-term used

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to designate an unnamable authority that corresponds, however, to a largely identifiable set of characters, from rogue intelligence agents to other “shady” members of the military-capitalist apparatus. Take, for instance, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow; in this Cold War novel, “creative paranoia” designates a political strategy of counter-force that, while inconceivable as such in the fictional world of The Trial, it resonates with it from a rhetorical standpoint: “‘Delusions’ are always officially defined. We don’t need to worry about questions of real or unreal. They only talk out of expediency. It’s the system that matters. How the data arrange themselves inside it. Some are consistent, others fall apart” (GR 638). We know from reading Kafka that, like the parabolic Law it represents, the conspiratorial agency is originally a pure empty form, or an immanent entity that appears to have acquired transcendental status. On these grounds, the ‘creative paranoia’ suggested by Pynchon’s characters may, in fact, presuppose a re-mythicization of the notion of force, the Force of Law—incarnated in Pynchon or, for that matter, Don DeLillo’s novels by an occult system of military and political power— that is required in order to think the political status of the secret ‘They.’ As conspiracy theories integrate alternative narratives of parallel power in the fragmented landscape of modernity, they do not simply follow the Kafkaesque description of a universe dependent on the rule of an invisible master, but point towards a specific group/organization that is involved in a no-longer-secret power struggle. Marxist analyses have missed the excessive enjoyment correlative to social fantasies about conspiracy, located in the revelation of the group’s identity, an act that suggests the ‘power’ of the very agent who is able to bring the anonymous They to the public space. The belief in conspiracy theories is thus a hyperbolic gesture; it goes beyond socially accepted narratives and allegorical practice as it rewrites these narratives. In this sense, conspiracy beliefs foster the fantasy of betrayal; they all imagine a trespass, an order of action that has been considered the allegorical projection of the indefinite network structure and its libidinal circuit that makes up the global system. In Orson Welles’s film adaptation of The Trial, we thus discover the most explicit attempt to interpret the Kafkaesque situation both as an existential version of the Cold War paranoid scenario enacted by conspiracy theories and as the most comprehensive narrative about the mythological embodiment of political authority. Kafka’s prophetic vision thus takes the political to a limit scenario: Contemporary political life is Kafkaesque in the sense that it assumes the disentanglement of the politico-theological society while being riveted to the mythical sources of modern democratic power.

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In the first chapter of the novel, Kafka rearticulates the concept of enmity as the impersonal they. The surprise K. is facing on the morning of his mysterious arrest cannot simply be thought of according to juridical premises. Despite the friendly way in which the guards are talking to K., the situation leads to the exposure of a hostile “regime” interfering with what K. himself described as “a state governed by law,” in which “there was universal peace” and “all the statutes were in force” (T 3; K. lebte doch in einem Rechtsstaat, überall herrschte Friede, alle Gesetze bestanden aufrecht, P 18). This is an important sentence in the novel, especially since it comes from a writer who is more than familiar with early twentieth-century jurisprudence. Kafka uses the German word Rechtsstaat (“constitutional government” or “law-based state”),21 an important term in constitutional law, coined by Robert von Mohl in Die Deutsche Polizeiwissenschaft nach Grundsätzen des Rechtsstaates (1834–35). The constitutional statute protects the citizens from the power of the state and guarantees the right to a fair trial or the habeas corpus (one has the right to know what one is accused of). This principle (i.e., “the rule of law”) is at the core of Enlightenment philosophy, as suggested by Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Taking these observations into account, Joseph K.’s experience of lawlessness in a state supposedly governed by laws becomes the central “plot” of Kafka’s parabolic conspiracy. In antagonism to the Enlightenment’s promise of laws and rationality, Kafka’s fictional world constitutes modernity turned upside down. The whole novel needs to be read accordingly, as an answer to Joseph K.’s rhetorical question about legitimacy: “Who dares pounce on him in his own home,” “what sort of people are they,” to “which authority [Behörde] do they belong?” Attempting to solve this dilemma, K. will soon realize that everything depends on an opportunity to see the faces of those who have already decided his guilt. The first representative of this “special” authority coming into contact with K., the inspector (Aufseher), presumes that the so-called “arrest” has caused a crucial event in K.’s life, the only guarantee of his own supreme power (i.e., control) over K. Doubtful, K. would only admit to the inspector and to Frau Grubach that he was “not greatly surprised” (T 13; P 14), and that there must be some reasonable explanation for this disorder provoked by strangers in the quiet life of the boarding house. K. will thus engage in an epistemological quest: By getting to know the authority responsible for invading his house, he believes he can ward off any hostility against himself. The inspector and the wardens act according to roles given in advance by an invisible, absconditus judge. This will be their

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only true dimension, to be instrumental to the bureaucratic machine, to the powerful, anonymous “They” who never appear as such. In the chapter entitled “The Whipper,” K. discovers the wardens in a storage room in his office building, cruelly beaten by a strange man. This scene portrays the grotesque image of terror, correlative to the “conspiracy” mechanism. The obscene underside of the Law (of the power structure haunting K.) becomes an open secret, as the character “stumbles upon the strangely sexualized—indeed, homosexualized—scene of sadomasochistic torture.”22 This scene allows a return to Žižek’s theoretical vocabulary; in his interpretation of the Abu Ghraib scandal he shows how, “in being submitted to the humiliating tortures, Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture: They got a taste of the culture’s obscene underside that forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy, and freedom.”23 For the late twentieth-century reader, Kafka’s fictional images relate to the discovery of ritualistic violence that has become intrinsically part of our postmodern, mediapowered everyday life. How can we, looking beyond the strict divisions between democracy and torture, dictatorship and freedom of speech, not find in Kafka’s absurd sadistic scenarios the uncannily familiar sense of our own culture’s “obscene enjoyment”? According to Martin Walser, “the wardens invade K.’s room, because guilt attracts the court . . . [t]he disruption thus emanates from Joseph K.”24 While the power of the court, where K. is awaiting a sentence (any sentence), is derived from the anonymous/impersonal identity of his accusers, the Law itself no longer refers to any normative structure but to a relation of power: law in force but without significance, to paraphrase Kant. Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer recently explored the link between the structure of the Kantian moral law and Kafka’s empty Law: Life under a law that is in force without signifying resembles life in the state of exception, in which the most innocent gesture or the smallest forgetfulness can have most extreme consequences. And it is exactly this kind of life that Kafka describes, in which the law is all the more pervasive for its total lack of content, and in which a distracted knock on the door can mark the start of uncontrollable trials. Just as for Kant the purely formal character of the moral law founds its claim of universal practical applicability in every circumstance, so in Kafka’s village the empty potentiality of the law is so much in force as to become indistinguishable from life.25

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Joseph K.’s trial becomes the literary image of the political logic of exception that Agamben traced back to the work of Carl Schmitt and his Political Theology. I am hesitant to accept all the implications of Agamben’s allegorical reading of Kafka (as I was with Žižek’s analysis of The Trial), especially his reading of the messianic meanings of the Parable of the Law.26 Agamben’s theory of sovereignty is, however, useful for my theoretical argument about the fate of the political in the Cold War inspired by Kafka’s text. If the sovereign’s power cannot be limited by laws, this conception represents the very opposite of the Rechtsstaat idea that Joseph K. reflects upon. In that sense, Joseph K. discovers the fictional correlative of the state of exception, a situation in which the laws are suspended and a mysterious Law27 justifies the repressive action against him. (This Law creates, at the same time, an irretrievable distance between justification and justice.) Desiring access to this unknown normative order, K. believes in the possibility of escape from the regime of its “absolute” rule. In fact, if the law can change K.’s life, if this new level of the conspiracy exists, it can achieve its purpose (in the sense of the Greek term telos) because its force can name guilt and can attribute this guilt to anyone in general and to Joseph K. in particular. Clearly, writes Deleuze, “the Law, as defined by its pure form, without substance or object or any determination whatsoever, is such that no one knows nor can know what it is. It operates without making itself known. It defines a realm of transgression where one is already guilty, and where one oversteps the bounds without knowing what they are, as in the case of Oedipus.”28 On the one hand, the infinite guilt attracts the absolute power of the court and its infinite authority. On the other, it appears as the effect of a perverse dislocation of the State’s central power where K. should have learned the meaning of his arrest. In that sense, The Trial is the exemplary literary text to acknowledge the dispersal of power, its dissemination throughout the social space. Under these conditions, K.’s attempt to re-inscribe his situation into the “political order” of the State is hopeless. The guards laugh at his repetitive attempts to prove his citizenship, to show them his identity card, voice his political rights, or threaten them with his political connections: “The public prosecutor is my friend” (T 15; Der Staatsanwalt Hasterer ist mein guter Freund, P 21). If this prosecutor is K.’s friend, how can the guards become his enemies? Or, rather, are they (as representatives of “They”) the symbol of enmity, or do they simply present a social relation best described as “autonomous” hostility? As in the state of exception, the whole normative or legal order is suspended, but unlike the case described by Agamben or Schmitt, the emergency has not been declared

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and, in this case, it does not enforce the power of any publicly recognized sovereign figure. Kafka offers an ambivalent diagnosis of European politics at the time of World War I’s outbreak: On the one hand his novel presents the political logic of exception as the underside of European nomos (of the jus publicum Europaeum); on the other, it does not clearly identify the sovereign exception with the exception of life29 (as Agamben suggests in Homo Sacer). Unlike Agamben, Deleuze is careful in drawing any strict comparisons between the Kantian moral law and Kafka’s empty Law and simply points out that both overthrow the classical conception of the law: “The law can no longer be grounded on the superior principle of the Good, but neither can it be sanctioned any more by recourse to the idea of the Best as representing the good will of the righteous,”30 Despite their structural similarity, these two conceptions of the law are, in fact, quite distinct, as Kant himself separated the realm of the juridical from that of ethics (the main premise of Hans Kelsen’s legal positivism). In Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, for instance, Kant distinguishes between being a “good man” legally and morally.31 As Agamben reaches out to the Kafkaesque (as well as Kantian) dimension of emptiness illustrated by the modern conception of the law, he does not sufficiently emphasize that we are dealing, in fact, with two different models of modern thinking. In this sense, it is not simply the doctrine of French Enlightenment that may be considered the target of Kafka’s The Trial, but the very project of Kantian philosophy. In other words, the significant literary conspiracy is not the mysterious “arrest” of Joseph K. but rather Kafka’s own plot against political and ethical constructions of modernity originating in eighteenth-century French and German thought. As this “modernist plot” has become suspiciously postmodern, one needs to ask what is at stake, politically, in Kafka’s distorted, or dislocated, signifiers (the Laws, the arrest, the action against K., or the authority behind K.’s arrest). The theoretical background to this question is Rodolphe Gasché’s observation that “the gloomy and oppressive law of Kafka’s is a law . . . a disfigured and dislocated law, perhaps, even the disfigured and dislocated Mosaic Law.”32 The specific use of this Benjaminian category, dislocation as “the remainder of transcendence fit for a world of total immanence,” refers to the “possibility of a slight adjustment . . . in order to turn the distorted world into a redeemed world.”33 Despite clear theological connotations, Benjamin’s category resonates with Ernesto Laclau’s post-Marxist claim that “dislocation is both the condition of possibility and impossibility of a centre [of power] at the same time.”34 Does this particular definition relate to Joseph K.’s

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confrontation with distorted signifiers, to a new political language that refuses any engagement in communication, consensus, reconciliation, or even dialogue? For Kafka, there is no hidden political meaning, when addressing this question. The literary text is simply the terrain where this political experience appears as an abstract problem. The loss of authority exposes a frightful void, the hole in the heart of modern law. This failure of signification (made obvious by Kafka) is not to be confused with Laclau’s theoretical analysis of the political role of empty signifiers in the creation of popular identities, the process of constructing these identities “out of a plurality of demands.”35 As an abstract object, Kafka’s empty signifier simply exposes an internal logic of the regime of the law, while Laclau shows that the correlative to this weakness of the law is a dispersal of power in society that, as the condition of politics per se, can always turn into a positive articulation of so-called democratic demands. In this sense, Kafka’s revolutionary acknowledgement of the split of the signifier, and more radically the failure of the modern State, whose lack of authority is doubled by the figure of an elusive “invisible master,” is the precondition for thinking politics in a post-foundational, anti-essentialist way.36 The cause of the threatening reality described in Kafka’s The Trial is not simply the tendency to identify state with society at the end of the nineteenth century, but the ideological crisis occurring in the European political body and its legal status. Kafka’s fictional world needs to be related to the “atmosphere of disintegration . . . characteristic of Europe between the two wars”37 that is to say, following Hannah Arendt, to the “decline of the nation state” and the creation, in this context, of the “laws of exception” (symptomatic of the European failure to address the rise “of the stateless people” after World War I). Emphasizing that Schreber’s “nervous illness” “only become[s] intelligible when seen against the background of the issues and questions generated by such institutional and political states of emergency,” Eric Santner’s analysis of this famous paranoia case leads to a similar diagnosis of modernity’s juridical crisis, from the perspective of a judge, however, “rather than that of the supplicant to the law.”38 The category of “investiture crisis” allows Eric Santner to move from the private world of delusions to the political and ideological transformations of the German society at the end of the nineteenth century: The surprise offered by the analysis of paranoia . . . is that “an investiture crisis” has the potential to generate not only feelings of extreme alienation, anomie, and profound emptiness, anxieties associated with absence; one of the central theoretical lessons

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of the Schreber case is precisely that a generalized attenuation of symbolic power and authority can be experienced as the collapse of social space and the rites of institution into the most intimate core of one’s being. The feelings generated thereby are . . . anxieties not of absence and loss but of overproximity, loss of distance to some obscene and malevolent presence that appears to have a direct hold on one’s inner parts.39 In the case of Schreber, the crisis of investiture triggers the blown-out version of a psychotic fantasy. In a Lacanian sense, Schreber discovers the Lack in the Other and decides to fill this void with his own sexually and racially “metamorphosed” being, “for there is a flaw in the Order of Things, as a result of which the existence of God Himself seems to be endangered.”40 As Lacan warns us, while Schreber is undoubtedly a prolific writer, “he is no poet”; his writings are thus unable to introduce us to a new dimension of experience. According to Lacan, poetry, or, in more general terms, poetics, is “the creation of a subject adopting a new order of symbolic relations to the world.”41 In this sense, Schreber is only able to transcribe the phantasmatic ordeal that allows him to produce “meaning.” As long as the delusional narrative makes him the site of inscription for the whole world, Schreber is safe. In contrast, Kafka follows a different path: A narrative writing form (i.e., parable) has become the site to bring forward a new dimension of human experience, where the narrative simply evokes the collapse of all-too-powerful meanings, delusional or not. As representative “texts” for their historical period, Schreber’s paranoid confessions and Kafka’s fictional scenario of an unnamable conspiracy reveal some crucial issues about the question of political authority as a specifically modern problem. According to Hannah Arendt, “practically as well as theoretically, we are no longer in a position to know what authority really is.”42 Most relevant here is Arendt’s account of the emergence of the concept of authority in Roman life, along with the first systematic conception of law and state. In contrast with this (European) historical heritage, the decline of authority appears, in Arendt’s perspective, as one of the defining processes of modernity: Historically we may say that the loss of authority is merely the final, though decisive, phase of development, which for centuries undermined primarily religion and tradition. . . . With the loss of authority, however, the general doubt of the modern age also involved the political realm alone. What perhaps hitherto had been of spiritual significance only for the few now has become a concern for one

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and all. Only now . . . the loss of tradition and religion have become political events of the first order?43 Defined in Arendtian terms, the “loss of authority” becomes a central aspect of twentieth-century totalitarianisms, as new and specifically modern forms of social organization. Political power (potestas) is thus fundamentally different from authority (auctoritas). If the latter “is to be defined at all, it must be in contradistinction to both coercion by force and persuasion through arguments.”44 In the Roman world, the meaning of auctoritas is etymologically related to a sense of continuity (the very embodiment of tradition), as it originates in the Latin verb augere “to augment,” and is conceptually based on a notion of foundation: “Once something has been founded it remains binding for future generations.”45 As Arendt describes it, the logic of Roman politics depends on a specifically derivative model (“the authority of the living” depends on the “authority of the founders”): “Authority, in contradistinction to power (potestas), had its roots in the past, but this past was no less present in the actual life of the city than the power and strength of the living.”46 As a potentially critical insight into Hannah Arendt’s provocative argument, my reading of Kafka shows that in modernity a “form” of authority emerges, which recuperates traditional and mystical dimensions of the political, without the resurrection of the old principles of politico-theological sovereignty. In the context of modern history, secrecy becomes the new distinctive trait of authority. The inscription of sovereignty within secrecy is thus one of the central features of modern political regimes, an operation that ensures the legitimacy of authority. According to The Trial, the mythical nature of this authority is not the “sacred” foundation of the State, but the very absence of any grounding narrative. As far as Kafka’s prose is concerned, the significance of this non-foundational universe is a negative one; it only relates to a political experience of uncertainty and confusion, acknowledged by Hannah Arendt in quoting a paragraph from the last chapter of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: “Since the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity.”47 For Kafka, the split of the law—between the laws of the Rechtsstaat and their underside, the state of necessity/exception—corresponds to exposing the frightful void of authority. The political force of Kafka’s prose lies in reinventing fables of Jewish and Chinese traditions as ways of access to a modern universe confronted with its contradictions. The invisible master who seemingly runs the socalled conspiracy against K. is not simply a mysterious agency whose

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power can be located, albeit somewhere away from the public sphere. If one reads this enigmatic figure as a lack of figuration, the emerging origin or foundation of power that threatens K. is the very limit of reality. In Lacanian terms, the invisible master is no longer the “Other of the Other” as “part of the metaguarantee of the consistency of the big Other (the symbolic order that regulates social life)”48 as Žižek claims, but rather an unnamed/undeclared dislocation of power. The pseudo-theological inscription of Kafka’s formulas becomes the surprising tool of an anti-Enlightenment narrative: The politicized juridical body is nothing less than a pure ideality that completely absorbs the law. In focusing on the question of the secret and of the conspiratorial myth, one needs to return to Joseph K.’s belief that he “lived in a state governed by law, there was universal peace [and] all statutes were in force” (T 6). What allows the “power structure” to throw its net, what leads K. to get involved/trapped in solving the puzzle, is a notion of the ideal (community) that he identifies at the core of the social bond. Taking for granted the order of the social space, described as an almost utopian reign of law, K. expects the dissolution of secrecy—that is to say, an untying of the knot that establishes the coupling of sovereignty, secrecy, and security—and believes he can find legitimacy for his role as victim. What he discovers is a hidden place of power, an authority that seems to subvert the normality of law as order and the “universality of peace.” Was Kafka familiar with the Kantian proposal of a “perpetual peace,” as most English translations of this text seem to imply? Taking into consideration the popularity of Kant’s pamphlet “To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795) in the Germanic world, this hypothesis is not impossible to assume. Kafka’s description of an underground juridical corpus, ironically situated in attics of apartment buildings, and especially its carnivalesque procedure (the judge has the legal capacity to infinitely defer the trial), is an obvious negation and parody of the much-too-perfect bureaucratic system still in place in the Dual Monarchy at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, Kafka’s novel constitutes a radically modern text because of its ability to suspend its historical context. This central aspect of Kafka’s own fictional conspiracy is conditioned by his writing about a legal body acting as a parasite to the state of order. To clarify this idea, we need to consider briefly the Marxist critique of State Bureaucracy in relation to Kafka’s project: “The executive power, with its enormous bureaucratic and military organization, with its extensive and artificial state machinery, with a host of officials numbering half a million, besides an army of another half million, this appalling parasitic body, which enmeshes the body of

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French society like a net and chokes all its pores, sprang up in the days of the absolute monarchy, with the decay of the feudal system, which it helped to hasten.”49 Drawing attention to the paranoid forms of the legal apparatus in which nothing is solved and no judgment/verdict is given, Kafka also introduces his own notion of “an appalling parasitic body” grafted onto the body of the state. East European fictions of the Cold War such as Milan Kundera’s novels or Danilo Kiš’s literary analysis of the Stalinist model of conspiracy in A Tomb for Boris Davidovich find a correspondent to Kafka’s abstract fiction in the totalitarian image of an overdetermined universe, in which reality often becomes an atrocious joke. Kafka’s extreme conspiratorial scenario in The Trial establishes the limit point of modern reinterpretations of the political. The experience of becoming/being K. does not suggest, however, that bare life (i.e., life that can be killed but not sacrificed) is, following Giorgio Agamben, the secret center of Western politics (totalitarian or not). In my view, the letter K. stands not simply for the victim (as a universal class), but for the remainder of singularity, a sign of exclusion from the regime of the law and of a relationship to the abstract edifice of the state no longer able to provide, in a traditional sense, order and security. In his Homo Poeticus, Danilo Kiš arrives at a similar perspective: “The French critic Marthe Robert argues that Kafka’s K. stands for more than his own initial: It is an indication that he is unable to lay himself bare. Not only do I feel her interpretation to be accurate, I feel it goes beyond Kafka. The lone letter, both masking and telling, can stand for any Central European writer. K. is a sign of eternal ambivalence.”50 Following this position, the letter K. does not bring about the semiotic translation of stigmas and their cultural and geographical reliance on the Central European space. Struggling against a conspiracy that has no center, Kafka’s character acknowledges that the laws of the country and the universal peace that have, up to that moment, dominated his existence are suspended. However, Kafka does not simply imagine Joseph K. as “homo sacer” (as Agamben would have it), and it is only retrospectively that, following our own political experience with twentieth-century mass extermination, we desire to make the Jewish writer a modern prophet. Perhaps, if taking into account Kafka’s own desire, one needs to see the letter K. as this “sign of eternal ambivalence,” as Danilo Kiš remarked. In this sense, K. represents the un-erasable trace of a human subject, a name, a life, in any state in which the modern law cannot secure political rights for all its citizens.51

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“In The Penal Colony,” Kafka’s “Machinery of Violence” Among the diverse political aspects of Kafka’s works, from America to “The Great Wall of China” and from The Castle to the “In the Penal Colony,” one is particularly relevant to the study of literary engagements of the political Cold War. Kafka’s vision of modern instrumentality is a key part of the narrative that describes how juridical bureaucracy encroaches on the democratic-political. This narrative, in fact, echoes (rather than predicts) the moment when modernity cannot undo its historical complication—to use Claude Lefort’s term—through the belief in an utopian idea of social emancipation. “In the Penal Colony” is thus an exemplary story in that it features a remarkable literary imagination producing an apparatus that writes the law on human bodies. This peculiar machine is also what is left of the factory as the capitalist-industrial entity is refused a central role in Kafka’s literature and appears legibly written only into his diary, at the center of a biographical narrative sustained by the intimate drama of writing fiction. If the main aesthetic effect of this story falls into what Deleuze would call “the expression of an aggressively comic force,”52 it needs to be thought through in the context of Kafka, the writer-engineer, producing an unsettling connection between technology, terror, and writing. The focus on the writing and reading practices exposed by “In the Penal Colony” indicates the hermeneutical desire to declare the meta-literary status of this text: “Although it is often noted that Kafka wrote ‘In the Penal Colony’ while writing The Trial”—Stanley Corngold shows—“it is insufficiently appreciated that this story is about Kafka’s writing The Trial.”53 According to this analysis, Kafka’s story relates on the one hand to the violent character of “the law administered by a world at war”—a contextual political narrative dominated by the state of exception/emergency— and on the other to a personal situation, the “disturbing involvement of women in the process of justification.”54 As a metaliterary fable, “In the Penal Colony” parallels the diary, Kafka’s other text, in which he records the tormenting character of literary writing. Only the fictional story, however, not the personal document, “aims to rewrite writing in inverse order, so that writing might constitute the promise of a redemption.”55 The diary cannot perform this task simply because it is never perceived as writing per se, but as a mere biographical and literary archive, without the constraints and demands of the narrative form. More so, due to its private character, the text functions as the support for dream or fantasy, for an uncensored contact with terrifying libidinal forces: “Kafka had been entertaining selfcastigation fantasies in his diaries for years. He could not always hold his masochistic zeal in check, and it was a factor in his persistent fear of one

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day losing his mind.”56 While he does not explicitly discuss the implications of Kafka’s link between terror and “writing,” Stach acknowledges the metaliterary character of “In the Penal Colony,” considering the story’s elaboration of The Trial’s main themes, guilt and justice. In other words, “this is one of the rare occasions in which we are afforded a glimpse into Kafka’s laboratory.”57 In light of our reading of The Trial, we need to consider “In the Penal Colony” not simply as an ars poetica, in the classical sense of the word, but as literary device, an instrument that facilitates Kafka’s work on his second novel and contributes therefore to the creation of a politico-theoretical horizon that the term “Kafkaesque” elusively suggests in everyday language. In Stanley Corngold’s words, the unique task of this instrumenttext is “to rewrite writing in inverse order,” as it allows Kafka to explore, in the story’s visceral images, the techno-sexual undertones of political violence that underscore the dislocation of rightful political relations envisioned in The Trial. In his reading of “In the Penal Colony,” Stach introduces the psychoanalytical coordinates in which the vicissitudes of writing are no longer a biographical matter but the symptom of what is most unsettling and disturbing about the literary work: [the story] gives flow to the blood that incessantly threatens to gush from the pores of the world in The Trial. Kafka filtered out and reassembled in the story the elements that would have poisoned his novel. The result is as hot and heavy as molten lead; the gravity and violence of the story remain isolated within Kafka’s work as a whole as the flogging scene within The Trial. Kafka experienced a great sense of relief when reading the text aloud. His audiences, on the other hand, were horrified.58 Working on The Trial, Kafka was exposed to a dangerous surplus, potentially contaminating the “pure” narrative form of the novel. He does not follow through on this literary task by repressing the phantasmatic support of this material, but rather by giving way to its creative potential. If the fictional world of “In the Penal Colony” negates, perhaps dialectically, the story of Joseph K.’s stubborn attempt to prove his innocence, does that also mean that The Trial represents the desire to arrive at some sort of larger narrative synthesis about law and justice? “In the Penal Colony” appears to critics as a text created from the thematic (or phantasmatic) residues of The Trial, but this interpretation could lead us to think that Kafka uses this story to “complicate” some of the literary themes he has been obsessed with, juridical instrumentality on the one hand, and the rhetorical (or linguistic) dimensions of power on the other. The story thus

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leaves behind the theme of literary writing, sheds its own meta-literary character, its “skin” or surface, in order to arrive at other procedures of inscription, to consider the unique example of the law, which is not simply a written text, but also that text that orders and constructs social reality by writing itself on human bodies. The writer imagines a technological incarnation of the law; a monstrous apparatus, programmed in advance and created by the human intellect, constitutes the paradigmatic legal machine, the hardware and software of a normative order whose very foundation is the officer’s endorsement of a type of military organization based on absolute hierarchy and submission. These principles are written into the law, and in turn, the law writes them back on bodies: “‘Whatever commandment the prisoner has disobeyed is written upon his body by the Harrow. This prisoner for instance’—the officer indicated the man—‘will have written on his body: HONOR THY SUPERIORS!’”59 In an essay devoted to the modern applications of the idea of right, entitled “Tools for Body Writing,” Michel de Certeau indicates: “[The] law endlessly writes itself on bodies. It engraves itself on parchments made with the skin of its subjects. It articulates them into a juridical corpus. It makes them its book.”60 At the heart of the historical constitution of penal justice, as well as of matrimonial law, de Certeau identifies two complementary operations: As living beings are “charged into signifiers of rules (an intertextuation),” the “Logos of society ‘becomes flesh’ (an incarnation).”61 The role of the law to provide the social text of individual recognition is thus correlative to the law’s demand to make the human skin one of its surfaces of inscription. This idea is illustrated by a passage from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, in which Dromio says to his master Antipholus of Ephesus: “If the skin were parchment and the blows you gave were ink / Your own handwriting would tell you what I think” (3.1.14). Kafka transforms the traditional relation of power—the master writing on his slave’s body the text of the punishment—into a hypothetical situation in which to write on the body of the condemned man (der Verurteilte) becomes part of the process to fulfill the sense and sentence of the law. In fact, Kafka had already conceived of a device that corresponds to the central tenet of de Certeau’s analysis: “In order for the law to write itself on bodies, an apparatus mediating the relation between the two is necessary.”62 Kafka chooses, in fact, to rewrite the narrative of the inscription of the law on the skin of its subjects and into human life as an abstract parable that cannot be assimilated by The Trial. As the incarnation of the penal colony’s law, the torture-writing machine is the central figure of this parable, its silent protagonist. From “instruments of scarification, tattooing and primitive initiation” to the tools of modern justice, an “equipment

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extending from the police bludgeon to handcuffs and the dock,”63 all the traditional as well as modern tools of inscribing the law on bodies are featured by the penal colony’s mechanical juridical system, albeit not with their original form and function. The officer’s rhetorical tour de force is the main plot of the story; his discourse is devoted to technical instruction—an almost pedagogical, professorial expose—as well as to bringing forward the ways in which the apparatus serves a juridical philosophy created in the past by the former commandant. In factual terms, the officer/judge from this unspecified penal colony, the colony’s former commandant’s most faithful follower, tries to convince a European explorer to give support, through a moral and political plea, to a decaying execution practice involving a bizarre torture machine. Kafka’s main point is to introduce a hypothetical situation, or to construct a hypothetical otherness—a gesture that cannot be limited to a critique of colonialism or euro-centrism. This distance is not only geographical but also literary, the gulf between The Trial, featuring a victim who claims his innocence and dies “like a dog” (T 178, wie ein Hund; P 278), and the penal colony’s universe, in which the condemned man looks like a submissive dog (hündisch ergeben) but is set free towards the end of the story. While in chains, this condemned man is not going to speak, inquire about his legal rights or implore the officer for forgiveness. Everything in the story is ruled by a certain narrative logic of separation or distance. The explorer struggles to maintain his neutral stance while visiting the penal colony, his equidistant attitude corresponding to the role of the indifferent observer. The officer’s nostalgia evokes the image of a past whose only material link to the present is the execution machine—the rest is simply the effect of remembrance and idealization, a history that no one can access or distinguish from myth. To emphasize the structural effect of this narrative composition of distance, Kafka has the officer deliver his plea about the political significance of the machine in French, a language that neither the condemned man, nor the soldier who guards him, can understand. In the first half of the story, Kafka reduces these characters to “extras” and strategically focuses right away on the technological dimensions of the officer’s notion of justice. The material of the story is not, however, limited to the dominating narrative of the apparatus (its mechanics, function, history), but often interrupted by apparently minor or insignificant narrative detours: “It was all the more remarkable, therefore, that the prisoner was nonetheless making an effort to follow the officer’s explanations. With a kind of drowsy persistence he directed his gaze wherever the officer pointed a finger, and at the interruption of the explorer’s question he, too, as well as the officer, looked around” (PC 142).

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The emphasis of Kafka’s prose falls on patiently describing, through the voice of the officer, the composition and function of the apparatus that writes the law on the body of the condemned man. The systemic quality of this instrument made of three parts (Bed, Designer, Harrow) is also the key to this detailed description, which introduces the condemned man: “Heavy chains controlling the small chains locked off the prisoner’s ankles, wrists, chains that were themselves attached to each other by communicating links [Verbindugsketten]” (PC 140). The condemned man who looks like a “submissive dog” (PC 140) is thus—metaphorically speaking—already part of a complex disciplining apparatus, that politicorhetorical structure that Kafka also employs as the literary device to create his fictional penal colony. According to Stanley Corngold’s rereading of the text, “doggishly submissive (hündisch ergeben) is a metaphor. But the intensifier so added on to hündisch ergeben literalizes the metaphor: The prisoner is now no different from a dog. There are two interinvolved processes here, one political, and one rhetorical. The man is brutalized by a violent application of political power; and the metaphor, too, is submitted to a kind of violence in being robbed of its floating status as trope and more or less literalized.”64 Writing the law on the human body is the fulfillment of this application of power and the literal expression of the penal colony’s notion of justice. De Certeau’s essay starts off by drawing attention to a rhetorical event in the history of legal and social life: “All power, including that of right, traces itself on the back of its subjects. . . . It could then be thought that parchments and papers are put in the place of our skin and that, substituted for it during lenient times, they form around it a protective glaze.”65 “In the Penal Colony” is an unsettling story precisely because, violating the tropological development of the idea of right, as well as the potentially metaphorical meaning of writing, Kafka’s narrative can imagine the contact between justice—no longer an abstract idea, but an efficient machine—and the human body. As mechanical device, the penal colony’s apparatus can be interpreted through the lens of Marx’s analysis of tools and complex machines; at the same time, it could also be seen as absurdist figure, not radically different than the feeding machine in Chaplin’s classic comedy, Modern Times. Kafka’s interest in the world of technology is not linked with the capitalist appropriation of labor, but rather with a narrative of debt and exchange, which constitutes the underside, or the secret history, of moral and juridical conceptions of guilt and punishment. This approach is explicitly presented by Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals: “The central moral concept of guilt [Schuld] originated from the very material concept of debt [Schulden].”66 While Kafka’s interest in “the contractual relationship

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between creditor and debtor, which is as old as the concept of ‘legal subjects’”67 is not surprising, the apparatus he imagines to perform punishment as repayment is, from the outset, intriguing and remarkable (ein eigentümlicher Apparat). At the center of Kafka’s narrative is the former commandant’s political technology, or its material remainder, the “fully developed machinery”68 of torture. For Marx, the paradigmatic machine is made up of essentially three parts: the motor mechanism, the transmitting mechanism, and the tool or the working machine. Kafka does not deviate much from the essential structural composition of a complex mechanical device, or from the way it operates. Clayton Koelb is right to notice that “the technology of the machine is uncertain and comes close to the bounds of credibility, but it does not cross those bounds.”69 The officer is seen, from the very beginning, preparing the machine for its work, “creeping beneath the structure, which was bedded deep in the earth, now climbing a ladder to inspect its upper parts” (PC 140). Physical contact with the machine is thus part of the officer’s duty, and his mechanical expertise is significant: Manual labor (Händearbeit) is a necessary stage in an automatic process that culminates, after hours of torture-writing, in the condemned man’s access to the meaning of his punishment in a final moment of ecstasy. The fictional “political technology” created here constitutes the general literary framework in which Kafka’s character (the officer) describes juridical instrumentality as a display of ceremonial power, a symbolic institution that consolidates the penal colony’s state identity. The officer introduces himself as the representative of a mythical golden age dominated by the former Commandant’s invention of the apparatus. The officer confirms that the former Commandant was not only a legislator but also a singular kind of scientist king, combining in one persona (the sovereign) multiple identities: soldier, judge, mechanic, chemist, and draughtsman (Zeichner).70 The technological accomplishment becomes the key to the conception of sovereignty proposed by the story; the Old Commandant is the creator of this politico-technological world. In other words, the former Commandant’s foundational activity is reduced to its materialistic and mechanistic result; the political—the political idea of organization, of creating a specific type of order—as the lifework (Lebenswerk) of the former Commandant is performed by the work (Arbeit) of an ingenious machine. Kafka’s narrative explores the internal contradictions of this hypothetical organization of power and its underlying conception of sovereignty by focusing on the Officer’s desperate attempt to preserve the legacy—as the meaning of Erbe (translated by Willa and Edwin Muir as ‘tradition’) suggests—of the Old Commandant’s political apparatus: “This procedure

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and method of execution, which you are now having the opportunity to admire, has at the moment no longer any open adherents [Anhänger] in our colony. I am its sole advocate [Vertreter], and at the same time the sole advocate of the old Commandant’s tradition [Erbe/legacy]. I can no longer reckon on any further extension of the method, it takes all my energy to maintain it as it is” (PC 153). Marx’s Capital is useful here as a reference point to Kafka’s detailed description of a daunting mechanical structure. When the explorer finally shows a “dawning interest in the apparatus,” his gaze discovers an impressive entity: “It was a huge affair. The Bed and the Designer were of the same size and looked like two dark wooden chests. The Designer hung two meters above the Bed; each of them was bound at the corners with four rods of brass that almost flashed out rays in the sunlight. Between the chests shuttled the Harrow on a ribbon of steel” (PC 143). The movements of the Bed and the Harrow are synchronized, their mechanical conversation being the result of precise calculation— “alle Bewegungen genau berechnet; sie müßen nämlich peinlich auf die Bewegungen der Egge abgestimmt sein” (SK 102). This systemic organization of the apparatus is the condition for mechanical harmony. The logic of mechanical interaction, described by Marx as “the impact of motion to the working machine,”71 becomes in Kafka’s text the systemic infrastructure of the penal colony’s administration of torture: Both the Bed and the Designer have an electric battery each; the Bed needs one for itself, the Designer for the Harrow. As soon as the man is strapped down, the Bed is set in motion. It quivers in minute, very rapid vibrations, both from side to side and up and down. You will have seen similar apparatus in hospitals; but in our Bed the movements are precisely calculated; you see, they have to correspond very exactly to the movements of the Harrow. And the Harrow is the instrument for the actual execution of the sentence. (PC 143–44) As the officer continues to inform the explorer about the judicial ideology enforced through this technological assemblage, we realize that, in the penal colony, the work of homo faber is embodied by the former Commandant’s creation of an efficient application of the law. This idea derives from identifying the destiny of modern man with the practical value of “his” scientific accomplishments, and refers to the Enlightenment’s instrumental rationality, but also implicitly to the development of capitalism. Yet in Kafka’s absurd scenario, the rationalization of justice thrives in contradictions—justice without a trial, a punishment that does not match the offense, a sentence written in a language that the condemned man cannot understand. Given that for Marx, “the machine is a means

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for producing surplus-value,”72 can we consider the Kafkaesque apparatus as producing (or, better, having produced) some surplus value in the economy of the penal colony’s political organization? The story thus focuses on the creation of the machine; the officer took part in the intense work that transformed the former Commandant’s invention into a fully operating device, a machine that can write the sentence directly on the prisoner’s body. According to the officer, this “writing” is a performance (ein Spiel) that used to fascinate large audiences; justice could be fulfilled only if the penal colony’s politico-technological play remains, in a particular way, inscribed in the tradition of public execution. The torture device, the Harrow, “is made of glass” (PC 147) so everyone can watch through this screen the progression of the inscription. In The Trial, the procedures through which the predicament of the law is fulfilled are highly secretive; hence, political power is split between its legitimate representatives and a parallel bureaucratic structure that is not fully invisible, or occult, but that successfully projects itself as occupying a space in the modern city, politically inaccessible to K. Here, on this penal colony, away from the European city, a political paradigm of publicly embraced and legitimate terror has emerged but withered away. Its “essence,” if we can use this metaphysical term, appears only as invoked by the Officer who remembers executions as they occurred in the “old days” as public ceremonies: “Before hundreds of spectators—all of them standing on tiptoe as far as the heights there—the condemned man was laid under the Harrow by the commandant himself” (PC 492). Adopting a concept forged by Plato and recently discussed by Samuel Weber, we could argue that the penal colony is a theatrocratic state: “For Plato the fascinating power of the theatrocracy is marked by a resurgence of thauma, the wonder that draws and holds one’s gaze.”73 We are not suggesting that Kafka’s story illustrates Plato’s concerns in the Laws, but that the political regime evoked here derives its meaning from the ritual of the execution—it is only in their quality of spectators and in the ecstatic quality of this experience that the anonymous people of the colony form a we, and a social bond: “How we all absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of the sufferer, how we bathed our cheeks in the radiance of that justice, achieved at last and fading so quickly!” (PC 154; “Wie nahmen wir alle den Ausdruck der Verklärung von dem gemarterten Gesicht, wie hielten wir unsere Wangen in der Schein dieser endlich erreichten und schien vergehenden Gerechtigkeit!,” SK 154). In order to explain to the observer the conditions that served this fictional display of power, the officer emphasizes the central aspect of the former Commandant’s political technology—the ability to solve technical difficulties and to provide the penal colony (i.e., the audience) with a most

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ingenious spectacle: “Getting the needles fixed in the glass was a technical problem, but after many experiments we overcame the difficulty. No trouble was too great for us, you see. And now anyone can look through the glass and watch the inscription taking form on the body” (PC 147). The constitution of the penal colony’s unique technological-political order is made possible by Kafka’s literary translation of a juridical procedure (Verfahren) into a machine-performed operation, as well as by the substitution of legal argument with the direct application of the punishment. The machine reproduces the text of the sentence in a cruel inscription, and at the same time makes “the scripture comprehensible to the prisoner.”74 This peculiar form of understanding is mentioned briefly, as the officer introduces the core ideological content of his judicial beliefs: “Guilt is never to be doubted.” The condemned man does not need to know what he is accused of (Strafsachen) and learns the sentence on his body (“er erfährt es ja auf seinem Leib,” SK 103). The double meaning of the German verb erfahren is relevant here: The only way in which the prisoner finds out the meaning of the punishment is by experiencing it literally. This is by no means a tautology; the experience of being written on by the law is what needs to be calculated and performed with mechanical precision. As the machine keeps on writing the sentence of the law “deeper and deeper for the whole twelve hours” (PC 149), the purpose of the inscription is not only to transform the skin into a surface of inscription, but also to break that surface, to give writing/text a meaning beyond itself. The sense of the whole procedure also refers to writing as transcription, to the mechanical reproduction of an already existing text that “regulates” the machinery. Authored by the former Commandant, this text is a “labyrinth of lines crossing and recrossing each other, which covered the paper so quickly that it was difficult to discern the blank spaces between them” (PC 148). The mechanical transcription of this text is instrumental to creating the temporal and spatial conditions in which the punishment is effectuated. The law inscribes itself on the space determined by the prisoner’s body, during an interval of twelve hours, both as an actual script as well as “embellishments,” an extension of writing into a pure spatio-temporal trace. In other words, the law is not simply a peculiarly legible text, but also the essential biopolitical form of capture—as that which holds onto the condemned man until “justice” is fulfilled. By definition, any torture practice relies on the exemplary character of a slow and painful death. “In the Penal Colony” confirms this idea by concentrating on the particular ways in which the instrumentality of terror is intrinsically part of the constitution of legal subjectivity. What is, therefore, central to Kafka’s story is its theatrocratic dimension, the

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audience’s belief that death under the torture device arrives in a moment of Enlightenment, made possible by the prisoner’s hard work (viel Arbeit) to decipher the script of his punishment with his wounds. The device does not only facilitate the experience of “working through” the meaning of the punishment—the metaphor is literalized—but it also creates the conditions of closure and epiphany: “Enlightenment comes to the most dullwitted. It begins around the eyes. From there it radiates. A moment that might tempt one to get under the Harrow oneself” (PC 150). We can now analyze all the dimensions of the former Commandant’s political technology. The reading/deciphering of the punishment-text is described as labor intensive precisely because it gives purpose to the sovereign’s sophisticated judiciary-mechanism, and legitimates it publicly at the same time. The confirmation of the execution machine supposedly comes through a so-called mystical experience. According to this logic, the modern machine in Kafka’s story can only enforce a model of justice that is primordial—a paradoxical situation in which the forces of myth control the modern man’s encounter with the law. Nothing seems more foreign to the European explorer than this monstrous combination of technological rationality and mythological worldview, which appears as the internal contradiction of the penal colony’s justice system. This idea is only partially hinted at by the officer telling the explorer that he is “conditioned by European ways of thought” and due to these cultural prejudices he may “object in principle to . . . such mechanical instruments of death in particular” (PC 155). Indeed so, for example, compared to the French guillotine, a method of efficient execution devised during the French Revolution as a humane tool to enforce capital punishment, Kafka’s apparatus and its “uselessness” appears as an unsettling element in the configuration of a linear historical transition linking the law of tradition to its wandering in the modern world. In his visit to the colony, the explorer discovers that the execution machine, the peculiar apparatus used to enforce the law, is a material remainder of a dying/decaying judicial culture. As a lost center the penal colony, the apparatus is now significant because of the narrative that evokes its former glory, hence the singular position of the explorer: a spectator of the “present” failed execution and a witness to the birth of the myth by way of which the apparatus can finally attain an afterlife. We should thus not confuse, however, the prophecy written on the former commandant’s grave,75 through which the past can claim power over the future, with Kafka’s prophetic insight. While meeting the officer who proves to be the last loyal follower of the former regime and the last believer in the symbolic status of the execution

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machine, the explorer witnesses the disintegration of this already inactive center of power. As the officer pursues his fetishistic fascination with the apparatus (the object incarnating the law), his death is anything but heroic—the machine violently breaks down, refusing to write a text on his body and give him, beyond words and text, the experience of a final ecstasy. The observer, “almost against his will, had to look at the face of the corpse. It was as it had been in life; no sign was visible of the promised redemption [Erlösung]; what the others found in the machine the officer had not found; the lips were firmly pressed together, the eyes wide open, with the same expression as in life, the look was calm and convinced, through the forehead went the point of the great iron spike” (PC 166). This scene confirms the stark irony of Kafka’s politico-technological imagination. The fictional torture machine Kafka invented in his story is instrumental to embodying the demise of a regime of sovereign-power, the procedural breakdown of a supposedly infallible justice system. To fulfill Kafka’s ironic look at modern justice, the actual work of the machine needs to contradict the officer’s ideals. In this sense, Kafka’s narrative replaces the officer’s story about achieving redemption through suffering and self-sacrifice with the ordinary reality of the officer’s violent and profane death: terror without enlightenment! In what sense can this Kafkaesque scenario—which evokes both the mythological afterlife of a material history representative of a past power structure and the banality of the terror that this myth attempts to cover up—provide an useful interpretative direction to this book focused on the exemplary political significance of the literary encounter with the Cold War discourse? One way to begin thinking about the Kafkaesque dimension of the Cold War as a central moment in the life of the democraticpolitical is to interpret “In the Penal Colony” as an uncanny meditation on what Jacques Lezra astutely has named “the modern experience of ‘terror,’” an experience that is the “residue, or marks the reemergence, of an incomplete desacralization of the ‘terror’ invested in, and provoked by, the sovereign body in premodernity.”76 While Kafka’s work touches on these crucial themes, in his fictional genealogy of political terror he appears to go one step further. It is not simply the ghost of political theology (in Lezra’s words, “incomplete secularization” and “incomplete desacralization”) that makes terror an “irreducible element” of political modernity, but also the myth forcefully claiming to bind communities to a transhistorical narrative of political identity and—if we perform a hyperbolic reading of the text—to envision their future in a stable global order.

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The Vicissitudes of Popular Sovereignty

The increasing seriousness of things—that is the great opportunity of jokes. —henry james, The Portrait of a Lady

The Past Tense of Cruelty, The Present Tense of Deception—Milan Kundera, The Joke In Milan Kundera’s The Joke (1967), Cold War themes—such as the expansion of Soviet-style Communism in Eastern Europe—make up a distant yet relevant context. The novel describes how the fairy tale of the Communist dream transforms into a tragic farce of historical proportions whose protagonists are common people with specific roles in the fictional representation of totalitarian society—the Communist fanatic, the opportunist bureaucrat, the innocent victim. At the same time, given the importance of temporal perspective to the narrative design of this interpretive novel, we may, in fact, need to address the role of a different protagonist in the farce of the Communist Revolution, the people—a historical rather than a literary character—whose very existence depends on the intersection of distinct temporalities: the generational past of the community, the solidarity of the present moment, and the promise of continuity. This is the larger context in which we should understand the novel’s Kafkaesque situation, the familiar scenario in which a young devoted Communist becomes “an enemy of the people” as well as the lyrical image of the Czech nation coming together to sing a popular revolutionary song in solidarity with Western Communism and the Italian leader Togliatti: Avanti popolo, a la ricossa, bandiera rossa, bandiera rossa. . . . In the enthusiasm and the emotion of this public ceremony, vox populi is no longer the medium

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of democratic affirmation but the moment of surrender to ideological acquiesence. The figuration of the people is not simply a matter of invoking the rhetoric of Stalinism but also a way to address the fundamental ambiguity of the political in regard to the formation of collective identities: “The blurred boundaries of the people reflect conflicts and dilemmas that continue to bedevil democratic politics.”1 Through interpretive narratives delivered by individual characters, the novel examines the nature of the community these characters may share and the collective identities to which they belong. Kundera has vehemently refused to see his own work as political, as part of so-called Eastern European anti-Communist literature, yet The Joke tells us stories that illuminate the theoretical problematic of the populace—popular sovereignty, the collective body of the nation and the common people that are separated from the regime2—in the historical context of the shift from Communist fanaticism to inept bureaucratic rule. Kundera’s attitude towards the possibility of a properly political form of writing has frustrated American critics. Irving Howe concludes his review of the novel for The New York Times by arguing that “[his books] are saturated with politics. Like his Ludvik [the novel’s protagonist], Mr. Kundera is trapped by the time in which he lives. And that, perhaps, is the final rotten joke that history has played on Milan Kundera, one showing farce to be the merest shade apart from tragedy.”3 In an extensive essay composed as a fictional letter to Kundera, another American critic, Robert Boyers, suggests that The Joke can be a love story and, at the same time, “an indictment of a Communist regime.”4 Boyers defends, therefore, the legitimacy of the political novel genre: “People trapped [in the situation presented by The Joke] do often manage to grow in spite of it. Not surprisingly, that growth frequently is made possible by their having to confront political realities, the political facts of life they once thought to deny”; Kundera is thus a political novelist due to his ability “to make us understand growth, change, and failure in these terms.”5 While this is a fair claim, it doesn’t fully address the key concern of the novel’s plot. The Joke’s main characters grow and fail to grow at the same time: Ludvik wants to take revenge against his enemy in the Communist Party by sleeping with his wife, Helena; Jaroslav, Ludvik’s childhood friend, tries to revive a cultural tradition that is long gone, which now exists only as part of state propaganda; even Helena, who has remained a devoted Communist member, wrongly believes in the truth of her newly found love for Ludvik. These characters, possessed by a remainder of their youthful naiveté, lead themselves into new moral-existential traps,

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a situation that parallels the aspirations of Czech society of the late 1960s and the belief that it can alter the status quo of Soviet-style Communism. Party politics is not the theme of the novel, but remains central to the world from which the novel cannot free itself as it aspires to be contemporary. While this world of totalitarianism and Soviet domination is now finished, The Joke asks questions still pertinent today. Is political myth the dead-end of popular politics, of any project of emancipation? In what situation—described either as tragedy or as farce—does cynicism justify moral opposition to political involvement? These questions emerged, for Kundera, from the experience of living in a totalitarian society, but they still are a reminder of the way we conceive of the political in post-Cold War democracies. That Kundera himself wants to leave this possibility open is clear from his essays and from his other novels. In his fictional universe, the transition from collective laughter to individual resentment reveals the obscene underside of a political bond founded on the intoxicating optimism of the world revolution, that is, the Communist revolutionary brotherhood as affective state that can corrupt the people and undermine its sovereignty. The Joke leaves the matter at this point; only in later novels is the political explicitly shaped as an aesthetic form: the newly celebrated social order of “popular democracy” being loosely defined by aesthetic categories, such as the kitsch character of the collective staging of popular democracy on the streets of Prague.6 To Kundera’s characters, the corruption/destruction of Communism is not simply an effect of the bureaucracy suffocating the Party’s core values; it originates, in fact, in the illusions of collective optimism, in the aestheticized coming together of the proletariat, who now incarnates, in its historic mission, the sovereignty of the people. Kundera’s novels transpose historico-political experiences into “fundamental existential situations” (AN 39). The fictional situation depicted in The Joke tells us that, at a symbolic level, no distinction can be made between the Party as an ontological center of power, the ideological kernel that makes possible the foundation of the People-as-One, and the various bureaucratic structures that exercise direct control. For Kundera, the organization of the social space around an ideal homogeneity of Communist society is incompatible at an ontological level with the novel, a literary genre imagining the order of human existence in deeply ambiguous ways. At the same time, the fundamental democratic dimension of the novel—from Cervantes’s Don Quixote to Broch’s The Sleepwalkers, two central examples in The Art of the Novel—does not resemble the liberalhumanist ideology or the practice of democracy in the West.7 The most radical implication of Kundera’s literary and theoretical writing follows

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from his belief in the autonomy of the novel. But this position, which is intricately linked with the experience of being an actor-spectator in the demise of Communism, does not make it easy for readers to see what democracy means beyond the necessary ambiguity of literature. Analyzing Kafka’s work, Kundera observes: “The society we call democratic is also familiar with the process that bureaucratizes and depersonalizes; the entire planet has become a theater of this process. Kafka’s novels are an imaginary, oneiric hyperbole of it; a totalitarian state is a prosaic and material hyperbole of it” (AN 107).Now, the obvious difficult task is how to read a novel like The Joke following the theoretical statement Kundera has developed here—that is, by taking into account the juxtaposition, but not the correspondence or complete mirroring, of these two forms of hyperbole: one literary, the other political.

The Kafkaesque Fable, or Being Trapped in a Joke The final statement of Edgar Ulmer’s classic film noir Detour (1945)— “Fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on us for no good reason at all”—summarizes the Kafkaesque episode in Kundera’s The Joke: Ludvik Jahn gets caught in the web of a complex mechanism of repression for writing an innocent joke about Communism in a postcard addressed to his naïve girlfriend Marketa. If the statement featured in Ulmer’s film is true, how are we to conceive this “mysterious force”: as pure contingency, or as an unpredictable God? The cynical tone of Detour forces us to believe in this extreme predicament and, by all means, Kafka’s antihero K., would have no other alternative than to agree: Only a hostile, mysterious force has the power to take him down in the name of a law reduced to an empty form. In this sense, as Deleuze and Guattari argued, in Kafka’s texts, “it is less a question of presenting this image of a transcendental and unknowable law than of dissecting the mechanism of an entirely different sort of machine, which needs this image of the law only to align its gears and make them function together with ‘perfect synchronicity.’”8 This machine, the paradigmatic bureaucratic machine, is represented in Kundera’s novel by a very concrete group of young Communist enthusiasts, members of the Student Organization who discover their access to political power. As concrete actors who feel empowered as representatives of the people, they are acting in the name of a law/ideology whose terms are not ambiguous and whose structure is never empty. Precisely because the novel deals with the lived experience of the totalitarian as prosaic hyperbole, in Kundera’s terms (AN 107), the Kafkaesque situation in The Joke presents, in fact, a turning around of

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the assemblages of a boundless system of repression. Kundera acknowledges that The Trial and The Castle disclose, in an enigmatic fashion, an essential insight into a universal modern experience, appearing as an existential form corresponding to an indefinite series of particular historical contexts. Following The Art of the Novel, we witness, at the core of The Joke, a positive complication: The novel can neither be judged, from a political viewpoint, as purely anti-Communist, nor as a historical fictionalization of a situation which, by transcending the totalitarian society described by Kundera’s literature, is already designated as Kafkaesque by preexistent cultural knowledge. In order to define this adjective, “Kafkaesque”—in the English translation of The Art of the Novel, “Kafkan” is used instead—Kundera tells a “true” story taken from one of Josef Škvorecký’s books: An engineer from Prague is invited to a professional conference in London. So he goes, takes part in the proceedings, and returns to Prague. Some hours after his return, sitting in his office, he picks up Rude Pravo—the official daily paper in the Party—and reads: A Czech engineer, attending a conference in London, has made a slanderous statement about his socialist homeland to the Western press and has decided to stay in the West. Illegal emigration with a statement of that kind is no trifle. It would be worth twenty years in prison. Our engineer can’t believe his eyes. But there’s no doubt about it, the article refers to him. His secretary, coming into his office, is shocked to see him: My God, she says, you’re back! I don’t understand—did you see what they wrote about you? The engineer sees the fear in his secretary’s eyes. What can he do? He rushes to the Rude Pravo office. He finds the editor responsible for the story. The editor apologizes; yes, it really is an awkward business, but he, the editor, has nothing to do with it, he got the text of the article direct from the Ministry of the Interior. So the engineer goes off to the Ministry. There they say yes, of course, it’s all a mistake, but they, the Ministry, have nothing to do with it, they got the report on the engineer from the intelligence people at the London embassy. The engineer asks for a retraction. No, he’s told, they never retract, but nothing can happen to him, he has nothing to worry about. But the engineer does worry. He soon realizes that all of a sudden he’s being closely watched, that his telephone is tapped, and that he’s being followed in the street. He sleeps poorly and has

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nightmares until, unable to bear the pressure any longer, he takes a lot of real risks to leave the country illegally. And so he actually becomes an émigré. (AN 99) This true story parallels the fictional narrative of the first chapter of Kafka’s The Trial, “which could be understood . . . as just a funny little item, a joke: A fellow named K. is surprised in his bed one morning by two very ordinary fellows who for no reason announce his arrest, eat up his breakfast, and carry on in his bedroom with such natural arrogance that K., in his nightshirt, timid and clumsy, cannot think what to do.”9 The story of K.’s hopeless wandering in the indefinite and mysterious labyrinth of a judicial organization shows us that the event of that morning is no anecdote. In the last chapter, two other ordinary gentlemen take K. from his house to “a small quarry, dreary and deserted” (T 177; ein kleiner Steinbruch, verlassen und öde, P 276) where he will meet his death. Against any ideological or theological readings of Kafka as the “prophet” of totalitarian violence, Kundera touches on the double nature of the existential trap that has seized K., its farcical nature on the one hand, its uncanny mode of operation on the other. Whereas Kundera insists, “Kafkan is not a sociological or a political notion. . . . In Kafka’s novels there is neither the party nor ideology and its jargon, nor politics, the police, or the army” (AN 106), the term still applies to the experience of the engineer, which we presented above. In this case, we should not be surprised by the political bureau’s inability to deal with its own inefficiency; to have acknowledged the error would have undermined the Party’s efforts to expose those who do, in fact, defect to the West. By “no good reason at all”—this phrase is equally important to Kafka and to the writer of Detour—the engineer becomes a suspect in a crime he could not have committed. Thus the unexpected turn of the story quoted above is that, by refusing to admit its own guilt, the Party forces the engineer to leave the country or to act for the very thing that the Party mostly abhors. The strangely humorous effect of the situation—“the horror of the comic”10—is among the characteristics of the Kafkan narrative Kundera himself identified. The other three are also part of The Joke’s literary imaginary: the confrontation with a “power that has the character of a boundless labyrinth”; the privileged status of the personal file, which “represents true reality, whereas man’s physical existence is only a shadow cast on the screen of illusion”; and “the accused seeks his offense.”11 In the concrete Kafkaesque situation given as example by Kundera, the engineer’s life—caught between two absurd events—seems to take

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a detour from its everyday temporality. What other alternative does he have when a traumatic break with normalcy threatens his ordinary—we should, perhaps, also say apolitical—existence? By becoming concerned with the order in the engineer’s now chaotic existence, we are able to understand Kundera’s insistence on the comic essence of the Kafkan, in life as well as in literature. The protagonist may very well become aware of the fictional quality of his personal story—he may even realize that his life looks like a mere anecdote—but this situation does not give him any comfort: “It’s small comfort to the engineer to know that his story is comic. He is trapped in the joke of his own life like a fish in a bowl; he doesn’t find it funny. Indeed, a joke is a joke only if you’re outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside into the guts of a joke, into the horror of the comic.”12 The Joke does not feature, however, the slapstick quality of Kafka’s dark humor; more so, Kundera’s character Ludvik Jahn is in fact the victim of his own wit, of his predilection to use his intelligence to expose other people’s (mostly women) naiveté. In postwar Prague, where “seriousness took the form . . . of a smile,” the “fatal predilection for silly jokes” can be considered the very site where something unexpected arrives—as a boomerang effect—and the character’s life takes a turn or detour.13 In this novel, it is the writing of a blasphemous joke that allows for the chance to strike. Let us compare this narrative idea with the message of Detour. The protagonist of the film, Al Roberts, witnesses the accidental death of a stranger who agreed to give him a ride and decides to pretend that it never happened. Afraid that he may be considered responsible for this accidental death, he decides instead to take the “identity” of the deceased; he fabricates a lie, which presumably can erase/repress a traumatic encounter. Staging a fictional universe that thematically shares very little with Ulmer’s existentialist noir, Kundera presents a similar narrative composition interplay between a detour caused by a random act of cruelty and a deceitful (re)turn to the past, which does not end in retribution but in the fateful laughter of self-deception. Critics have noted that “Ludvik before the session of the Party division committee is like K. in The Trial, a defendant still searching for his guilt.”14 In this sense, Ludvik Jahn’s situation appears to demonstrate the Kafkaesque dimension of the story: His punishment does not match the offense. Kundera aims at producing a Kafkaesque effect but he does not simply take over literary motifs. In contrast to The Trial’s boundless labyrinth of power, The Joke gives us a precise image of the power mechanism that condemns Ludvik Jahn. The Student Organization is not simply a part of a whole; it rather incarnates the Communist Party

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as such. Due to this metonymic structure, the authoritarian element is no longer constructed through the potentially infinite hierarchical chain featured in Kafka’s works. It is true that, in the parable “Before the Law,” the guardian is invested with the power of all the other guardians and his voice becomes the letter of the law that forecloses the man’s access to the open gate. However, the very thing that makes the Law desirable in the first place is the proximity of a mysterious, indefinite structure that guards it. While Kafka displaces and condenses “power” at the same time, the Stalinist model evoked by Kundera goes beyond any possible ambiguities: Power belongs to the People, the Party is the People, the Student Organization is the Party. This is precisely what Lefort means by the “logic of identification [in totalitarianism], secretly governed by the image of the body”: The representation of the People-as-One is not in contradiction with that of an omnipotent, omniscient power, with, in the last analysis, that of the Egocrat (to use Solzhenitsyn’s term), the ultimate figure of power. Such a power, detached from the social whole, towering over everything merges with the party, with the people, with the proletariat. It merges with the body as a whole, while at the same time it is its head. A whole sequence of representations is to be found here. . . . Identification of the people with the proletariat, of the proletariat with the party, of the party with the leadership, of the leadership with the Egocrat. On each occasion, an organ is both the whole of and the detached part that makes the whole that institutes it.15 The District Party Committee, which investigates the meaning of Ludvik’s postcard to Marketa, is that political center where power materializes in the moral leadership of the Egocrat. Invited to defend himself, Ludvik realizes that he has no chance of altering the “invincible logic of [the] interrogation” (J 39). At no time does Ludvik question the legitimacy of this political body or the symbolic status of its bureaucratic function. The figure of the Egocrat is all-powerful precisely because the judgment of Ludvik’s moral “crime” against Communism is absolute: He finds Ludvik guilty of Trotskyism, the capital sin for every true Communist, and demands Ludvik to leave the premises of the Student Organization. Ludvik is literally banished from the bureaucratic “paradise” of the Party—the mythological connotation of the scene is only more powerful as it underlies the perfectly ordinary setting of Ludvik’s fall from the Party’s grace: “Since these were in fact my personal belongings, he finally allowed me to put them in a suitcase while he looked on.

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I stuck them in with my dirty, crumpled socks, and managed to squeeze in the rum cake, by wrapping it in the greasy paper. . . . He followed my every move. I left the room with my bag, and he told me not to show my face there again” (J 39). The symbolism of this moment derives from a dialectical game—the social homogeneity of the people is fulfilled only through the exclusion of “the people’s enemy.”16 Ludvik’s colleagues take his keys; from now on, his life is going to take place elsewhere. Ludvik’s joke interrupts the Communist state of perpetual celebration, the social harmony, the state of pure lyricism that allows for the creation of a popular identity with no divisions; he consequently needs to step outside and is no longer allowed to return to the dancing crowd. Kundera would perhaps find this interpretation problematic and may reject our attempt to focus on the politico-philosophical meaning of the novel. But this politico-philosophical dimension is in no way incompatible with the “fundamental anthropological experience” (AN 37) embedded in Ludvik’s expulsion from the Party. It is difficult, however, to accept Kundera’s own reading of this scene. Ludvik “sees all his friends and colleagues raise their hands to vote, with utter ease, his exclusion from the university and thus to topple his life. He is certain that they would, if necessary, have voted with the same ease to hang him”; he thus discovers an essential truth, deriving a lesson from his experience: “Man [is] a being capable in any situation of consigning his neighbor to death” (AN 37). Kundera insists on the universal dimension of this anthropological situation in which common people become complicit in consigning their friends, colleagues, or neighbors to death or to political stigma. At the same time, however, this universal scenario cannot be fully separated from the particular logic of totalitarian power from which it is derived. As Kundera refuses to see literature as political, he views politics through the lens of mythological narratives, in social-aesthetic terms: the idyllic on the side of the Communist Revolution, and the tragic farce as the underside of the Communist project. Virgil Nemoianu convincingly argues that the idyllic model is an extended social-literary topos of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, based on an “ideal reality,” possessing “internal coherence and a certain uniformity of the physical environment . . . of social structure and intellectual premises.”17 Synthesizing modern Marxist ideology and the national roots of Bohemian identity, the idyllic—which, as Nemoianu argues, is not to be mistaken for a literary genre like the pastoral—presupposes, in The Joke, the lyrical state of exuberance, the celebrating energy of the people. The disintegration of this idyllic model exposes the totalitarian underside of Communist ideology and revolutionary mythology; that is, Ludvik Jahn wakes up from the beautiful dream of

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the revolutionary pathos to the nightmare-reality of a world in which the freedom of laughter is thought of as subversive. For Kundera, “humor can only exist when people are still capable of recognizing some border between the important and the unimportant.”18 Hence, the Egocrat does not know how to laugh, as he forces the “unimportant” to become linked to a dogmatic Communist ideology that emerges as the foundation for totalitarian logic. Ludvik Jahn’s drama is, to some extent, created by his belief in the universal validity of this border between the important and the unimportant, which appears in The Joke not only within a space of social interaction but within the so-called private space, where and when intimacy is violated by mediation and interposition. Since this violation occurs, the “confrontation of the private and the public” is emblematic for Kundera’s prose, not in the sense that “private stories take place against a political backdrop,” but rather, in showing “that political events are governed by the same laws as private happenings.”19 Accordingly, Kundera admits, his “prose is a psychoanalysis of politics.”20 The same idea appears in various forms throughout Kundera’s work; in writing about the Kafkan, for example, Kundera says: “Historical events are the same as those that regulate private (quite ordinary and very human) situations” (AN 109).21 For Francis L. Restuccia, “Kundera is perhaps political insofar as he is not political. His reflections on literature would indicate that this concern is not with the public but with private life,” which implies that “the totalitarianism of everyday life pervades Kundera’s work as well as Kafka’s.”22 This interpretation fails to acknowledge, in more explicit terms, the novel’s constant obsession with the vicissitudes of the “social bond” in the crucial early years of Czechoslovakian Communism and leaves out Ludvik’s dramatic rejection of the Stalinist principle that shapes Communist ideology into a concrete social group: “A man either was a revolutionary, in which case he completely merged with the movement into one collective entity or he was not, and could not want to be one; in that case, he would always consider himself guilty of not being one” (J 46). Kundera’s novel is, in fact, about the aftermath of Ludvik’s decision to reject the Stalinist contract. Describing Ludvik’s private life after his expulsion from the Party, particularly the interactions with women (Lucie and Helena), Kundera discovers the seed of Stalinism in ordinary human interactions and family life. In The Art of the Novel, he illustrates the idea of a “Stalinist mini-trial” with another puzzling true story. As a woman, who had been in a Communist prison for fourteen years, one day reproached her twenty-five-year-old son for oversleeping, the son finds repentance by confessing to Kundera (who is a friend of the family):

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“It’s true, all I did was oversleep, but what my mother reproached me for is something deeper. It’s my attitude. My selfish attitude. I want to become what my mother wants me to be. And with you as a witness, I promise her I will” (AN 109). Even though Kundera captures the dissemination of Stalinism in the private sphere, we do not find out anything about totalitarianism that we did not already know from historical documents, from Orwell’s dystopian world of total control and permanent surveillance, and from Solzhenitsyn’s depiction of dehumanization in Siberian Gulags. The Party’s perverse intervention is not presented here as the paradigmatic law of a fully homogenized social space, as in 1984, but as a quasicontingent force that is drawn to Ludvik’s joke, written on a postcard: As Banerjee notes, “Despite its overt allusion to politics, [this is] most emphatically not a political statement.”23 The text of the infamous postcard says: “Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky! Ludvik!” (J 34). “Trotsky” is for Ludvik a signifier without subversive or ideological connotations; the joke, a symptom of Ludvik’s immaturity—since Gombrowicz, an important Central European literary theme—does not imply, however, his complete moral innocence, since his text has a very precise target: Marketa’s devotion to the “healthy” atmosphere of folk dances and patriotic marches. The problem with Ludvik’s joke is that it innocently tells the truth about the new society that is being created under the banner of the Communist Revolution. Let us consider the much-too-obvious allusion to the classic Marxist dictum from Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844) that religion is the opium of the people. This well-known antireligious and antidogmatic slogan is representative of the Marxist belief in the process of a teleological modernity whose dream is total emancipation. Tearing the veil of illusion and breaking with religious mysticism constitutes one of the first steps for substituting the promised but illusory happiness of religion with a secular political program oriented by the demand for real happiness. In his playful rewriting of this Marxist statement, Ludvik unwillingly points to a weaving of illusion from an entirely different fabric: Blind optimism, the deceptive quality of the Communist idea, is the opium of Communist society.24 The pseudo-theological consecration of the Communist idea becomes central to Ludvik’s own stance: “Looking back on my state of mind at the time, I am reminded by analogy of the enormous power of Christianity to convince the believer of his fundamental and never-ending guilt; I also stood (we all stood) before the Revolution and its Party

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with permanently bowed head, and so I gradually became reconciled with the idea that my words, though genuinely intended as a joke, were still a matter of guilt” (J 47). Ludvik does not care about the presumably political meaning of his postcard, about ideological revisionism, or about the need to return to a philosophical praxis of Marxism; he is, however, tempted to rationalize his Kafkaesque experience, to see it as the encounter with the pseudo-theological logic that runs the totalitarian state. The absurd scenario of the interrogation evokes, years later, the image of the fundamentalist Christian idea of insoluble guilt, a guilt based on the demand to love purely and selflessly. One can never love as God loves, unless one is capable of the self-sacrifice necessitated by Christian life. Kundera explores this idea by including in the narrative composition of the novel the figure of Kostka, “the anguished evangelical Christian who dreams of realizing the promise of brotherly love contained in the Gospels. It was his hope for humankind, for this world but not of it, that determined his relation to Communism.”25 According to Irving Howe, Kostka’s figure, his attempt to “combine Christian faith with Communist politics,” is “not well integrated in the novel.”26 Kostka’s religious conservatism, his unrelenting Christian faith, is thus only the negative image of Ludvik’s narrative voice, which represents the conversion of Communist proselytism—illustrated by the mythical image of Ludvik as the “Pied Piper of the Revolution”—into nihilism. Yet Kostka’s appeal to imitatio Christi, to “giving up private interests, comforts, and power, and turning toward the poor, the humiliated, and the suffering” (J 208) is also a critique of institutionalized religion, of the church that has forgotten the common man and has, therefore, abandoned its people. The politics of the church has disabled the true project of religion: social justice, the care it must show to the “wretched of the earth.” And it is here, in rejecting the rationalist origin of Marxism and in affirming the “great collective faith” (J 224) of the socialist movement, that Kostka discovers the connection of Communism and Christianity. His conception of the political is theological, grounded in the absolute certainties of the City of God, even when he offers with keen lucidity a correct diagnosis of the “cruel religion” that Communism turned out to be. If, on the one hand, Ludvik’s nihilism confirms Communism’s betrayal of its religious dimension, on the other it also represents, for Kostka, a sign of moral weakness. However, in his imaginary address to Ludvik, Kostka conveniently follows the exemplary self-sacrifice of a Biblical hero like Job; unfortunately, transplanted to the social context of the 1950s, his idea of a test of faith cannot be distinguished from the Stalinist path to absolution:

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They expelled you from the Party, from the university, put you among the politically dangerous soldiers, then kept you down in the mines for another two or three years. And you? You became bitter to the depths of your soul, convinced of the great injustice done to you. . . . But was that an injustice? Wasn’t it more like a great opportunity? Think of what you could have accomplished among the enemy! Is there any greater mission? Didn’t Jesus send His disciples “as sheep in the midst of wolves”? “They that be whole need not a physician, but they are sick,” Jesus said. “For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners. . . .” But you had no desire to go among the sinners and the sick. (J 242) The ‘miracle’ of Kundera’s novel is that Ludvik does not follow this option—he does not mistake the cruelty of injustice for the “opportunity” to become a better Communist. He refuses to be incorporated, as a perverse game of dialectic would suggest, in this higher, yet deceptive, identity. Furthermore, the true moral decision, the only ethical moment of Kundera’s novel, consists in Ludvik’s infidelity to Party dogmatism, in his ability to see through the masquerade of his own political trial. While powerless in facing his accusers, he remains faithful to the unrepresentable truth of his own conscience: “I could not agree to my guilt and accept an intolerable verdict” (J 45).27 In this sentence, which reminds us of Joseph K.’s rejection of guilt, of moral debt to an unnamed authority, Ludvik frees himself from the ideologically oppressive image of the guilty Communist who can only demonstrate his “ultimate fidelity to the Revolution by publicly confessing, by admitting [to be] worthless scum, the dregs of humanity.”28 This is a crucial moment of emancipation from the ideological mechanism of state power, yet one that pushes Ludvik farther away from the new society he so desired to build, without making him a hero of any Communist hagiography: “The consciousness of my own baseness”—Ludvik tells us—“has done nothing to reconcile me to the baseness of others. Nothing is more repugnant to me than brotherly feelings grounded in the common baseness people see in one another. I have no desire for that slimy brotherhood” (J 77). If the possibilities for social relationships are now foreclosed, is it possible to conceive of love in a totalitarian society? What is, then, the significance of the novel’s psychoanalytic fable, which organizes the narratives of Ludvik’s sexual encounter with Helena and his love story with Lucie?

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The Freudian Fable In the first part of his rigorous study on jokes, Freud is interested in the various typologies of jokes, giving particular interest to the structure of the so-called tendentious jokes, divided in four categories: exposing/ obscene, aggressive/hostile, cynical/blasphemous, and skeptical. He claims that these particular classes of jokes “make possible the satisfaction of an instinct (whether lustful or hostile) in the face of an obstacle that stands in its way. They circumvent this obstacle and in that way draw pleasure from a source which the obstacle had made inaccessible.”29 In Ludvik’s case, the obstacle is precisely Marketa’s refusal to stay in Prague with him, her frigid response to his passion; his message is thus hostile and cynical at the same time, while his tone is skeptical. The effect, however, is disastrous; political allusions are not perceived by Marketa (or by the Student Committee) in their figurative sense and, most importantly, do not provoke laughter. The irony of this story is the return of the repressed sexual meaning, a meaning that is hidden/veiled by political slogans. Freud’s expression “die Lacher auf seine Seite ziehen” (to bring the laughters over to our side) best illustrates the purpose of hostile jokes, and functions, at the same time, as central criterion for their success: “I myself cannot laugh at a joke that has occurred to me, that I have made, in spite of the unmistakable enjoyment that the joke gives me. It is possible that my need to communicate the joke to someone else is in some way connected with the laughter produced by it, which is denied to me but is manifest in the other person.”30 The psychoanalytic context in which Kundera’s fiction articulates surprising political meanings refers to Freud’s social consideration of humor. Laughter—the release of tension—is the endpoint of the social circuit. The comic effect of Kundera’s own writing is thus conditioned by the failure of the joke to achieve its purpose. What is the mechanism of Kundera’s own joke, as derived from the author’s insistence about following the path to “the horror of the comic”? If a different sort of social bond is configured as the effect of a non-release of tension, to use Freudian terms—that is, as the result of a joke that does not provoke laughter, the community that is created only brings into evidence the failure to create a harmonious communitarian space in the name of an all-inclusive Communist idyll. Ludvik’s message, inscribed on a postcard (an “open” letter), was intended as a strategy of seduction or, at least, as the expression of his personal discontent. The itinerary of this very object in space describes the poetic mechanism that corresponds to Kundera’s own hyperbolic

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take on the comic. If the protagonist of this novel is punished for laughing about Marketa’s personal devotion to the Party, her optimism and her discipline, the punishment reflects the creation of a gap: His action is also situated in a larger structure, a theater of cruelty, personal, insofar as it remains political. Given the psychoanalytic background of our investigation, we should briefly mention another displaced letter featured by a literary text, Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” Ludvik’s postcard, like the letter in Poe’s story, determines the subjects in their acts.31 While the psychoanalytical interpretation of the detective story ultimately formulates an allegory of the analytic experience, Kundera’s own interest in the agency of the postcard can be interpreted in a way that would not lead to the discovery of a hidden “Freudian treasure” in the narrative presenting the unfortunate event in Ludvik’s life. Poe’s detective story involves secrecy and power relations in the French court; at stake is a compromising letter from the Minister to the Queen that could permanently affect relations of power.32 In Kundera’s world, we are not talking about a letter circulating among powerful leaders of the Communist Party, or about any political machinations, but only about an ordinary postcard intended to be private, but not secret. Ludvik has nothing to hide, since his message, visible to anyone handing the postcard, is not meant to challenge a social or political pact. Lacan’s famous sentence from the end of this seminar, “a letter always arrives at its destination”33 can, however, be used heuristically in interpreting Kundera’s novel: Whereas the joke (as signified) does arrive at its destination, after an unpredictable detour and in an unrecognizable, monstrous form, the postcard (the signifier) that holds it, actually returns to its original sender. In this context, which has little relevance for Lacan’s reading of Poe, the metaphor of the purloined letter allows us to understand a particular instance of a private situation drawn into the bureaucratic nightmare of totalitarianism: The joke is precisely not to get Ludvik’s joke, to treat it with suspicion, as the sign of opposition to the ideals of the age. The crime occurs only post-factum when Ludvik unwillingly becomes a dissident: “We know you have two faces—one for the party, another for everyone else” (J 37). This specific brand of humor at which no one laughs is what perversely defines the “spirit” of an overdetermined subjective universe. Appropriated by the committee at the District Party Secretariat, Ludvik’s postcard becomes the evidence of his betrayal and the sign of his future disaster: “The words [the text of the postcard] sounded so terrifying in the small Party Secretariat office that they frightened me and I felt they had a destructive force I was powerless to counter” (J 37).

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Ludvik’s final access to “his” postcard is a mediated one—it is a part of him while he is himself his own Party record: “Each of us carried the first fatal seed with him in the form of his Party record; yes, every one of us” (J 32). Now, when he hears the text of his own words, read aloud by a foreign voice, Ludvik realizes that the intolerable verdict given by the Party comes with the doubt of his own loyalty to Communist ideals. Kundera’s own writing of the joke ultimately refers to what the Party does to itself by failing to accept/recognize Ludvik’s own identification with Communist ideals and by sacrificing him: I kept assuring myself of the farcical nature of the whole affair, but even as I did so (and here we come to what now, with hindsight, I find most upsetting and most revealing) I began to see the three sentences on my postcard through the eyes of my interrogators; I myself began to feel outraged by my words and to fear that something serious did in fact lurk behind their comedy, to know that I have never been one with the body of the Party, that I have never been a true proletarian revolutionary, that I had “gone over to the revolutionaries” on the basis of a simple (!) decision (we felt participation in the proletarian revolutionary movement to be, so to speak not a matter of choice but a matter of essence, a man was either a revolutionary, in which case he completely emerged with the movement into one collective entity, or he was not, and could only want to be one, in that case, he would always consider himself guilty of not being one). (J 46) This paragraph demonstrates that, in spite of two different temporal horizons—and two distinct temporalities of the political in Cold War Czechoslovakia—cruelty and deception have been, from the very beginning, in a complementary dialectical relationship. Cruelty presupposes the deception originating in the absolute commitment to Communism. At the same time, deception proves itself to be the instrument of cruelty. Ludvik seduces Helena as a means to an end: his revenge against Pavel Zemanek, the Party leader who convinced everyone of the postcard’s subversive meaning. The law of deception governs the Kafkaesquepolitical as well as the Freudian-private fictional situation because, in their own way, all the major characters of the novel suffer from potentially incurable idealism. Only the traumatic effect of the letter, the particularization of cruelty (expulsion from the Party, stigmatization, depersonalization) will reverse Ludvik’s own naïve investment in the lyrical/idyllic age of totalitarianism. Tearing the screen of lyrically felt illusion, the novel shows, through

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Ludvik’s personal disaster, a mechanism of terror that is founded on the absurd, and makes the horror of the comic its essence. Take, for instance, the “black insignia” soldiers—like Ludvik, “enemies” of the newly born socialist state: Honza from Brno who assaulted a police officer, the eccentric pacifist Beldrich who “refused to bear arms on strictly religious grounds” (J 55), Cenek, the cubist painter, who “refused to paint in socialist realist style” (J 56) or Alexej, the fanatic Communist who lives his life as if it were a classical tragedy. Can this group of outsiders, whose only human bond was in their “uncertain future”(J 48), constitute, through their shared sense of identity, a proper community? The story of Alexej demonstrates the novel’s skepticism about the potentialities of the social bond. While Ludvik wants to “commune with someone else who had been excommunicated” (J 73), he prefers reading František Halas’s poetry to befriending Alexej, the devoted young Communist who cannot accept his role as apostate of the Party, and is persecuted by the commander and by his fellow soldiers who see him as a traitor. After Alexej’s suicide, Ludvik condemns the group and explicitly denies that possibility of conceiving of a community that can produce in its shared existence an authentic form of Communism: Looking back on it today, from a distance, I see it was then I lost the warm sense of solidarity and companionship I’d had with my fellow black insignias, and with it any chance of resurrecting my trust in men. I began to have doubts about the value of our solidarity, which was based solely on the force of circumstance and an urge for self-preservation that compressed us into a densely packed flock. And I began to think that the black insignia group was capable of bullying a man (making him an outcast, hounding him to death) as the group raising in the university lecture hall that day in the past, or perhaps as capable as any group. (J 115) Living “under the wheel of History” (J 71), Ludvik’s solution is to devote himself to the quest of an authentic personal experience to pull him out from the place where he was abandoned by his destiny. He wants to secure a space that is not political, “a life in which there was no room for questions of . . . political vigilance and the class struggle, controversies over the definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat, politics with its strategy and tactics” (J 71). The form this life takes encompasses, for Ludvik, the projection of idealism into an erotic utopia; when Ludvik falls in love with Lucie, this event is initially an escape from the symbolic world of State propaganda. They meet at a screening of the Soviet film, Court of Honor, yet Ludvik can now avoid the moralizing fable of

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this realist socialist “masterpiece.” His gaze is instead captured by her “ordinary appearance”(J 65) and utterly fascinated by her “singular slowness . . . a slowness radiating a resigned consciousness that there was nowhere to hurry to and it was useless to reach impatiently toward anything” (J 65). The narrator carefully embraces the language register worthy of describing this love, an event in which the ordinary nature of the situation is construed as the experience of something singular. How to speak about this experience without compromising it in defective lyricism? The vocabulary of mysticism appears to be the only option: “I don’t want to assert this was love; but I have no doubt there was clairvoyance at work: I immediately felt, sensed, grasped the essence of Lucie’s being or, to be more precise, the essence of what she was later to become to me; Lucie had revealed to me the way religious truth reveals itself” (J 66). Ludvik’s erotic myth is, however, an obstacle to another truth—Lucie’s real existence as a person and her struggle to forget the past. Seeing Lucie by accident in his hometown fifteen years after their brief love story is for Ludvik an opportunity to realize another self-deception at the heart of his existence: “I had always liked to tell myself that Lucie was something abstract, a legend and a myth, but now I knew that behind the poetry of these words hid an entirely unpoetic truth: that I didn’t know her . . . she had never been anything to me but a function of my own situation” (J 250). Another sour moment of self-deception is illustrated by Jaroslav’s illusions about the preservation of Bohemian traditions, by his belief in an untimely ethnic-national dimension of the aesthetic values of modern socialism. Jaroslav, Ludvik’s childhood friend, offers the novel’s main justification for the ideological validity of Communism as idyllic model. Unlike capitalism, he argues, socialism will carry out the task of conservation of national culture: “Capitalism had destroyed this collective life. And so folk art had lost its foundations, its reasons for being, its function. It would be useless to try to resurrect it while social conditions were such that man lived cut off from man. . . . But socialism will liberate people from the yoke of their isolations” (J 141). The last part of the novel, narrated by Ludvik, Jaroslav and Helena, replays the literary mytheme that gives the novel its compositional structure: Belief in utopia takes an unexpected turn (detour), which then leads to deception. The central moment in the plot is Ludvik’s fantasy of revenge against Pavel Zemanek, the former leader of the Student Organization. With this episode, circumscribing the analeptic reconstruction of the mysterious force, which has intervened in Ludvik’s life with such cruelty, Kundera concentrates on a thematic shift, from the naïve belief in

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the revolutionary myths of the late 1940s to the aspirations of Central European intellectuals of the Dubček era in the late 1960s. Ludvik Jahn carries in his personal experience the burden of history and is unable to set himself free of his discontent. This is the point where the circuits of institutional power intersect those of personal affectivity, as Ludvik’s personal demand for retribution extends to a moral and sexual economy. It is not by accident that The Joke starts with Ludvik looking back at his life, while thinking about the cynical mission to seduce the wife of the former leader of the Communist students, Zemanek: “During those years, there was nothing to attract me to my hometown; I told myself that I had grown indifferent to it, which seemed natural. . . . But I had been deceiving myself: What I had called indifference was in fact rancor; the reasons for it had escaped me, because here as elsewhere I had had both good and bad experiences, but the rancor was still there” (J 3). The first encounter with Helena Zemanek is purely accidental and only within Ludvik’s narrative, their rapport becomes “part of a precise and deliberate plan” (J 176), to which he acts as “meticulous stage-manager,” carefully getting ready for the next phase of a story he is about to experience. Overwhelmed by his hatred of Zemanek, preparing his lure for Helena, Ludvik is himself trapped by his own phantasms: I imagined Zemanek, Helena, and their world (their alien world) and with an odd pleasure I fondled my own rancor (my attentive almost tender rancor) against Helena’s appearance, rancor against her blue eyes, rancor against her sensuous, flared nostrils, rancor against the gap between her two front teeth. . . . I kept thinking that her mouth, her breasts, her eyes, her hair, weighed them, testing whether they could be crushed in my fist or shattered against the wall, and then I carefully reexamined them, first with Zemanek’s eyes, then with my own. (J 177) This image of the woman disappearing in the sexual scenario, dismembered into the erotic parts of her own body, belongs to an oppressive form of sexual enjoyment, which in psychoanalytic language is called phallic jouissance.34 In this case, the enjoyment always presupposes the pervert’s position: The fantasy does not end with the violent crushing of a woman’s body against the wall, but in watching this performance from a distance, at first through the eyes of the husband, the rightful owner of Helena’s body, then through his own eyes, a powerful glance that takes over the other man’s gaze. This paragraph thus introduces the infamous sex scene between Ludvik and Helena, who I believe is crucial to illustrating the rhetorical

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figuration of political deception through the language of personal-sexual cruelty. To deceive means, according to the etymology of the term (from the Latin decipere) and its archaic usage, to ensnare, to catch in a trap. Helena lets herself be seduced, trapped in Ludvik’s secret desire. What takes place in Kostka’s strange flat between Ludvik and Helena thus calls to our attention the equivalence between his desire and her surrender (J 184). Kundera’s description of Ludvik’s perverse fantasy intermingles the memory of the political interrogatory about the postcard with Ludvik’s questions to Helena about Pavel Zemanek. The scene concentrates on the Kremlin pendant given to Helena by her husband; once a mythical object, it is now a piece of junk, a repulsive incarnation of Communist kitsch.35 The pendant is thus the physical connection to Zemanek and, more importantly, the material remainder of a legendary episode of Soviet heroism illustrated, in a socialist realist style, by a melodramatic story about a dying Russian soldier named Sasha, who gave Pavel the figure of the Kremlin to wear it “on a string around his neck throughout the war” (J 188). Ludvik aims to reveal that underneath the beautiful mask of the emotional story lays something else: Pavel’s own true self, his “viciously exhibitionistic heart” (J 189). “Nor for a second did I believe in Sasha, the Red Army man; and even if he had existed, his real existence would have vanished behind the grand gesture by which Pavel Zemanek had transformed him into a character in his own personal legend, a secret statue, a tool to induce emotion, a sentimental argument, a religious artifact that his wife (clearly more constant than he) would venerate (zealously, defiantly) as long as she lived” (J 189). In his personal reflection, Ludvik refers to Zemanek’s manipulative strategy. The latter’s talent to make use of Communist mythology is evident and so is his opportunistic immersion in the political kitsch of the Stalinist age. The perpetual May Day parade is a reconstructed scene from the past, a haunting memory for Ludvik: Zemanek used the postcard to prove Ludvik’s unfaithfulness to the Party by comparing it to Notes from the Gallows, a text written clandestinely in prison by Fucik, a Communist hero. In Zemanek’s hands, in his voice, the final appearance of the postcard arrives between Ludvik and Helena, in the midst of their encounter, as the condition for his desire and as the main obstacle to their love. Ludvik’s plan to seduce Helena and punish Zemanek by abandoning her right after their affair constitutes an awkward form of poetic justice. Ludvik’s fantasy reaches its climax in the juxtaposition, in the same paragraph, of the past tense of cruelty (against him) and the present tense of cruelty (against Helena), which could allow him direct access to Zemanek’s life: “I see her now: she is sitting in front of

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me, drunk, with her face red and her skirt pushed up to the waist. Her heavy legs are bordered at the top by the black of her stretch panties; these are the legs whose opening and closing provide the rhythm that has pulsated through more than a decade of Zemanek’s life. On these legs I now placed my palms, and it was as if I had Zemanek’s life in my grasp” (J 192). The present theater of cruelty staged by Ludvik—his perverse manipulation before and after the phantasmatic scenario—is, to some sense, a repetition of the violent gesture of Pavel Zemanek, which is to say, a repetition of a Stalinist act. The ritual of the sexual act, in which he becomes the master spectator, and Helena’s body a pure incarnation of his desire should be interpreted in relation to a post-Freudian investigation of perversion as the reversal of neurotic sexual fantasy.36 Irving Howe is right to notice, “there is no overt violence” in the scene, “only the absolute misuse of another person.” Failing to understand the significance of Ludvik’s perversion, Howe mistakenly argues that “Kundera the writer is complicit in the act of Ludvik the character” as the narrative description of it is “zestful and strangely joyous.”37 Ludvik (the narrator) does indeed share with us, readers, in detail the fantasy that accompanies his sexual act. He looks at Helena and demands to see her undress in the indiscreet, torturing light. The enjoyment is not derived from the simple pleasure of coitus; Ludvik, the pervert, wants more: “I had no interest in finding instant pleasure with a woman (any woman); what I wanted was to take possession of one particular alien intimate world, and to do so within the course of a single afternoon, within the course of a single act of love making” (J 194). What Ludvik wants, in his despair, is, in fact, to get hold of Helena’s essence, what the psychoanalytic jargon names petit obj. a, while at the same time, he himself can see, can enjoy, in this very split, Helena’s complete surrender.38 Thus, the impossibility of total perversion is deduced from this ultimate desire of the subject to divide itself between the sexual intercourse and the “outside” position of the spectator.39 Since “the outside” can only belong to the obj. a, to what Lacan called the gaze, the pervert’s desire is in some sense based on avoiding the subjective split and becoming the gaze that causes anxiety in the other/the victim. In an essay about the fetishistic photographs of French psychiatrist G. G. de Clérembault, Joan Copjec observes: “While imagining itself whole, the neurotic subject of the fantasy becomes split in relation to the double form—imaginary and real—of the object a. The pervert, on the other hand, evades this division by making himself the agent of a division outside himself.”40 In Kundera’s novel, the sexual act is the locus of that division of masculine desire; Ludvik’s perversion is determined by the

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construction of an absent third, the voyeur’s enjoyment watching himself take possession of the fragmented female body: My soul had seen a female body. It was indifferent to this body . . . it saw the naked female body, the bent leg, the curve of belly and breast, but it took on meaning only when my eyes became the eyes of the absent one; then, suddenly, my soul entered his alien gaze and merged with him; not only it took possession of the bent leg and the curve of belly and breast, it took possession of them in the way they were seen by the absent third (J 195). As de Sade, too, well knew, the perverse sexual act exists only as the path to another fantasy, opening the potentially infinite chain of practices to be found under the umbrella of perversion, from the fake love-making to the dominion of the absent third, appearing as result of the split, ironically marked by Kundera through the division between soul and body. In this gap, Ludvik imagines the showdown of his sadistic act, the symbolic raping of Pavel Zemanek: But my soul commanded me to persevere; to drive her from pleasure to pleasure; to change her body’s position so that nothing should remain hidden or concealed from the glance of the absent third; no, to grant her no respite, to repeat the convulsion again and again . . . in which she feigns nothing, by which she is engraved in the memory of the absent third like a stamp, a seal, a cipher, a sign. And thus to steal the secret cipher! To steal the royal seal! To rob Pavel Zemanek’s secret chamber; to ransack it, make a shambles of it! (J 195) This is indeed a troubling scene—the term belongs to Howe—but not because Kundera enjoys writing this humiliating sexual act; in fact, as Ludvik shares his fantasy with us, we become complicit in the perverse nature of the affair. The narrative asks us a seemingly improbable question: Are you “willing to act out [Ludvik’s] fantasy with him?”41 Wouldn’t this be Ludvik’s “final fantasy,” to have us on his side, in his quest for revenge? On the one hand, this fantasy would represent the culmination of the cynical attitude and we would easily reject it as a “grotesque sexual combat” (J 277) with no political significance. On the other hand, since Helena is not just Pavel’s wife, but also the archetypal Party zealot, her fall for Ludvik’s seduction could be understood as mere allegorical joke, which readers would enjoy in spite of its perverse quality.42 Why not indulge in a petty fantasy that aims at the imaginary rape of Party discipline? Kundera himself offers us a good reason: Even though he tries,

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Ludvik cannot undo the spell of Communist ideology (and the injustices perpetrated in its name) by the simple means of another illusion! As Ludvik Jahn never gets any satisfaction in his vindictive affair with Helena, he meets Miss Broz, Pavel Zemanek’s young girlfriend, and realizes that, from the perspective of the new generation, his “expulsion from the Party . . . would seem . . . remote and too literary (yes, the subject has been dealt with in too many bad novels)” (J 277). According to Robert Boyers, The Joke is a novel that persistently struggles against historical amnesia; that is, the book successfully reminds us of how important it is to understand what is at stake in a theory of the political that is not foreclosed by totalitarian practices or by the seductive powers of the belief in absolute emancipation and the universality of social justice. At the end of the novel, three voices of deception (Helena, Ludvik, and Jaroslav) illustrate how difficult it is to come to terms with the shared political narrative that ties their lives in intricate ways. What is crucial in Kundera’s bitter conclusion of the novel is the sense of loss derived from the idea of possible social and cultural change; literature’s encounter with the political is thus no longer an event, and, perhaps, not even an encounter, but the reaching of a moment when the only thing to be witnessed is how the passing of time touches on communities, an ordinary process taking in this text the proportions of a vast metaphysical comedy. As with the postcard, which returns as part of Ludvik’s Party record, his plot against Zemanek triggers a boomerang effect and the practical joke turns back against him. He faces a versatile Pavel Zemanek and the acknowledgement of his own ridiculous behavior. While life and history appear to him as the worst of all the jokes (J 288), the supreme irony of fate offers a sample of the novel’s most harrowing ethical predicaments: Overwhelmed with sorrow, I gently stroked the top of his bald head [Jaroslav] . . . , and I realized with a shock that my trip home, made in the hope of striking at the hated Zemanek, had ended with me holding my stricken friend in my arms (yes, at that moment I saw myself holding him in my arms, holding him, big and heavy, as if I were carrying my own obscure guilt, carrying him through the indifferent mob and weeping as I went). (J 315) By alluding to the burden of his “obscure guilt,” Ludvik acknowledges his own role in perpetuating the Kafkaesque farce and the Communist kitsch, in his hopeless attempt at moral reparation. But even if there is a Stalinist impulse that corrodes the fabric of social relations potentially anytime and everywhere, this phenomenon cannot be separated from the initial project of Soviet totalitarianism that entered the scene

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of Eastern Europe carrying the banner of universal justice. The novel’s attack against the idyllic, both in its social and aesthetic forms, is thus represented here in the image of a nation without a people; aware of the “literary roots of populism,”43 Kundera abuses the conventions of the idyllic mode and finds within the social some sort of limit, a frontier that can only be seen if you turn the page and look to the underside. The idyll is no longer the source of politics on the Left, but the incorporation of that politics into rituals of celebrating power, with an obvious eschatological character. According to Matei Calinescu, “kitsch may be conveniently defined as a specifically aesthetic form of lying,”44 by piercing the surface of “the poetic representation of innocent and happy humanity,” of “man in a state of innocence . . . of harmony and peace with himself and with the outer world.”45 The Joke constructs, therefore, a narrative economy that establishes complex links between the erotic and the political in the context of Cold War discourse. But while the political experience of the Eastern bloc, unlike that of Western nations, was originally deemed an exceptional political force that could eventually lead the whole globe to absolute emancipation, for Kundera, the truth of this universalist fiction is to be illustrated by the comic farce of cruelty and deception.

“The Spirit of the Common Man”: Populism and the Rhetoric of Betrayal in Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist The lure of the underdog. The struggle of the disinherited up from the bottom was an irresistible lure. —philip roth, I Married a Communist

One of the most eloquent examples in American contemporary fiction of what Kundera called the “privatization” of the political is Philip Roth’s novel I Married a Communist. Almost symbolically, the novel begins with the encounter between the ninety-year-old professor Murray Ringold and Nathan Zuckerman, which occurs half a century after the Cold War hysteria of the 1950s. The prophetic quality of the dialogue, dominated by Murray, strictly relates to the question of learning and education— initiation into the world, as discovery of ethics and politics. The book starts with Nathan’s brief account of a paideic universe initially dominated by Murray Ringold’s “masculine authority uncorrected by piety,”46 and gradually moves towards the more Dionysian figure of his brother, Ira Ringold, the protagonist de facto of the narrative, “a big social conscience and the wide sexual appetite to go with it. A Communist with a conscience and a Communist with a cock” (IMC 163).

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Nathan’s conversation with Murray plays the role of a last lesson, whose material is no longer literature, but the moral demand to consider one’s life as a relatively ungraspable story. Motivated by the premise that “your life story is in and of itself something that you know very little about” (IMC 15), Nathan sets out believing that there is quite a lot he can learn from Murray Ringold. Focused on the life of Murray’s brother, who had been young Nathan’s political mentor, I Married a Communist displays the conflict between two fictional situations in which the private is encroached by the political: One of them describes an innocent search for the role of the “common man” in American life, the other presents personal betrayal as patriotic virtue.

Writing through the Iron Curtain For Roth, the editor of the well-known Penguin series Writers from the Other Europe, which brought to the attention of the West important writers from the other side of the Iron Curtain (Kundera, but also Bruno Schulz, Danilo Kiš, György Konrád, and Witold Gombrowicz), the reflection on the implications of Cold War politics to American society indirectly refers to the political experience under Communism. Roth’s character Murray Ringold explicitly addresses the fundamental difference between Stalinist repression and the American Communist witch-hunt: In an open society, as bad as it can get, there’s an escape. To lose your job and have the newspapers calling you a traitor—these are very unpleasant things. But it’s still not the situation that is total, which is totalitarianism. I wasn’t put in jail and I wasn’t tortured. My child wasn’t denied anything. My livelihood was taken away from me and some people stopped talking to me, but other people admired me. . . . I had free movement, I could give interviews, raise money, hire a lawyer, make courtroom challenges. Which I did. Of course you can become depressed and miserable that you give yourself a heart attack. But you can find alternatives, which I also did. (IMC14) The choice to read a recent novel by Roth as the counterpart to Kundera is thus motivated by a set of hermeneutical considerations that we would like to clarify from the beginning. Central European writing, with its dominant Jewish paradigm, has been an important influence on Roth’s prose as it accounts for a large set of literary motifs, narrative strategies, and cultural filiations.

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In 1985, Roth published the novella The Prague Orgy, the epilogue to the Zuckerman Bound Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Anatomy Lesson), an obvious homage to Central European literature and to the challenge of writing in totalitarian countries. Zuckerman, an American writer, travels to Prague to get hold of a collection of stories written in Yiddish by a Jewish writer killed by the Nazis, whose son, a writer named Sisovsky, is now a Czech émigré in New York. While the attempt to take the stories to America is thwarted by the Czech authorities, the journey to the Eastern Block evokes some central themes about writing and writers living under Communism. Experiencing the social alienation of Prague’s intellectuals and artists, Zuckerman reflects: “I imagine Styron washing glasses in a Penn Station barroom, Susan Sontag wrapping buns at a Broadway bakery, Gore Vidal bicycling salamis to school lunchrooms in Queens—I look at the filthy floor and see myself sweeping it.”47 But the world Roth describes has none of the bleak undertones of Saul Bellow’s novel, The Dean’s December, in which Dean Albert Corde discovers the oppressive effects of totalitarian Communism, as well as the complications of American racial politics, while visiting his dying mother-in-law in Bucharest, the capital of Communist Romania. Roth doesn’t have such ambitious goals when writing his novella, and doesn’t fall into the trap of symbolism, as Bellow did in using the cold atmosphere of a harsh Romanian winter to suggest the aggressive attitude of Communist officials or the overall paralysis of social relations. To Zuckerman, “the paranoid idiosyncrasies of the Prague intellectual,” such as those displayed by Sisovsky’s wife, Olga, a writer turned nymphomaniac, who attends Klenek’s orgies, appear as “a literalization of irony and the absurd.”48 As he is temporarily detained and then put on an airplane to Geneva, Zuckerman uses this irony to see himself as a Jewish-American writer metamorphosed into a working-class man: “As Nathan Z. awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a sweeper of floors in a railway café.”49 Here, the beginning of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is invoked as if to mock the political ideology that holds “literary culture hostage” but cannot, however, destroy the free spirit created by the art of telling stories: “The art of narration flourishes by mouth. In Prague, stories aren’t simply stories; it’s what they have instead of life. Here they have become their stories, in lieu of being permitted to be anything else. Storytelling is the form their resistance has taken against the coercion of the powers-that-be.”50 Written after the end of the Cold War, I Married a Communist can be related to the Central European literary paradigm that played a central role in shaping Roth’s

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writing—from Kafka to Kundera—in the context of the novel’s return to the political hysteria of the American 1950s in order to explore the cultural origins of a political age characterized by deep divisions at the core of American national identity. From the perspective of literary history, Roth’s fictional elegy also reminds us of the transformations of American literary narrative written during the Cold War. More specifically, I have in mind Roth’s own narratives of transgression, the development of his specific form of Jewish-American postmodern poetics, primarily in his controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). While the transgression of high modernist literary forms of expression brings Roth to the center of Leslie Fiedler’s influential article “Cross the Border—Close the Gap” (and collected in the book by the same title), from a Cold War perspective, Roth’s literary activism also meant a literal crossing of the Iron Curtain, the border between the Communist East and the democratic (as well as capitalist) West, particularly the United States, as The Prague Orgy has demonstrated. The question of a postmodernist transgression, still visible in The Prague Orgy’s literary technique, is substituted in I Married a Communist by elegy, a discursive mode that sustains Roth’s commitment to figure out the way common people make sense of their political experience and comprehend “what distinguishes one society from another.”51 Roth believes in the difference between totalitarianism and democracy as modern social forms, but is also interested in the Cold War’s lasting impact on American democracy. The theme of political betrayal is thus adapted to a fictional situation specific to American politics. Reading Kundera’s The Joke, for instance, we can infer that “betrayal” (as a signifier) is central to that mythical dispositive52 used by totalitarian regimes to separate the people (i.e., the Communist society) from its external enemy. From a different angle than the one created by Eastern European writing, and evoking a radically different personal experience, Roth’s fictional exploration of the status of political situations—for instance, American democracy in the 1950s—inquires into the meanings of political agency in a “free and open society.” In a similar gesture to the one performed by Kundera’s The Joke, the narrative in Roth’s novel interprets political space as the intersection between two complementary dialectical temporalities: the present (the time of mature conversation) and the past (the time of political education). Specifically, the composition offers not only the opportunity to remember the past, but also to learn something about the present, the time of the post–Cold War political. Unlike Ludvik Jahn, the protagonist

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of Kundera’s text, Nathan Zuckerman does not want to rediscover the past after receiving a post-traumatic wound; by talking to his former high school English professor, Murray Ringold, he wants to reflect on his own formation, his intellectual and moral development. The implications of this exercise must be read in a speculative meta-political context, by insisting on the parallel Roth himself attempted to draw between the act of narrating (writing) and a particular moment in American history, which he decided to enter and explore through his novel. Writing in a democratic America that has too easily forgotten the Cold War, Roth uses the novel form, its universal themes of friendship and betrayal, to study the political culture of the 1950s.

Vox Populi Asked in an interview about the inspiration for this novel, Roth declared that his previous novel, American Pastoral, “brought” him to write I Married a Communist: I found that dealing with a very important, powerful decade in American life in the Vietnam War era enabled me to write in ways I hadn’t written before. And I began to wonder about what other time was like that in my experience. And I realized that of course it was the McCarthy era. I was in college. I started college in 1950. McCarthy appears in 1950. The Korean War begins in 1950. The Soviets exploded an atomic bomb in 1950. It was a very big year. And I had some familiarity with the era personally because I was a very politically conscious youngster. I had a family that was very politically conscious and that talked about the newspaper at dinner—uncles, cousins, arguing strenuously . . . some extremely to the left, some Communists, and my own father, who was really a New Deal Democrat.53 At the center of the novel is the idea that through a process of education (and self-education), Nathan, a confused teenager, finds his own moral path in the ideological turmoil of the 1950s. The central political division between the moderate Democrats and Henry Wallace, a former member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cabinet, is reflected in the conflict between Nathan, an idealist teenager, and his father, whose priority is to secure the New Deal in the aftermath of the war: “This division within the Democratic Party—between the anti-Soviet majority led by the president and the ‘progressive’ Soviet sympathizers led by Wallace and opposed to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan—was reflected

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in the split within my own household between father and son” (IMC 29). The father’s argument against voting for Wallace denotes pragmatism, in that the rise of a third party on the Left could bring the election of the Republican candidate. According to this rationale, a decision cannot be led by a blind belief in social idealism, but must be grounded in concrete achievements and realities. Since “experience” is the key term articulating the gap between the radical progressive vision of the son and the father’s logic of moderate choices grounded in historical reality, the latter’s rhetoric aims at avoiding the coming to power of conservative politicians. As Nathan’s father makes clear, “If we get the Republicans, that will mean the suffering in this country that it has always meant. You weren’t around for Hoover and Harding and Coolidge. You don’t know firsthand about the heartlessness of the Republican Party. You despise big business, Nathan? . . . Well, you don’t know what it is when the party of big business has its foot in the face of the ordinary people” (IMC 29). In reality, both Nathan and his father identify with the “common man” (IMC 30) but, at the beginning of the Cold War, this fictional figure no longer has a unified, clear image. By compromising on some of the core political principles of the Left, according to Nathan, the Democrats prove to be not that different from their fellow conservatives: “Two major political parties were equally without conscience when it came to the Negro’s rights, equally indifferent to the injustices inherent to the capitalist system, equally blind to the catastrophic consequences for all of mankind of our country’s deliberate provocation of the peace-loving Russian people” (IMC 31). The most important Cold War discursive element creating the political frontier is, in fact, the rhetoric of anti-Communism. According to Michael Kazin, the origins of “conservative populism” must be examined in relation to the articulation of anti-Communist discourses of the mid-1940s: During the Depression, opponents of the New Deal had argued that the interventionist state—directed by liberal planners and allied with industrial unions—was a giant step toward social dictatorship. In 1941, Father Coughlin wrote: “Too many of us do not realize that the Marxists’ greatest victory, to date, has not been won in Europe nor in Asia but at the city of Washington, D.C.” Although FDR’s wartime leadership enabled his followers to discount them, such accusations surfaced again in the 1944 election.54 The increasing pressure of various forms of populism needs to be understood in the sense of a hegemonic struggle that not only occurs in the

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public sphere, but increasingly takes over the domain of the private.55 While this situation is typical of democratic crises, it also points towards the fragility of the liberal-democratic imaginary, which is constituted through the separation of the public and the private domains. The coming-of-age story in Roth’s novel also brings into focus the failure of the American Left on the eve of the Cold War. Failure is a misleading term—what we are dealing with is the beginning of a complex historical process by which “populist signifiers were hegemonized by a rightwing discourse.”56 In his interpretation of Kazin’s historical account of the vicissitudes of American populism, Ernesto Laclau notes how “traditional populist themes” emerged in the point of contact between anti-Communism and “the conservative fear of a powerful government machine controlled by the liberal elites.”57 It is at this conjuncture that the typical conservative “opposition (‘parasites’ vs. ‘producers’)” disappeared from the right-wing rhetoric and the “link between ‘people’ and ‘workers’” (the core of Leftist rhetoric) was weakened due to the successful conservative appeal to the “average man,” in today’s political language, the ordinary Joe or the common people.58 Roth is interested in the anti-Communist paranoid discourses of the 1950s (its obscene practice of blacklisting initiated by Senator McCarthy) precisely because it created the opportunity for the new conservative coalition to oppose the New Deal, hereby laying the ground for a symbolic reconfiguration of democratic society. The friendship between Nathan and his “radical” political mentor, Ira Ringold, also offers ways to explore the dimensions of political mythology specific to American politics in the 1950s. The decline of paternal authority in the political arena is related to the introduction of new signifiers, which designate the “right” path to a projected horizon of social change. The break with the father’s moderate position is in fact constitutive of a mythical construction of the social space that Nathan produces as the result of his own initiation into the populist literature of the time, Howard Fast’s books, especially the earlier texts on Thomas Paine, “the most uncompromising patriot in American history” (IMC 31) and the patriotic radio shows of Norman Corwin. The radio actor Ira Ringold becomes a personal hero for Nathan, the embodiment of ideas that are already part of his imagination of the people. The central signifier of this narrative, the common man, “the ordinary Joe,” is in fact the main discursive element forging the group identity of the working class as “the people.” The discovery of this rhetorical act is an event that takes place for the young Nathan Zuckerman while listening to the famous radio program written by Corwin and broadcast on V-Day: “My subject was the lot of

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the common man . . . the man that radio writer Norman Corwin had launched as ‘the little guy’ in On a Note of Triumph, a sixty-minute play that was transmitted over CBS radio the evening the war ended in Europe . . . and that buoyantly entangled me in those salvationist literary aspirations that endeavor to redress the world’s wrongs through writing” (IMC 38). Without any formal initiation into Marxist ideology, Nathan arrives at its popular aspirations via the political/religious mythology of American heroism, an eschatological horizon which gives him his first understanding that the purpose of artistic language is to “enshrine the struggles of the embattled” (IMC 38). The central structure of any populism, according to Laclau’s analysis, occurs through a process of hegemonic articulation: specifically the plebs—“the part of no part” in Jacques Rancière terms or “the little guy” in Corwin’s—is not a section of the people but represents the people as such.59 In this sense, Corwin’s populist discourse enables popular sovereignty, the identification of America (the name of the nation) with the common man/the little guy (the name for proletariat): Whitman claimed America for the roughs, Norman Corwin claimed it for the little man—who turned out to be nothing less than the Americans who had fought the patriotic war. . . . The little man was nothing less than Americans themselves! Corwin’s “little guy” was American for “proletariat,” and, as I now understand it, the revolution fought and won by America’s working class, was, in fact, World War II, the something large that we were all, however small, a part of, the revolution that confirmed the reality of the myth of a national character to be partaken of by all. (IMC 38) Accordingly, populism is the royal path to overcoming various particular identities—i.e., “the Jewish character” (IMC 39)—and to identify oneself with the glorious destiny of the nation: “You flood into history and history floods into you. You flood into America and America floods into you” (IMC 39). The work of rhetorical figures, the chiasmus in this case, is to enable the construction of the community under the power of a new signifier, the “Spirit of the Common Man” (IMC 41). Inspiring “populist adoration” (IMC 41), this new signifier reenacts the ideals of the American Revolution by seeing democratic practice as the event of coming together, rather than an act of “one . . . wild man” (IMC 41). Roth’s novel starts with an evocation of the “democratic imaginary”— which is, as in Kundera—a commentary on the idyllic model where the myths and symbols of democracy are rooted. As Derek Parker Royal has

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noticed, in comparison to American Pastoral’s main character, Swede Levov, Ira Ringold’s notion of the pastoral dream is a “socially just and politically progressive America. . . . His tirades against capitalism and his arguments for a working class utopia become another version of Roth’s unattainable pastorals, a realm free from the complexities of daily living.”60 Meeting Ira Ringold validates Nathan’s beliefs in democracy as a political logic through which America is identified with the common man. In this sense, Ira is the incarnation of the mythical ideal of the American Dream, a working class man becoming a national celebrity as a radio actor. The power of rhetoric transforms Ira into a public figure involved in the performance of the democratic game; his plays speak up for the “little guy,” and his voice becomes the vox populi as he impersonates Lincoln in fictional democratic debates on topics ranging from slavery to the Marshall Plan. His role as radio actor, married to the famous Hollywood star, Eve Frame, keeps Ira’s allegiance to Communism in the shadows, his ideological initiation denoting a more personal, affective relation to the significance of his past than the blind, self-sacrificing path of his “teacher,” Johnny O’Day. Nathan can get “firsthand evidence of all the brutish American stuff that Corwin left out” by meeting Ira Ringold, the guy who can take his education “beyond Norman Corwin” (IMC 49). Nathan has the opportunity to visit Zinc Town, New Jersey, where Ira owns a shack, a place of retreat, which is now symbolically thought of as a literary (as in Thoreau and Rousseau) and metaphysical space. Nathan discovers the Western philosophical images of the shack as freedom and independence as well as the Eastern metaphors of “competition with death” (IMC 72); these metaphors refer to Nathan’s untold story about his own seclusion, an important reverie about his decision not to “want a story any longer” (IMC 71). For Ira, a man not as intellectually sophisticated as Murray Ringold or his younger companion, the significance of the shack needs to be derived from his own desperate attempt to negotiate his diverse subject positions: as a Communist devoted to the working class, as a radio icon, and as husband of the Hollywood star, Eve Frame. Roth focuses on Ira Ringold’s internal contradictions as the main character of the novel incarnates subject positions in an intense antagonistic rapport. More over, the text offers a spatial metaphor for the character’s struggle to survive his ambiguity: the “privatization” of the political. The space where Ira defines himself as politically active is the shack in Zinc Town, an idyllic place if we perceive it as the matrix for the dose of idealism necessary to any socialist adventure. Consequently, we should not take the Romantic idea of living “close to nature” (IMC 50) for the personal construction of a mythical space that separates Ira from his

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urban/bourgeois existence and allows him to engage in political activism: “Ira retreated to Zinc Town to live . . . close to the bone, to live life in the raw . . . talking to the local dairy farmers and the old zinc miners, whom he tried to get to understand how they were being screwed by the system” (IMC 50). The retreat is thus a political and personal strategy that makes possible the suspension of his particular social role. His new name, Iron Rinn, identifies him with the “common man” and gives him access to the simple life he was in fact able to overcome. As an “openly sentimental expression of solidarity with the dispensable” (IMC 51), the shack also represents the expression of his political desire constructed by the irresistible appeal of some essential form of everyday life, uncontaminated by capitalist culture. A couple of years after his visit to Zinc Town, the young Nathan Zuckerman will discover the mythological narrative behind the Communist retreat from capitalist life. As a college student in Chicago, he finally goes to meet Ira’s own mentor, Johnny O’Day, a solitary man and a pure revolutionary dedicated to a political cause. The allegorical structure becomes visible in Roth’s text—an intimate space as the matrix in which subjectivity/desire completely restricts itself, prohibiting any other desire: “O’Day’s room represented . . . discipline, that discipline which says that however many desires I have, I can circumscribe myself down to this room” (IMC 227). What O’Day’s room and Ira’s shack have in common is a distinctive “spiritual essence” (IMC 228). For a long time unavailable, the meaning of this spiritual transfer of desire into the proximity of one’s intimate space is clear to Nathan in a personal experience that no longer involves the haunting presence of Ira Ringold or the threatening personality of Johnny O’Day. The symbolism of these personal spaces follows the trace of another mythological element, “Lenin’s . . . anchorite room [in Zurich] where the revolutionary founder of Bolshevism had lived in exile for a year and a half ” (IMC 228). O’Day is an orthodox representative of the revolutionary project, willing to sacrifice his existence to the Communist ideals; for him, Nathan is only a potential “body to be recruited” (IMC 233), nothing more. Only by taking this point into account, can we understand why the friendship between Nathan and Ira does not belong in the register of political proselytism. This personal rapport involves a friendship that is not reduced to political praxis (meetings, rallies, union organization, protests) but aims at building a politically active way of life, an empathic dialogue with the “common man” as the starting point of any social practice and of any true populism. Roth makes a significant statement by creating a literary situation that

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challenges traditional philosophical reflections on political friendship. For example, Ira’s interest in Nathan does not fall into the model of militancy illustrated by O’Day’s faith in Leninism, mainly because, in this friendship, no other disciple can take Nathan’s role. He is thus appreciated in its singularity, not as a member in a group, secretly acting in the name of a specific ideology. I Married a Communist does not address the new of politics, in an absolute sense—the revolutionary break with previous models of social organization. Written as a realist coming-of-age narrative in which Nathan’s political initiation plays the central role, the novel inspires a literary-affective mode of experiencing the conflicting political temporalities of American democracy, a lyrical and nostalgic attitude towards the fictional narrative of the 1950s. Like Kundera, Roth does not settle for a revised Marxist approach to the socialist idea and praxis of politics. A post-Marxist philosopher like Alain Badiou would propose, for instance, a notion of fidelity to the Communist event as a possible model to redefine Leftist political agency. Badiou tries to conceive fidelity as a category linked to the un-presentable quality of this event, and not to an ideological and historically determinate structure of the Party; his examples speak of specific revolutionary moments such as the October Revolution or the French May 1968.61 This theoretical proposal, fidelity to the radical indeterminacy of the event, the hallmark of the political Subject, risks changing contingent decision into an ethical prescription motivated by “unequalled intensities of existence.”62 Badiou reminds us that enthusiasm is the affect of any political truth; Kundera challenged this position by showing that enthusiasm is the essence of political kitsch and the impasse of popular sovereignty. The duplicitous nature of the revolutionary mythology, as the representation of this affect, has already mystified the appearance of the Communist event: The whole period of Stalinist terror was a period of collective lyrical delirium. This has by now been completely forgotten, but it is the crux of the matter. People like to say: Revolution is beautiful; it is only the terror arising from it that is evil. But this is not true. The evil is already present in the beautiful, hell is already contained in the in the dream of paradise, and if we wish to understand the essence of hell we must examine the essence of the paradise from which it originated. It is extremely easy to condemn gulags, but to reject the totalitarian poesy that leads to the gulag by way of paradise is as difficult as ever.63

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Roth is very much aware of the aesthetic risks involved in a socialist mythology embodied by the blinding spectacle of revolutionary celebration, but he is, at the same time, evoking a different impasse of Communism. Before arriving at this conclusion, the novel deals with the process of reading and evaluating the knowledge involved in the formation of the modern social imaginary, the main condition of emancipation through political practice. Producing literacy of interpersonal relations and material forms of life from within a social milieu becomes the main purpose of Nathan’s “apprenticeship” with Ira, whether in Newark or in Zinc Town. The pedagogical praxis does not concentrate on a rigid set of normative principles but on witnessing two of the central elements creating a notion of the “common man”: on the one hand, the plurality of doxas (common beliefs or views of the world) and their irregularity in the social space, and on the other, the manifold of life-experiences constituted by particular contingent circumstances. Roth appears close to Hannah Arendt in that his novel addresses the topic of democratic pluralism: “Men are political beings because they exist in plural. This plurality is not an obstacle to judgment, but its very condition. Opinion is formed as the original exercise of ‘sharing the world with others.’”64 This theoretical detour calls to our attention a specific scene from Roth’s novel in which Ira Ringold takes Nathan to visit a former army fellow, Erwin Goldstein, who, after marrying the daughter of a Newark business owner, “had become an adherent of everything he had once opposed” (IMC 94). In his narrative, Roth emphasizes the antagonistic rapport and the circumstantial/experiential nature of any decision. However, for Nathan, the conflict illustrates the thinking of two “common men” that have differently negotiated their subject positions. Goldstein is not simply an opportunistic figure; he is, according to Ira, the victim of his own fear, “afraid of his wife, afraid of his father-inlaw, afraid of the bill collector” (IMC 96). Divided by ideological investment and loyalty, the two men use similar argumentative strategies to defend their positions against each other. Goldstein even attempts to discredit Ira by offering a sample of pure common sense, or at least what now appears to him as common sense—his own version of the ideological operations of both Communism and capitalism: Everything the Communists say about capitalism is true, and everything the capitalists say about Communism is true. The difference is, our system works because it’s based on the truth about people’s selfishness, and theirs doesn’t because it’s based on a fairy tale about people’s brotherhood. . . . In order to get them to

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believe in their brotherhood, they’ve got to control people’s every thought and shoot’ em. And meanwhile in America, in Europe, the Communists go on with this fairy tale even when they know what is really there. (IMC 95) Following Goldstein’s argument, we see that political beliefs are founded on rhetorical strategies. The Communists and the capitalists are both right in their claims about each other. Consequently, all the doxas about the two ideologies are correct. To overcome potential contradictions, this cunning logic of reversals shows the structural difference between these two political poles by making a distinction between the truth of capitalist selfishness and the lie (i.e., the fairy tale) of the Communist true dream. This dismissal of Communism, made by an ex-Communist, is a well-known phenomenon of the 1950s. The counterpoint of anti-Communist rhetoric is also, according to Roth’s character, the proof of capitalist liberation from all ideology. In fact, as Slavoj Žižek demonstrates, the opposite is produced, since “ fantasy is a means for an ideology to take its own failure into account in advance” (italics in original).65 On the one hand, Erwin Goldstein acknowledges the operative dysfunction of Communist ideology, the process of incorporation of socialist idealism into the Stalinist ideological machine. On the other, he offers a nihilistic version of the democratic idea: The truth about “selfishness”—a name for the lack of balance between representation and interest—comes to the surface and is accepted by everyone as a necessary “evil” of social life. Exposing the political fictions of Communism and capitalism, i.e., accepting their “failure” in advance, can only lead to complacency about politics instead of democratic participation. The conflict between Ira and Erwin is significant only insofar as it is considered the counterpoint of the main plot of the novel, the exposure of the anti-Communist hysteria that the novel accomplishes, by concentrating on the private setting of politics. What Nathan learns from witnessing the intense debate on the failures of Communism has few ideological implications. Rather, it provides a different story about Ira’s own ambiguous past, showing his intention to manipulate biographical details, and proving to Nathan that “the spirit of the common man,” in its pure unmediated form, is different from his own fictional projections. Nathan’s stay at the shack in New Jersey involves a more active role in a quest for the “ordinary Joe.” Visiting Zinc Town, Nathan realizes the redundancy of Ira’s discourse about inequalities or social injustice in discussions with people from the mining town whose life is evidence of potential social antagonisms: Raymond Svecz, a worker living in an

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abandoned shed; Horace Bixton, the owner of a taxidermy business; and Tommy, a former miner. Ira’s vivid interest in these people becomes an obvious symptom of a personal nostalgia for his past wretched life: “Ira’s interest in taxidermy was part of a working class fascination he still had, not so much with nature’s beauty, but with man’s interfering with nature, with industrialized nature and exploited nature, with mantouched, man-worn, man-defaced, and, as it was beginning to look out in the heart of zinc country, man-ruined” (IMC 194). The lure of the underdog, Ira’s secret desire, originates in the identification with a particular image of the common man, Fanon’s “the wretched of the earth” or Marx’s lumpenproletariat. At Ira’s request, Nathan spends time on his own with Tommy in order to find out more “about the evil consequences of the profit motive as it functioned in Zinc Town” (IMC 204). This experience, according to Ira’s logic, provides something more relevant than, for instance, reading Volume 1 of Capital. Tommy, Nathan’s new teacher for a few hours, makes a living by selling minerals to tourists or people driving through New Jersey. When Tommy’s local disciple Brownie arrives, this rudimentary economic activity in which Nathan takes part poses different problems than the ones expected by Ira. It makes Nathan aware of his “gratuitous” role within the structure of the simulated “pedagogical” rapport: If something about my complexity mocked him, something about his simplicity also mocked me. I turned everything into an adventure, looking always to be altered, while Brownie lived with a sense of nothing other than hard necessity, had been so shaped and tamed by constraint as to be able to play only the role of himself. He was without any craving that wasn’t brewed in Zinc Town. The only thoughts he ever wanted to think were the thoughts that everybody else in Zinc Town thought. He wanted life to repeat and repeat itself, and I wanted to break out. I felt like a freak wanting to be other than Brownie. . . . What would it be like to have that passion to break out vanish from my life? What must it be like to be Brownie? Wasn’t that what the fascination with “the people” was really about? What is it like to be them? (IMC 207) Facing the particularity of everyday life in Zinc Town, Nathan acknowledges the distance between his desire to go beyond the borders of his world and Brownie’s desire to live life within a horizon of pure necessity. The intersection of these two “personal” truths needs to be understood in relation to Hannah Arendt’s analysis of doxa in the Greek world: “The word doxa means not only opinion but splendor and fame. As such, it is

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related to the political realm, which is the public sphere in which everybody can appear and show who he himself is. To assert one’s opinion belonged to being able to show oneself, to be seen and heard by others.”66 In the interpersonal space evoked by this scene from Roth’s I Married a Communist and narrated by Nathan, Brownie’s presence is the concrete expression of a doxa not aiming to go beyond itself; it remains locked within the space of the community where it had originated. This political revelation refers to a meaning of doxa that articulates personal truth only by submitting it to the “already-made” prescriptions of socially constructed norms or values, what the French sociologist Raymond Boudon called “des idées reçues” (received ideas).67 Lured by the figure of the “people,” Nathan discovers in Brownie a notion of singularity that naturally falls under the laws of the common, a term used in its ambivalent meaning designating something “ordinary” and also that which governs the social bond. Unable to live it directly, this experience of the ordinary means in fact that the identification with Ira is also impossible and that their “friendship” remains only a stage in Nathan’s development as a politically active intellectual. The “apocalyptic prophecies” made by the radio star about the atomic war and America’s “road to fascism” (IMC 216) fail to occupy a strong rhetorical role and function only as the negative side of Ira’s “utopian vision.” The reversal of Ira’s utopian imagination is thus not the realization of an apocalyptic prophecy but the specter of anti-Communism in America. The central rhetorical operation through which politics is articulated to anti-Communism is a semantic operation, which centers on substituting betrayal with treason. The gap between trespassing a moral normative order (betrayal) and conspiring with America’s enemies (treason) is bridged by the ideological orientation of McCarthyism: “To me,” says Murray Ringold, “it seems like more acts of personal betrayal were tellingly perpetrated in America in the decade after the war—say, between ’46 and ’56—than in any other period in our history” (IMC 264). Embracing permanent suspicion, American culture was not immune to abusive practices that characterized globally totalitarian societies. At the heart of American life, the seed of betrayal gives rise to moral compromises in support for a greater cause, the need to identify and expose those who can potentially betray the people as a whole. Roth’s moral stance achieves a prophetic role as the novel engages the structure of this ideological mystification: The rhetoric of betrayal provides the central signifier (traitor), whose function is to institute the frontier between good Americans (the “people”) and evil Communists.

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Roth’s novel is an attempt to write the treacherous plot by initially following a story of betrayal that is disseminated by the paideic motif. The young Nathan Zuckerman, eager to experience a radical version of democratic politics, is, in fact, the first one to inflict “the wound of betrayal” (IMC 106). This act has multiple connotations, but mainly refers to the presence of Ira Ringold as an ally in the “struggle” against his politically moderate father: “Always making myself eminently adoptable,” Nathan recalls, “I discovered the sense of betrayal that comes of trying to find a surrogate father even though you love your own” (IMC 106). The operation of substitution proceeds in accounting further for all the symbolic “apprenticeships” in the novel. While the novel falls short in telling the story of Nathan’s maturity, it describes a “spiritual” itinerary, from Paine, Fast, and Corwin to the Ringold Brothers (Murray and Ira). In fact, as Nathan recalls, everyone (including Johnny O’Day) wanted to educate him and potentially find in him the long-awaited disciple. Leo Glucksman, Nathan’s professor at the University of Chicago, is an important figure in this ongoing process of finding “surrogate fathers.” This “new recruitment phase” (IMC 218) is significant for our discussion as it creates the basis for a completely different rapport between literature and the “people,” one that privileges aesthetic form and dismisses any direct ideological engagement with artistic practices. Glucksman questions the very structure of the doxa, which the unsophisticated Iron Rinn elevated to the status of universal truth: “Art as a weapon?” . . . “Art as taking the right stand on everything? Art as the advocate of good things?” . . . Who taught you art is slogans? Who taught you art is in the service of “the people”? Art is in the service of art—otherwise there is no art worthy of anyone’s attention. What is the motive for writing serious literature, Mr. Zuckerman? To disarm the enemies of price control? The motive for writing serious literature is to write serious literature. (IMC 218) The idea that literary writing is a self-referential practice with full autonomy is an extreme intellectual position able only to utter a halftruth. According to Stendhal, “politics in a work of literature is like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, something loud and vulgar, and yet a thing to which it is not possible to refuse one’s attention.”68 Leo Glucksman appears to endorse this idea in that, for him, literary works are not threatened by historical events and their political significance, but rather by the dominating character of a popular doxa, which claims absolute knowledge over the field of aesthetic practices.

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As if in symbolic response to Ira’s prophetic vision, Glucksman’s own version of the future speaks about the dissolution of political beliefs in a larger cultural ideology, “the culture of the peasants and the workers” (IMC 218). While the politically progressive potential of rhetoric is realized in Ira’s populist message, the demagogical (i.e., mystifying) quality of the anti-Communist rhetoric appears in the novel at the center of the personal conflict between Ira and his wife.69 The last part of the conversation between Nathan and Murray Ringold focuses on Eve Frame’s book about her relationship with Ira, entitled I Married a Communist. Ghostwritten by Eve’s friends Katrina and Bryden Grant, the text is not only a personal vendetta, but also an element in a carefully strategic plan to boost the political career of Bryden Grant, a fictional but typical Cold War figure. Becoming a bestseller, the book narrates a story about Ira’s subversive Communist activities against the American government and his involvement in some sort of Jewish Bolshevist conspiracy to take over New York–based radio stations. Conspiracy does not have in 1950s America the hegemonic hold on social relations as in the Stalinist universe; it nevertheless operates as a key mythological structure of Cold War discourse, as it posits the formation of secret transnational enemy groups that work to subvert the ideological project of a global American democracy and, more essentially, the sovereignty of its people. By claiming to tell the truth, Eve contributes to Ira’s final metamorphosis in the novel—he is forced finally to identify with the spectral image of Communism that haunts America, to become its “human face” (IMC 274). The false belief is instituted through the perverse mechanism concealed by the rhetoric of betrayal: “I married a Communist, I slept with a Communist, a Communist tormented my child, unsuspectingly America listened to a Communist, disguised as a patriot, on network radio” (IMC 274). As cultural artifact, Eve’s story describes the infiltration of the Communist spy in the American household, and, according to Murray, it dispassionately offers a hallucinatory scenario worthy of The Invasion of Body Snatchers, the most vivid anti-Communist science fiction film released in 1956: “Russian agents. Russian spies. Russian documents. Secret letters, phone calls, hand-delivered messages pouring into the house day and night from Communists all over the country” (IMC 243). Without being significantly inspired by the plot of Robert Stevenson’s 1949 anti-Communist film, Roth uses the title of this feature, I Married a Communist, for Eve’s “fictional” story and for his own novel. In some sense, Eve’s book of betrayal is a powerful force in Roth’s novel; like the postcard in Milan Kundera’s The Joke, the book is invested

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with a disruptive agency. In the Czech novel, the private setting of politics allows the Party to take possession of anyone’s life, to consider anyone a traitor of the Communist cause. Ludvik Jahn, Kundera’s protagonist, is brutally punished for poking fun at Communist dogmatism. The message of his postcard (“Optimism is the opium of the People!”) appears as a subversive act, which justifies the means of repression. Inscribed in a file, becoming a name in a list, or a file in a bureaucratic universe, Ludvik Jahn’s life can only be equated to a tragic farce. A similar argument needs to be made with Roth’s novel. Creating a fictional stigma (i.e., Communist-traitor instead of Trotskyite), Eve’s book creates a Stalinist act at the heart of American private life. The book fails to account for the unmasking of Ira Ringold, to uncover his lies, his immorality, his “bourgeois” attitude in personal affairs; it rather creates a more mythical, unrecognizably monstrous figure in the name of a corrupt ideology, submitting politics and private life altogether to the identification and punishment of undercover enemies. The grafting of the private onto the political derives, according to Roth, from the degeneration of the public space. In an almost Arendtian sense, Murray Ringold even claims that McCarthyism is “the first postwar flowering of the American unthinking that is now everywhere” (IMC 284). Pursuing this line of argument, the lack of critical thinking allows “the people” to become a part of a theatrical performance, a false comedy with gossip in the role of “the national faith” (IMC 284): McCarthy was never in the Communist business; if nobody else knew that, he did. The show-trial aspect of McCarthy’s patriotic crusade was merely its theatrical form. Having cameras view it just gave it the false authenticity of real life. . . . McCarthy understood the entertainment value of disgrace and how to feed the pleasures of paranoia. He took us back to our origins, back to the seventeenth century and the stocks. That’s how the country began: moral disgrace as public entertainment. McCarthy was an impresario, and the wilder the views, the more outrageous the charges, the greater disorientation and the better the all-around fun. (IMC 284) As the deceptively fascinating Cold War family drama unfolds in the novel, Roth takes us into the process of creating a political myth. Signed by a patriotic American woman, Eve’s confession is a unique episode in a McCarthy-like witch hunt TV series; it condenses the belief that “everywhere” in America, possibly in any household, in any family, the one who you trust, perhaps your husband or your wife, could be a traitor, an enemy of “the American way of life.” Beyond the entertainment

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factor of this political farce, Eve’s revenge against her husband (the fictive 1952 book I Married a Communist) underlies the way Roth’s acute analysis of the private sphere introduces a notion of betrayal that is not only related to the frontier between good Americans and evil Communists, but also to the issue of a selfishness that manifests itself at the core of the social bond. I Married a Communist is not only a Cold War text, but it is also a novel about the legitimacy of pragmatic selfishness in American culture. Using as his main example the historical situation of the 1950s, Roth’s novelistic elegy traces an authentic political meaning by calling into question—in the name of a prophetic moral fable—the truth of pragmatic selfishness (as betrayal of the idea of the so-called Communist brotherhood) and its central moral value for liberal democracy.

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National Security in the Age of the Global Picture Democratic governments might become violent and cruel at times of great excitement and danger, but such crises will be rare and brief. —alexis de tocqueville The book [The Public Burning] is continually metamorphosing as though invaded by history as a kind of body-snatcher. —robert coover

Democracy as Discontent— Robert Coover, The Public Burning The assumption that, in the second half of the twentieth century, literature was able to engage the politico-historical dimensions of our age appears in literary criticism as the central element of the shift from high modernist aesthetics to a new model, postmodernism. Classic studies on the much-debated concept of literary postmodernity suggest various political acts that tacitly point towards the Left. However, in most contemporary literary studies, the categories that define politics, or talk about the foundation or disintegration of the social bond, are taken for granted. More specifically than Ihab Hassan, Brian McHale, or Matei Calinescu, Linda Hutcheon’s work aims at a “politics of postmodernism” emerging within the poetic structure of historiographic metafiction and from the rise of literary parody. Yet there is no comprehensive study of the possible intersections between political thought and the “innovative” contemporary novel, which are not limited to “cultural studies,” Marxism, identity politics, or to Foucauldian analyses of power structures.1 The literary-philosophical configuration of the “limit of modernity”—made explicit by the intellectual history of the term “postmodern”—needs to account for the trials of the political in the Cold War: the closure of politics in the totalitarian state (doubled by a sense of national identity crisis in Eastern European countries) and the democratic impasse in the United States due to the

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institution of an indefinite state of exception under the rubric of the National Security State. The novels discussed in this chapter, The Public Burning by Robert Coover and The Royal Hunt by D. R. Popescu, show that the conceptual framework of postmodern literary studies is unable to address the challenges faced by these texts’ political interpretation of historical events. In our view, Coover and Popescu’s interpretive narratives are representative fictions that, in their imaginative accounts of popular sovereignty, attempt to make sense of the “constitutive contingency of the political sphere and its generation of fantasies of unity that appease the anxieties of social fragmentation, stabilizing the social with the creation of political institutions.”2 In The Public Burning (1977), Robert Coover responds to Cold War political culture in the United States by staging a literary fantasy that, through distinct narrative voices that cross from the private into the public realm, encompasses the imagination of power that American foreign policy attempted to embody from the 1950s to 1970s. In Robert Coover’s words, his controversial Cold War novel was intended as a “restaging of the 1953 Sing Sing executions of the alleged atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in Times Square as a kind of public exorcism with Uncle Sam as emcee and carny barker.”3 In 1966, Coover plans to draft scenes for a “street theater or a commedia dell’arte”4 but in a year or so, his project develops into a narrative about the beginning of the Cold War, focused on the Rosenberg case; he is, however, neither interested in proving that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were innocent of the alleged conspiracy charges nor in investigating their Communist affiliations. In an interview with Larry McCaffery, he talks about the case as “a watershed event in recent American history” that “encapsulated the Cold War madness.”5 Writing The Public Burning is thus a political act originating in the 1960s counterculture without claiming to be an avantgarde statement in the manner of Kathy Acker’s The Burning Bombing of America: The Destruction of the US (1972). As an indictment of Cold War culture, Coover develops a complex (and, in many ways, excessive) literary narrative—which begins with Justice William O. Douglas granting the stay of execution and ends with the public ceremonial “sacrifice” of the Rosenbergs two days later—a carefully designed literary composition made up of political and religious speeches; references to Hollywood films, particularly High Noon and House of Wax; and classical literature that would support the all-encompassing idea of a national circus. This central point is made clear in what I believe to be the most crucial of Coover’s reflections about his novel: “Suddenly the whole American

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population was at my disposal for participation in this enormous theatrical spectacle. I brought myself there, too, . . . I guilty as the rest.”6 It has been very tempting to read the text in a Debordian key, as if Coover’s writing gave a Cold War American spin to the defining first sentence of The Society of the Spectacle (1967): “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”7 The hypothesis of this chapter is that there is more at stake in Coover’s postmodern comic-grotesque version of the theatrum mundi (i.e., circum mundi) metaphor. Given that the Cold War now appears as the rhetorical and geopolitical frame of reference for this grandiose spectacle, Coover’s national circus metaphor is only meaningful if considered in its global dimensions. In other words, the true stage of Coover’s fictional spectacle is not the postwar world, but its representation, the global picture of an irreducible conflict that captured this world, reducing its modern sense to the apparently simple choice between democracy and Communism.

“At War with the Mystics”? In the initial stages of the project, Coover’s desire to present the people’s collective guilt is only partially satisfied by the excessive aesthetic pleasures of Menippean poetics: “The satire in the early fragments is still quite broad, the acts carnivalesque, the rhetoric grandly brassy; I realize that I need a quieter voice as balance, a kind of homely clown, as it were, to come in between the high-wire acts and bring the show back down to earth.”8 Richard Nixon, sworn into office as the thirty-seventh US president in 1969, becomes the surprising narrative voice of The Public Burning that balances out the “composite third person voice . . . that provides both background and ideological motivation for the Rosenberg trial.”9 Coover’s reliance on two narrators, the impersonal pamphleteer and the figure of then–Vice President Nixon, makes possible the dialectical development of a series of twenty-eight dramatic episodes symmetrically divided between four temporal moments, linked by three intermezzos. The protagonist of The Public Burning is thus Eisenhower’s VP, Dick Nixon (a.k.a. Tricky Dick), who appears in the novel as a cartoon image or caricature of the historical Richard Nixon. Through this buffoon hero, we are able to gain full access to the immanent world of hubristic political interests. The conflicting identity of political representation is exposed when Dick Nixon appears naked on the public stage, not simply

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to enforce Coover’s parody of political life, but to introduce the reader to the mythical powers of government, the angry American God-like Uncle Sam and its mortal enemy, the Soviet Phantom. The execution of the Rosenbergs (i.e., the “public burning”) thus corresponds to bringing into the open, or staging in Times Square, a supposedly obscene politicotheocratic underside of American democracy. Enabled by civil religion, the ritual execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in Times Square satirizes the Cold War emergency; in Coover’s fiction, this constitutes America’s momentary regression in a pre-political masquerade of power. If The Public Burning’s metaphors stage the particular theatrical mode of appearance of politics from the 1950s to the 1970s, “the dark farce known as the Cold War,”10 the excessive poetic character of the novel is evidence that political emergencies are faced with the “challenge of figuration.”11 We see this interpretation as a solution to the potential difficulties posed by “allegorical readings” of The Public Burning. Frank Cioffi is thus right to argue, “a one-to-one correspondence between the events of the novel and those of some other ur-story or history fails to emerge.”12 His observation should not prevent us, however, from coming to terms with the novel’s indefinite allegory. We cannot formulate a direct answer to the question “What might this be an allegory of?”—following Cioffi’s suggestion—precisely because the allegorical object does not pre-exist the fictional world of the novel, but is in fact created by it. Only through the lens of The Public Burning’s fictional world is Coover able to substantiate the claim that the Cold War is a “dark farce,” and only by means of literary satire does the emergency play itself out as a ritual sacrifice in which the whole nation is complicit. In order to exorcise the whole world of the Communist phantom, Uncle Sam has, in fact, the support of the American people. Coover’s allegory thus hints at the fact that “it was the cold war state that promoted the image of ‘America’ as the fulfillment of the world’s desire for an ideal nation into its rationale for imposing and defending the US model of nationalism across the globe.”13 In the context of American Cold War universalism, the novel describes the erosion of two central concepts of modern democracy, popular sovereignty and political representation, and enacts a satirical attack against the politico-religious rhetoric that endangers the legacy of democracy in America. In other words, American civil religion, as part of the republican foundation of this legacy, is also responsible for turning democracy against itself, for creating some deep contradictions at the heart of America’s revolutionary tradition. While Coover ironically rejects the religiously-colored language of Cold War politics and the narrative of American exceptionalism, he does so by engaging the rhetoric of social

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polarization, which conditions the constant, necessary shift in meaning of Americanness as a specifically modern and secular notion. In his poetic strategy, the underside of historical progress—what we can call political myth or social imaginary—emerges in a proper literary sense and also, at the same time, in a way that forces the limits of the literary to the point of fanaticism. Recycling the religiously inflamed discourse of the 1950s, its variation of tropes such as “apocalypse” and “salvation,” which have allowed the definition of politics in religious terms, Coover invents a secular prophetic voice that aims to create an ethical horizon for politics based on the freedom of literary expression and not on a transcendentally defined set of moral norms. Since the late 1960s, Coover has been particularly susceptible to the symbolic narratives underlying democratic governance, such as American civil religion and the permanence of political mythologies in the post-Enlightenment age. For instance, in The Origin of the Brunists (1966), Coover chronicles the crisis that affects a small Midwestern community as the followers of Giovanni Bruno [sic!]—the only survivor of a mining accident turned prophet—await the end of the world. In his next novel, The Public Burning, among numerous political, philosophical, and theological sources making up the complex symbolic structure of the “American miracle,” Samuel Baldwin Davies’s 1854 book is cited as a central example; this quintessential prophetic text shows the history of the United States as written in the Scripture, an indication of the role played by the United States in the religious fulfillment of world history: Throughout the solemn unfolding of the American miracle, men have noticed this remarkable phenomenon: what at the moment seems to be nothing more than the random rise and fall of men and ideas, false starts and sudden brainstorms, erratic bursts of passion and apathy, brief setbacks and partial victories, is later discovered to be—in the light of America’s gradual unveiling as the New Athens, New Rome, and New Jerusalem all in one—a necessary and inevitable sequence of interlocking events, a divine code, as it were, bringing the Glad Tidings of America’s election, and fulfilling the oracles of every tout from John the Seer and Nostradamus to Joseph and Adam Smith. (PB 9) This particular example is telling: In the light of providential acts, America appears as the supreme mythico-historical synthesis (New Athens, New Rome, and New Jerusalem). The partial randomness of history is translated into a well-defined narrative whose divine code is revealed in

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the hermeneutic strategies Samuel Baldwin details. The full title reads, Armageddon: or the Overthrow of Romanism and Monarchy; the Existence of the United States Foretold by the Bible, Its Future Greatness; Invasion by Allied Europe; Annihilation of Monarchy; Expansion into the Millennial Republic, and Its Domination over the Whole World. According to “principles of interpreting symbolic prophecies,”14 rigorously presented in the introduction to this book, and subordinated to the belief that “religion has controlled the politics in all ages,”15 Baldwin proclaims the United States “to be the first fruits of the promised restoration of Israel, . . . the salvation of ‘all Israel’ politically speaking.”16 The text announces the “messianic” role of the United States as a nation and suggests that the United States’ narrative is already present in the prophetic texts of the Old Testament, especially The Book of Daniel and St. John’s Revelation. The task of this “modern” prophet is thus not to predict the future but to ensure that the present is guaranteed in the past, grounded in tradition, and that the mythical horizon of America’s Manifest Destiny secures the nation’s journey into the absolute indeterminacy of the future. Baldwin’s vision of a synthetic Empire, the center of the New World Order, corresponds to a new political identity. In the voice of the author of Armageddon, America’s break with traditional structures occurs out of necessity; the old theologico-political order of monarchy is overcome by theocratic democracy, the historico-political correspondent of a mythical entity, the sixth kingdom. Baldwin’s term, “political theocratic republic,” is the conceptual rationalization of the mythological narrative of Manifest Destiny, of America’s historical exceptionalism (“God especially looked to the United States as a government peculiarly his own).”17 American exceptionalism constitutes the mythology that “empowered U.S. citizens to see themselves as exceptions to the rules that regulated the World of Nations and to identify their will with the will of the State of Exception that governed the international political order.”18 For Coover, the US global fiction predicated on the exceptional nation is also anchored in the belief that there is an “invisible Hand, which conducts the affairs of men,”19 a central credo for all American presidents. Coover discovers in American civil religion “a useful metaphor for containing and organizing all the disparate elements of American mythology.”20 The Origin of the Brunists (1966) illustrates the tension between the “good old-fashioned American common sense”21 of traditional Christian churches and the passion for prophetic symbolism of the new Brunist cult. The two sides of religious identity are presented here in the context of a small community whose particular social narrative appears divorced from American history, from Uncle Sam’s adventures on the stage of world politics, which is the subject of The Public Burning.

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In his influential article “Civil Religion in America” (1967), sociologist Robert Bellah sees “the American Way of Life” as a “generalized religion.”22 Originating in Rousseau and Tocqueville’s democratic theory, civil religion refers to “a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity.”23 According to Bellah’s view, secularism—the separation of church and state—is not compromised, but actually made stronger, when an American president uses the word “God” in a public discourse such as the inauguration speech. According to Bellah, “the inauguration of a president is an important ceremonial event in this religion [i.e., civil religion]. It reaffirms, among other things, the religious legitimation of the highest political authority.”24 Coover maintains the basic premises of American civil religion—for instance, Eisenhower “never believed in God until he discovered Him there in the Declaration of Independence” (PB 184)—but describes a different type of religious legitimation of sovereign power, which also functions, in reverse, as the condition of possibility for its de-legitimation. The ceremony he describes at the end of The Public Burning, a reenactment of the Rosenberg execution, combines archaic rituals of sacrifice with popular American entertainment, this politico-religious show being produced by Cecil B. DeMille, “the fervently anti-Communist film director whose biblical epics were enlivened with steamy depictions of the sins that required repentance.”25 There are many other instances in The Public Burning in which civil religion is seen as hypocritical, such as Dick Nixon’s remarks about Uncle Sam, the allegorical entity representing American cultural identity: Not that Uncle Sam was a secularist—how could he be? He was Uncle Sam, after all. Faith was essential to the Incarnation, it wouldn’t come off without it—“any deeply religious faith,” as Eisenhower liked to put it, “and I don’t care which it is.” True, by the letter of the Covenant, any would serve, but on the other hand, Uncle Sam clearly was not partial to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Voodoists and Romanists. If he had any favorites at all, they were people like Ezra Benson’s Mormons, the eccentric, evangelical, and fundamentalist sects nurtured here on this soil . . . Adventists, Shakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Hardshell Baptists, Church of Christers, Four Square Gospelers . . . yes, and Quakers. (PB 344-345) Cultural critics have written extensively about the political symbolism of the Rosenberg execution. Virginia Carmichael has argued, for instance, “the production of cold war narrative both set the stage for . . . and

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required . . . the production of the Rosenberg story.”26 Coover takes this story, “embedded in the frame narrative” of the Cold War, and writes it into the larger narrative of American civil religion. Once this process of incorporation is under way, civil religion morphs into an eclectic literary mythology and the liberal-democratic use of violence, the execution of the Atom spies, appears as a sacrificial ritual taking place in Times Square, “an American holy place long associated with festivals of rebirth” (PB 4). Accordingly, it is not the outcome of the legal process, the democratic rule of law, that determines the Rosenbergs’ death sentence, but the need for “fierce public exorcism” (PB 4) their execution would produce. The anti-Communist panic of the 1950s appears to justify a social narrative founded on archaic logic, which René Girard has famously described in The Violence and the Sacred: “The purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony to the community, to reinforce the social fabric.”27 Corrupted by the Soviet Phantom, the Rosenbergs, who “no longer belonged to the ordinary world of men” (PB 91), are the sacrificial victims. Addressing Dick Nixon in his typical folk diction, Uncle Sam explains: “This [the execution] is going to be a consecration, a new charter of the moral and social order of the Western World, the precedint on which the future is to be carn-structed to ensure the peace in our time!” (PB 91, eccentric spelling in the original). Tom LeClair has argued that cultural anthropology and general systems theory provide “the model and terminology” to discuss Coover’s “master political novel”; specifically, the “circus state” constitutes the “contemporary version” of the “theater state,” a notion developed by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his book about nineteenth-century political organization in Bali.28 In LeClair’s view, the “negara-like novelistic context” of The Public Burning leads to the following two observations about America: “1) While believing in rational progress and politics as governance, America unwittingly reenacts ‘primitive’ cultural and religious forms; and 2) what is reenacted—power as semiotic display— becomes the essence of contemporary, and . . . future politics in electronic Mediamerica.”29 It is doubtful, however, that Coover can demonstrate—the term belongs to LeClair—these two significant statements in his satire about the Cold War without producing in The Public Burning a prophetic cultural-political discourse that also reflects the zeitgeist of the generation that experienced the euphoric anti-war activism of the 1960s and the disillusions of the Nixon era. LeClair takes on Geertz’s anthropological analysis of the theater state, the political form specific for nineteenth-century Bali, and interprets Coover’s novel as a literary reflection on “the significance of status and display”30 in American

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political culture. Furthermore, the media circus around the Rosenberg case and, by extension, around Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt, constitutes the political ceremony by which democracy’s own identity is made meaningful through the language of civil religion, which provides necessary rhetorical weapons in the fight against an “evil empire,” the Soviet Union. At the same time, we need to consider some of the limitations of LeClair’s argument. He believes that, according to the novel, “McCarthyism was not an aberration but a logical outgrowth of American and European history,”31 a claim that is very difficult to prove from an anthropological perspective alone. We should also keep in mind that LeClair misses an important opportunity in his reading by not linking the main concept of his book, mastery, to political sovereignty and its conceptual genealogy in Western political thought. More so, reading Geertz more carefully, we can discover other significant problems with the idea of the circus state. In Geertz’s words, “the expressive nature of the Balinese state” denotes that “mass ritual was not a device to shore up the state, but rather the state a device for the enactment of mass ritual. Power served pomp, not pomp power.”32 This fascinating paradox of the Negara, of the Balinese theater state, does not operate, however, in 1950s American democracy, where the emergency state created by the Cold War; that is, the social panic triggered by the Communist menace— both real and imaginary—enables the media-driven security narratives and rituals that legitimate the exercise of sovereign power. Western politics has, therefore, a much more complicated relation to theater and media spectacle than LeClair, and perhaps even Coover, may want to acknowledge. Samuel Weber has observed, for instance, “political entities have historically derived their legitimacy from their ability to promote what is shared and common—a ‘commonwealth’—whereas theater tends frequently to the extreme and to the exceptional.”33 If the political is defined, however, on the grounds of an exceptional situation, either as an emergency invoked in regards to an imminent danger to the state’s existence or as a revolutionary moment that calls into question social foundations, then the idea of a theatrical politics becomes inevitable. Inspired by this theoretical perspective, we can pursue a different critical dialogue with The Public Burning, as a response to the alarmism of the 1950s antiCommunist crusade and its protagonists, from J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy—who might be the “secret Incarnation of Uncle Sam” (PB 11)—to Senator Harley Kilgore of West Virginia, working to “draft a bill to ‘grant the FBI war emergency powers to throw all Communists into concentration camps!’” (PB 11; my italics). Coover describes the

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Cold War as an indefinite global emergency by focusing on the political masquerade created around the conviction of the Atom Spies. The novel links, in its narrative frame, the stage of world politics, the geopolitical game at the heart of Cold War discourse, with the proceedings leading to the grand spectacle of the Rosenbergs’ public execution. What is evidenced in Uncle Sam’s diatribes or in Tricky Dick’s epiphanies is the theatrical dimension of politics: the behind-the-scenes manipulation, the hypocrisy of the protagonists, the artificial nature of their public language. The two evident ‘moral’ fables of the novel, Uncle Sam’s fight against the Phantom and Nixon’s journey towards the center of power in American democracy, work therefore as symptomatic literary mirrors of a potentially incurable political nihilism. In other words, as the ‘story’ of The Public Burning progresses, the legacy of the democratic revolution is irretrievable, and in its place we discover the American spirit staging an obscene simulacrum of power, proving that “widespread opinion that the most successful modes of political action are intrigue, falsehood and machination, if they are not outright violence.”34

The Invasion of History Trapped in the fog of the Cold War, The Public Burning’s vision of democracy relies ultimately on the conventions of satirical writing: “scandals and eccentric scenes . . . the inappropriate word [which] profanely unmasks a holy thing . . . or crudely violates etiquette”; “wide use of inserted genres [such as] letters, oratorical speeches, symposia”; “concern with topical issues . . . echoing the ideological issues of the day.”35 Coover is seduced by the temptations of the Menippean literary mastery, by his own freedom to shape preexisting cultural material into a postmodern work of fiction. In its meta-cultural dimension, The Public Burning is, as such, the textual stage for literary performance; the writer displays his techniques in an ostentatious manner. While Brian McHale considers the novel as an exemplary ontological text, similar to Carlo Fuentes’s Terra Nostra,36 the writing process in Coover’s case does not feature a creatio ex nihilo, but the circus acts of a well-trained magician whose tricks can alter our perceptions of historical reality. In a review of Terra Nostra for The New York Times, written around the time he was preparing The Public Burning for publication, Coover accused Fuentes of excess (sic!): “A myth of creation, spanning 20 centuries and 778 pages,” Terra Nostra appears to Coover as “the familiar case of a committed and conscientious writer being overtaken and captured by his own metaphor.”37 This criticism could be easily directed against The Public

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Burning, in which extensive metaphors work to present a profane myth of destruction spanning three days and five hundred thirty four pages. While the postmodern Fuentes offers us the panoramic mythopoetics of history, Coover follows his own hubris, by engaging history-in-themaking in a competition with fiction: I am driving my Richard Nixon from Washington towards Sing Sing and his fateful encounter with Ethel Rosenberg as, under pressure in Washington following the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, the President is obliged to surrender the White House tapes. . . . I abandon the daily news (it’s obvious, Nixon is finished—“I am not a crook!” he declares at Disney World) and press on through the final Intermezzo, as if I was racing against History itself. (my italics)38 Another novel at the center of McHale’s analysis, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), fully embraces the alternative history by taking a look at “our world as it might have been if at certain branchings in history’s garden of forking paths some path other than the one which produced our world had been chosen.”39 This particular Borgesian reference can hardly be applied to Coover’s text, in spite of obvious Borgesian effects caused by the encyclopedic sources of The Public Burning: The prophet Samuel Baldwin and his illustrious book may be seen as an example of historical reference with fictional potential. But even when Coover’s Dick Nixon compares himself to Julius Rosenberg and acknowledges a few very striking and amusing similarities between their destinies, the novel only gives away a hypothetical history. Instead, the novel acknowledges, “we cannot escape history” (PB 7), and presents a story whose satirical undertones fill in the gaps of a history that in fact cannot be changed—the execution of the Rosenbergs cannot be stopped—and tragically becomes unavoidable even in the democratic “regime” of literature. What is changed, what suffers a process of articulation within the theatrical display of political and personal events leading to the public execution of the Rosenbergs, is the mode of literary representation. While it aims to effect change on a global scale, the political simulacrum is itself limited. It has very specific locations—Times Square as the fictional place for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—and just a few main actors: the vice president, Richard Nixon, who narrates parts of the novel; the mythological figures of Uncle Sam and Time (the Poet Laureate); and the Rosenbergs. Portraying politics as obscene, in the form of a Broadway vaudeville that takes us from the White House to

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Sing Sing and degenerates into a vulgar carnival, Coover composes his fiction as a diversion. The novel takes its readers on a detour from history to myth and from reality to simulacrum; Coover’s fictional world, at the same time restrictive and transgressive, is unthinkable without the particularism of its textual presentation. Through its digressive quality, Nixon’s own narration can be read as a Scheherazade narrative strategy, as a constant detour from the inescapable end point of the narrative and as a hopeless attempt to postpone the death of the Rosenbergs. The failure of mimesis and the affirmation of theatrical performance play a crucial role in the way Coover produces an allegorical literary spectacle. In Brian McHale’s view, the “revival of allegory in postmodern writing can . . . be related to postmodernism’s ontological poetics.”40 The relation between the ontological dominant of postmodern fiction and allegorical writing is crucial to McHale’s main argument—postmodern texts are literary compositions that can be poetically (thus, structurally) distinguished from modernist texts. In his analysis, McHale is thus right to emphasize: “The fictional world of an allegorical narrative is a tropological world, a world inside a trope.”41 The statement refers to what happens—textually speaking—in Coover’s novel, as well as in other representative postmodern novels such as John Barth’s Gilles Goat-Boy (1966), Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There (1971), Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo-Jumbo (1972), not to mention Thomas Pynchon’s work, the pivotal narrative of “the allegorical age.” McHale also differentiates between the indeterminate character of modernist allegory (in Kafka, Beckett, or Joyce) whose purpose is “to destabilize ontological structure,” and certain postmodern writers’ preference for “relatively transparent, univocal allegorical narratives.”42 The postmodern writer is seen as a trickster whose entire plan has been, from the very beginning, to dissolve “determinate meaning . . . into indeterminacy” and to design a “parody of allegory” that can no longer fulfill an aesthetic of theological visions.43 In fact, these mock allegories are successful only by failing to bring together such visions. If what is called “postmodern allegory” is a mask, a constructed reality whose purpose is ontological, Coover—unlike Pynchon—uses this mask in a quite unambiguous, almost banal, sense. The Cold War thus describes a clash between titans, with the allegorical figures, Uncle Sam and The Phantom, engaged not in total warfare but in a game of global strategy that involves the systemic coupling of rhetorical pressure, political machinations, and localized military operations. In Chapter 2, entitled “A Rash of Evil Doings,” the panoramic geopolitical narrative chronicles the growing influence of the Soviet Phantom. Events that are happening at once emerge as the signs of

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the red menace: The execution of the Rosenbergs is postponed; “two ore tanks go aground in the mud of St. Clair, Canada”; “a coffee plot is uncovered in Brazil”; “Russian tanks took up, roll toward East Berlin” (PB 36); “the Phantomized Guatemalan regime seizes lands belonging to Uncle Sam’s United Fruit Company” (PB 37); “anti-American demonstrations in Milan, Toronto, Jakarta, Genoa, Paris, London” happen right when “the Phantom send his terrorists in Malaya and French Indochina, and his tanks in East Berlin” (PB 38–39). These are all nodal points of tension in a fragile geopolitical system; for Coover’s chronicler, random events appear connected through a narrative, and America’s mission as a superpower is undermined. In Times Square, the electric sign AMERICA THE HOPE OF THE WORLD has been altered and, due to a slight distortion of one word, America’s Cold War identity is negated: The savior of the world becomes its perpetrator as the slogans proclaim, AMERICA THE DOPE OF THE WORLD, AMERICA THE ROPE OF THE WORLD, AMERICA THE RAPE OF THE WORLD (PB 36–37). This political confusion—captured by the rhetorical questions, “What is happening?!?” and “Where is Uncle Sam?” (PB 36, 44; italics in original)—is intensified as the whole world is linked to the geopolitical strategy game taking place between the fictional personas of the United States and the Soviet Union. The Manichean nature of this conflict can be deceiving in that it translates the rhetoric of global polarization into a simplistic moral fable. It is not difficult, however, to see why political actors, trapped in the fog of the Cold War, have been tempted to see the conflict between the US and the USSR as a strange modern reenactment of the mythological struggle between good and evil. In satirizing the United States’ efforts to contain the spread of Communism, Coover takes into account this Manichean metaphor as he focuses on the way the Rosenberg execution appears as an iconic moment in the Cold War, a symptomatic point of intersection between national political culture and the global imaginary emerging in the 1950s. The Public Burning confronts, in fact, the status of the United States as a superpower, a term that does not simply hide the nation’s disavowed imperialist tendencies but also attempts to signify the emergence of a new global order. It is sometimes easy to forget that the Cold War did not merely represent the end of Eurocentric geopolitics but the invention of language games through which a new paradigm of world order was deemed meaningful. Within the political discourse embodied by the National Security State, this vision/myth of global order predicated foreign policy arguments on the idea of an exceptional historical situation—that is, on a global emergency that demands a revision of the nation’s legal norms.44

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If we now return to The Public Burning in light of these ideas, we need to address the novel’s interpretation of the state of exception, not as an exclusive Cold War phenomenon but as the transhistorical underside of democratic polity. When he finally gets the situation under control, Uncle Sam is announced by means of a hyperbole: “A figure gaunt and grand is Uncle Sam, the emptiness of ages in his face, and on his back the burden of the world” (PB 63).45 The protagonist of Coover’s anti-epic, Uncle Sam, is the whimsical American Superhero and a surrogate Founding Father. This is a heroic figure who hardly reflects American triumphalism in the aftermath of World War II, much less the victory against Communism, which is represented in the novel by the elusive, though corruptive, figure of the Phantom. Yet, he is a fighter, and “with the timely aid of the Prophets, [he] manages to transform this outrageous disruption by the Phantom into a seeming piece of its own Weltordnung” (PR 64). Coover transforms the visual figure of national sovereignty into a textual representation of the American icon, born in the early nineteenth century and achieving popularity during the “I Want You” military recruitment campaign at the time of World War I. As a gendered metaphor reflecting national identity, Uncle Sam possesses also a cultural significance that proves crucial to the novel’s interpretation of the political. Juliet Flower MacCannell has approached this problem from a theoretical perspective focused on the dissolution of the politico-theological model of community that derives its legitimacy from the political metaphor of the body of the King (the Father). Her argument is relevant to our analysis of The Public Burning as she reconsiders the significance of the democratic revolution as a break with traditional forms of patriarchy: The Enlightenment (at least its narratives) made clear that, like it or not, the patriarchal household was to be made subject to a political state shaped by a new, non-patriarchal egalitarian norm- fraternity. . . . The construction of a political state around liberty, equality, and fraternity is indeed the very essence, the real hope and glory of modernity, the heart of democracy. . . . Had it fulfilled all its promises a democracy so founded might have provided a new form of human community, and definitely displaced the Oedipal model and its malevolent clones. It did not. Instead it retained the Oedipal form but not its substance. . . . Under the “name” of the father another and sadistic Other—unconscious, superego, It—has begun its reign of pleasure and terror. The Regime of the Brother begins.46 In MacCannell’s view, the political mutations of the modern age are affected by an inherent failure, which she refers to as “the modernization

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of the superego,” using Freudian terminology. While MacCannell’s diagnosis of modern democracy cannot fully address the trials of the political in the modern age, she convincingly shows that the gender metaphors used to designate the “modern democratic collective” were significant in defining a new political order; more specifically, the United States “has settled on the ‘primitive’ solution, the figure of the mother’s brother, Uncle Sam, who can fill in for a parent without needing to be one.”47 In The Public Burning, the grumpy Uncle Sam fulfills the function of post-monarchic, post-paternal superego; however, he is not a post-religious figure but a direct fictional product of a democratic legacy that originates in the discourse of civil religion. According to Tocqueville, “It was religion that gave birth to the English colonies in America. . . . In the United States religion is mingled with all the national customs and all those feelings, which the word fatherland evokes. For that reason it has peculiar power.”48 Tocqueville’s influence in contemporary theories of democracy can help us reinterpret the political significance of Coover’s central metaphor, the incorporation of “America’s Spirit” (341), which implies a satirical rewriting of the philosophical narrative of democracy. In “The Question of Democracy,” Claude Lefort, building on Tocqueville’s ideas, sees democracy as the result of a symbolic mutation from the monarchy’s body politic to a new political regime characterized by the “phenomenon of disincorporation” of power.49 In other words, “such a mutation involved a revolution in the political imaginary by which a hierarchical society centered on the king as point of unity of power, knowledge and law was replaced by a disincorporation materialized in the emergence of the place of power as essentially empty.”50 In The Public Burning, the burlesque metaphors that refer to American presidents as Uncle Sam’s Incarnations or to the experience of governance as “the travail of transmutation” (PB 340) prove Coover’s attempt to overwrite the legacy of the American democratic experiment. The main objective of Coover’s work is to assume, by means of comic exaggeration, that the symbolic mutation, taking place under the new regime of power, does not necessarily produce a free society. Uncle Sam stands for the common man—he is the average American, or “the people,” inasmuch as he embodies some sort of hybrid figure born out of national symbolism and popular culture: “[He] picked up phrases from . . . all the early American settlers, pioneers, war and sports heroes, movie stars and so on. He is the repository of quotations, famous or not so famous . . . whenever Uncle Sam spoke, he would be speaking, literally, in the collective voice of the people.”51 Coover’s Uncle Sam is thus a rigorously constructed literary

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entity. His appearance, language, and actions contribute to the creation of a national identity, supported by a poetic vision, which unifies the American experience of the novus ordo seclorum with the image of the Cold War warrior, the enraged Superchief. As Uncle Sam puts it in the epilogue of the novel, “it ain’t easy holdin’ a community together, order ain’t what comes natural . . . and a lotta people gonna get killt tryin’ to pretend it is, that’s how the game is played” (PB 531). Uncle Sam does not embody the authoritarian side of the American people but an oversimplified cultural “identity” that appears once the state of emergency is shaped by the novel’s fictional world. The Cold War Manichean metaphor, the opposition between the Good Creator of the free world and the oppressive and corruptive Phantom, is yet another poetic level where this political situation proves its difficult figuration. As the fable mentions Uncle Sam’s failure to ensure that his subjects, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, would never abandon him or lose faith in his power, the significant meaning of the dualist projection, the Rosenbergs as Manichean figures—“Sons of Light” becoming, in a Promethean key, thieves of light—contributes to the symbolism of the “public burning.” This final metaphor resonates not only with the cathartic function embedded in the sacrificial motif of the scapegoat, but also with the theoretical model of the autocratic sovereign. This motif is evident in the first main “conflict” of the novel, between Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who postponed the execution of the Rosenbergs, and Uncle Sam. Douglas’s action is circumscribed by the same Gnostic metaphors (“has he fallen prey to the Angel of Darkness, stumbling knowingly into wickedness and falsehood, pride and presumption?,” PB 65), and represents a model of democratic logic based on the rule of the law: “It is important that before we allow human lives to be snuffed out we be sure—emphatically sure—that we act within the law”(PB 65). Coover’s Uncle Sam implies the rule of law is affected by threats that cannot be contained by Cold War détente: “The iron curtain around the Statue of Liberty continues to vex the American Superhero” (PB 71). In response to the judge’s legal argument, Uncle Sam imposes some sort of authoritarian political will, marked by particularly obscene language: “The law and your bleedin’ heart be damned! Watch out my friend, morality is a private and costly luxury” (PB 76); “Listen, this is my circus, you old coot! And I’m getting’ goddamn sick and tired of you pretendin’ to know better’n me what’s right for this country!”(PB 77) The attempt to create a community unified by a heroism that is above the law can only appear as such if separated from a radical outside.

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The symbolic mark of that separation (the Iron Curtain) is constituted through another evident process of figuration: The name of Communism and of the Soviet Union becomes, in Coover’s text, an emblem for the phantomatic (illusory) promise of Communism. In this rhetorical play, Communism does not maintain any of the specific elements of its selfcreated imaginary universe. Through metaphorical displacement, the Phantom appears only as the corruptive and constantly threatening other, a dark cloud or angel, already hovering over half of the world. The apocalyptic tone of this literary composition derives from the historical reality of the Cold War as a potentially catastrophic conflict. The atomic blast, which can kill the Sons of Light as well as the all-too-human Phantom, remains in the background of Coover’s satirical novel, while the story concentrates on a different “burning,” an execution concerning the “thieves of light” (PB 3), Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The significance of their death is a necessary act of public exorcism, through which the evil spirit/ghost leaves the bodies of those infested: “It is even hoped that a fierce public exorcism right now might flush the Phantom from his underground cells, force him to materialize, show himself plainly in the honest electrical glow of an all-American night-in-town, give Uncle Sam something to swing at besides a lot of remote gooks” (PB 4). In Dick Nixon’s constantly unstable narrative monologue, at one moment the Rosenbergs appear under the demonic touch of the Phantom. The Gnostic motif is, however, incorporated in a description which is inspired both by folk superstition and by main stream science fiction: “Some believed he invaded through the eyes, like a hard light you could feel, others that he used the genital organs, that he could fuck like a man, but had no semen, leaving his chosen ones feeling all filled up, as though with an immense belch or fart they couldn’t release” (PB 144). Dick Nixon’s role is significant precisely because he tries to reach over to the “other side” to find out the reasons behind the Rosenbergs’ betrayal. Dick Nixon is certainly a jester, but unlike the historical Nixon, the fictional character enters into comic situations out of some sort of naïve passion for the truth. However, the ground that this character occupies is an unstable one, since he gets caught up in the typical postmodern dilemma between the desire for power on the one hand, and the desire for truth and coherence on the other. In a chapter suggestively entitled, “A Little Morality Play for Our Generation,” Dick is fascinated by the question of determinism and exposes the key mythological structure of the political situation created by the Rosenberg affair. He identifies the specific theatrical character of the case against Ethel and Julius. A number of coincidences create other possible plots, a new system of relations that Nixon’s mind cannot exhaust,

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an incontrollable structure of reality that can only be comprehended if translated into the literary metaphor of “the world as stage”: “Applause, director, actors, script: yes, it was like—and this thought hit me now like a revelation—it was like a little morality play for our generation!” (PB 119). In Coover’s literary carnival, the clown wants to become “king,” wants to be Uncle Sam’s next avatar. The shifting sense of Dick’s political desire to occupy the “almost-empty” place of power in the democratic state determines the plot twist at the end of the book, and slightly, though significantly, changes the rules of the game established in advance by Uncle Sam. While Tricky Dick believes in the determinism behind Uncle Sam’s incarnations, he still wonders about his own ability to attract the specific historical circumstances of becoming the “elect.” In other words, Uncle Sam does not choose his human personas randomly, but according to a mysterious doctrine of state: “Only Uncle Sam knows why this receptacle is chosen to receive the Host” (PB 161). The more we hear of Dick’s ridiculous theories about sovereign power, the more we are seduced by Coover’s comedy about the political. What is at stake in this comedy beyond its entertainment value and beyond Coover’s well-established literary mastery? The fictional Nixon of the 1950s and the historical Nixon of the 1960s through the 1970s share, in fact, the desire for power, no matter what the consequences. And both believe that the place of power in our society belongs, in truth, to a strong Leviathan, embodied either by the mythical Uncle Sam or by a democratic sovereign whose executive privilege protects him from the law. Reading the novel as a historiographic metafiction, critics have missed that Coover’s main interest is not simply to show us that “history . . . depends on the conventions of narrative, language and ideology in order to present an account of ‘what really happened,’”52 but to create an elaborate allegorical vision (roughly based on the Rosenberg case) that can re-signify the political events of the1960s and 1970s. As the description of the national circus ring-mastered by Uncle Sam is under way, a notion of political emergency appears in the novel in order to hold together two narratives: the complex comic satire whose protagonist is Tricky Dick, and the political farce in which President Nixon was, at the time, playing his part in front of the American people: By now, the Watergate scandal has broken in full clamor upon the American scene. . . . In and around the compelling Senate hearings on TV, I manage to complete Part II and do some extensive rewriting and rethinking, my clown, in what’s called real life, now outclowning the one in my fiction. The book is continually

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metamorphosing as though invaded by history as a kind of bodysnatcher. . . . I am aware that I have got hold of something that has not yet been done, and I reread Don Quijote to think about fiction and history, arms and letters.53 There is at least one instance when President Nixon managed to “outclown” his fictional double. Right at the time of The Public Burning’s publication, tainted by the Watergate scandal but willing to defend his reputation, Nixon publicly endorsed a view of the democratic sovereign that seemed to be taken ad literam from the juridical theory of emergency rule: “When the president does it that means that it is not illegal. . . . If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they’re in an impossible position.”54 Playing his humble role in a 1950s political farce, Dick Nixon, The Public Burning’s character, cannot yet put his finger on this ruling principle of the democratic dictatorship, to use Clinton Rossiter’s term, but his destiny is nonetheless marked by President Nixon’s “brutally effective realpolitik”55 and by his spectacular downfall: “The last tragic president was Richard Nixon: He was a crook, but a crook who fell victim to the gap between his ideals and ambitions on the one hand, and political realities on the other.”56 In The Public Burning, Coover struggles to defend his fictional narrative from the invasion of history. Coover’s Dick Nixon is barely a mirror image of Richard Nixon; his storytelling parodies the stream of consciousness and takes a detour from the historical event, the Rosenberg case, in long digressions filled with useful political teachings and quirky personal observations. The comic effects of Coover’s depth psychology originate in the full transparency of the character’s consciousness: a narrative voice expressing itself directly, with no apparent limits or prohibitions. As one of the dominating narrative voices of the novel, Nixon becomes the main result of a phantasmatic projection enacted by the text: The readers of Coover’s novel get access to the dirty works of politics through the vice-president’s most intimate thoughts. The Public Burning transforms the impenetrable curtain of raw politics into a transparent screen. It is through Dick Nixon that we get the portrait of the professional politician: “Politics is a science and a skill like any other, and I was one of the best professionals in the business” (PB 261). Other memorable definitions refer to politics as a hypocritical game—“it was the kind of political

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battle I loved: nobody gave a shit about the bill itself; it was straight-out power struggle, raw and pure, like a move in chess” (PB 46)—and the list goes on to less candid remarks: “Politics flirted with mayhem, theft and cannibalism” (PB 48). In some of his more insightful reflections, Nixon evokes a democratic model solely based on symbolic representation— whose extreme model can be found in fascism—of the identification of a “group” with their leader. “The people” appears in this context in a new light. If Uncle Sam embodies the “spirit” of the people, Nixon hides his antipopular character behind his electoral appeal: “Plain and simple people, not very bright, not very well informed, nice though, and they are voters. . . . Pat [Nixon’s wife] was a voter . . . she was the choice that gave others trust in me, earned their vote. What do common people care about tidelands disputes or wars in Asia? The important thing to them is who you married, how you live, what kind of kids you’ve got” (PB 203). Creating Nixon as the anti-Jeffersonian politician who does not share any kind of “public happiness” but only the pursuit of power, Coover’s diagnosis of political modernity resonates with Hannah Arendt’s concerns about the fate of American democracy when the “dividing line between public and private” becomes “blurred and, eventually, obliterated.”57 Nixon’s personal conflict is derived from the impossibility of finding out the secret of the Rosenbergs. Even though he is convinced of their guilt, he somehow gets involved in a mind game that ultimately lays bare the private structures of the whole political process. Nixon’s hermeneutic of suspicion deals with an already staged political simulacrum; he is thus able to reconsider the performance: “The Rosenbergs and their lawyers were the only ones not rehearsed, and were in effect having to attempt amateur improvisation theater in the midst of a carefully rehearsed professional drama. Naturally they looked clumsy and unsure of themselves . . . and so, a bit like uneasy liars” (PB 121). In the process of rationalization, Nixon becomes capable of questioning the certainty of the elements involved in the Rosenberg case. In a solipsistic manner, seeing himself as a protagonist in the drama of history, he discovers the very essence of a paranoid political universe in the light of Senator McCarthy’s “immense conspiracy”; that is, anyone can be an undercover agent of the Phantom. The rhetorical reversal of this rationale is also equally disturbing: “What if, I wondered, there were no spy ring at all? What if all these characters believed there was and acted out their parts on this assumption” (PB 135). The alternative algorithm followed by Nixon in the search for the truth involves a serious study/reading of the Rosenberg file. The interpretation does not simply consist of putting together pieces of puzzles, of

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connecting the dots—social environment, Jewish identity, union struggle, belief in Communist ideology—but also of providing in the story of his own life a mirror for Julius and Ethel’s biography. Only through this imaginary identification with the Rosenbergs can Nixon have access to the core element of their personalities, to the real motif of their betrayal. Acting for Uncle Sam, thus in the name of a theocratic figure designated by US culture’s allegorical work, Nixon’s successful accomplishments in this quest would also take him closer to Uncle Sam’s essence. The actual encounter between Nixon and Ethel, a moment that is not scripted in advance by Uncle Sam in his masterful morality play, denotes the partial victory of sexual desire over the perverse politics of the fictional Uncle Sam. As Marcel Cornis-Pope noticed, “through his reunion with this replenishing/challenging other, Nixon feels a new freedom from both Uncle Sam and the Phantom.”58 An escape from history means, in psychoanalytical terms, a break with the symbolic Superego and with the religious rhetoric that frames the Cold War state of emergency. This exception to the “exception” does not suggest, however, a redeemable moral or political quality, and thus leads to Nixon’s political speech about “national vulnerability.” Appearing with his pants down in front of the Times Square crowd after his brief erotic moment with Ethel Rosenberg, Nixon uses “an inspired rhetorical ploy which had worked miracles in hundreds of debates” (PB 473). Coover allows Nixon to speak an authentic political language, “the language of the people” (PB 294); his demagogic skills are symptomatic of the rhetorical strategies used at the beginning of the Cold War. As in the first intermezzo, whose Gnostic metaphor is obvious—“The War between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness”— political language is recycled for literary purposes. In the case of the president’s vision, Coover appropriates passages from the Public Papers of the Presidents (January 20–June 19, 1953) to create some sort of dramatic poem to evoke the theological motifs appropriated by US Cold War discourse in its anti-Communist propaganda. The counterpoint to this recycled poem is Nixon’s fictional final speech, not simply an “intermezzo” to the plot but part of the final dramatic episode of the novel, the confrontation with the Phantom. In this case, the political framework created by Coover relates to a specific literary dualism—on the one hand, Nixon’s narrative voice continues on the same digressive path; on the other, it makes room for a literary/fictional space that interrupts (ad literam) the pathos of his speech. The meaning of Nixon’s circular journey from the political game, “the only game played with real blood,” (PB 47) to an inquiry into the legitimacy of the political decision to execute the

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Rosenbergs, ends in this final populist moment of the novel. This itinerary parallels the possible meanings of political belief, from plurality—“all men contain all views, right and left, theistic and atheist, legalistic and anarchical. . . . Only an artificial . . . commitment to consistency makes them hold steadfast to singular positions” (PB 363)—to an unconditional surrender to the object of political power. Does this mean that Coover leaves us with a purely negative meaning of politics, visible in Nixon’s final speech as well as in the final scenes of the novel, confirming that Uncle Sam’s rule is absolute? The end of the novel is made up of two grotesque images. In the first one, the temporary disappearance of Uncle Sam reduces the public sphere, symbolically represented by Times Square, to a chaotic crowd regressing to a state of nature: “Theopolis Americana! What a mess! There’s whiskey and blood all together, mixed with glass where they lay, not to mention sweat and tears and puddles of cum, vomit and the smashed melon heads of the pageant figures!”(PB 495). The second image occurs after the execution of Ethel Rosenberg, whose body mysteriously resists the first series of deadly electric shocks, and concerns Nixon’s desire to become Uncle Sam’s next incarnation. In the epilogue of the novel, Coover’s disbelief in American political mythology reaches its most crude and direct statement. According to Marcel Cornis-Pope, “in surrendering to Uncle Sam, Nixon acknowledges the more masterful author, who is literally and symbolically a rapist, violating history in order to assert his dominion over the private and the public domain.”59 It is thus not surprising that the disintegration of the public stage of politics acquires its full meaning through an obscene private act in which Uncle Sam sodomizes his “elect.” At the same time, this scene may be considered the “‘surplus” to Coover’s memorable narrative of collective panic that became indistinguishable from Cold War politics. In attempting to capture the hypnotic spell of “democracy’s spectacle,”60 The Public Burning ends with a final profane note that makes the “emergency” ultimately unrecognizable. As the novel’s allegory risks breaking under the burden of too much symbolism, its otherwise significant truths may easily be mistaken for gratuitous jokes. While Coover is able to articulate a powerful fictional vision of the democratic paradox—“a democratic state seeking to honor the rule of law is also one with a sovereign power situated within and above the law”61—his novel ends prophetically in an image that fails to envision any future democratic idea in America that would be able to overcome the potential seductive power of a populist farce.

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Communism and Masquerade: D. R. Popescu’s Visions of Excess The truth is indivisible and is therefore incapable of recognizing itself; whatever claims to recognize it must therefore be a lie. —kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms I don’t like to remember the pain from the past everyday; it would mean becoming an accomplice to the people who made me feel the pain. I didn’t want to act when I could have . . . and make the sergeant—the one who pulled out my nails—answer for what he did, and pay him back what he deserved. . . . I didn’t take the smallest steps against that sergeant who, by a strange coincidence, lives right on my street, because I have a horror of the notion of victim, and would never have wanted to avenge myself using the same coin as he, and in so doing to become his equal, and implicitly their equal; because it wasn’t out of his head that came the idea of doing to me what you can see today. —d. r. popescu, The Royal Hunt

A naturalist adaptation of the conventions of magical-realist prose, The Royal Hunt, a relatively unknown Romanian novel from 1973, offers an interesting counterpoint to Robert Coover’s The Public Burning.62 In this novel, D. R. Popescu describes the cultural transformation of a 1950s Romanian rural community during an emergency situation triggered by rumors about the outbreak of a rabies epidemic. The symbolic narrative of this text is undeniable; however, the scope of the political allegory remains undecided, even though it conveys the idea of a failed social experiment, in the context of the global project of Soviet modernization. The description of the village’s crisis is not historical, and aims at formulating existential or cultural questions. Popescu’s inability to approach political emergency in historical terms could be related to the instauration of a new Communist dictatorship in Romania. The Royal Hunt is the literary achievement of an era dominated by political simulacrum: In late 1960s to the early 1970s, the Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu was using a pro-Western/anti-Stalinist—and to some extent, anti-Soviet—rhetoric to consolidate, in a Stalinist manner, his position as Party leader. As a political thriller, however, The Royal Hunt studies the regression of the Communist myth, the creation of the new world, into a pre-political, archaic social narrative, a plot structure that reminds of Coover’s interest in the mythological dimensions of Cold War America. In order to examine this narrative we need to take into account Hobbes’s pre-political conception of the state of nature: “The classical proposition that nature has given everything to everyone . . . becomes

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the point of departure of the construction of political order.”63 According to Hans Blumenberg’s account, modern social theory establishes “man’s ‘civil’ [bürgerlich; i.e., political as opposed to natural] condition from its finding that his ‘natural’ condition contradicts the conditions of possibility of physical existence. For Hobbes the state is the first artifact that does not enrich . . . the environment in which man lives, but rather eliminates its lethal antagonism [the ‘war of all against all].”64 Underscoring the philosophical-anthropological assumption of Hobbes’s thought, Blumenberg also suggests that an understanding of status naturalis should derive from positing in the archaic “absolutism of reality” a “limit concept” to the historical. This redefinition of the state of nature resonates with the fictional plot of the Romanian novel: The Branişte villagers confront the unknowns of a rabies epidemic and its terror. In The Royal Hunt, the effects of Stalinism on the social body are only visible by means of having been transposed into a fictional scenario that explores the reactivation of archaic myths, the protective shield against a threatening other, the devastating disease. The overlap between the political plot against an enigmatic party member, Kalagherovich, and an existential narrative of the “plague,” is thus not accidental. It allows the reader to interpret the novel both as a form of resistance to socialist-realist literature and as an uncertain pairing of a literary vision of excess with concrete episodes in Romanian postwar history that were only properly meaningful in the context of Stalinism’s transnational adventure in the newly created Eastern Europe.

Ceauşescu’s Masquerade—At Home and Abroad D. R. Popescu’s novel is different from other anti-Stalinist novels in that it does not describe prison life or the labor camp. Without a first person narrative perspective, The Royal Hunt is “a novel of investigation” or, in the conceptual terminology suggested in this book, an interpretive narrative, “made up by scattered testimonies and composed as a mirror system, reflecting from various angles a historical time sequence.”65 The Royal Hunt does not have a character like Victor Petrini, the protagonist of Marin Preda’s Cel mai iubit dintre p΁mânteni (The Most Beloved of Earthmen, 1980); a Romanian Ludvik Jahn, Petrini is not only an honest Communist but an intellectual (a philosopher) dreaming of a new religion that “having originated in scientific discoveries, could set human beings free from their cosmic anxiety and from a world where an old God is no longer able to take away their frightening loneliness.”66 Marcel CornisPope, one of the few critics who has written about Eastern European

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fiction from the perspective of postmodern literary criticism, has noted the emergence of the 1970s political novel as a dominant genre in Romanian fiction, with a linear evolution from narratives based on “documentation and thesis” to symbolic narrative forms such as the parable or “political metaphysics.”67 These are all novels about 1950s Stalinism—also known as the “obsessive decade”—that present a specific model of the historical literary narrative: “In the absence of a dependable history of the immediate past, the novelist could take upon himself the tasks of the professional historian.”68 Popescu’s commentary on totalitarianism relies, however, on a narrative about the political history of Communism that is only meaningful if considered in the context of its political imaginary, organized by the novel around the mythological figure of the New Man. The text’s fundamental ambiguity towards authoritarian politics is also significant if we want to understand the novel’s interrogation of the political: The Royal Hunt belongs, in fact, to a political culture whose anti-Stalinist rhetoric is underscored by the tendency to reaffirm totalitarianism under the umbrella of nationalism and, more importantly, does not gesture any specific resistance to state Communism. Drawing its inspiration from North Korean dictatorship and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Romanian Communism constituted an ideological hybrid in which, in the aftermath of Soviet control, established a “Stalinism for all seasons”—to use Vladimir Tismaneanu’s phrase—that mediated successfully between isolationist nationalism and strategic internationalism. Ceauşescu’s simulated de-Stalinization of Romanian political apparatus was based on a denouncement of political purges in the 1950s, a premise that accompanied crucial ideological and political options such as “social and ethnic homogenization of the Romanian nation; the stress on industrialization; the party leader as symbol of monolithic unity; neutrality inside the world Communist movement; rhetoric of internal democracy.”69 The year 1968 is crucial for determining the future of Communist dictatorship in the guise of social reform. By “exposing Stalinist atrocities of the 1950s [in Romania], Ceauşescu fostered his own image of restorer of legality.”70 Revising history, Ceauşescu also laid the ground for his own contribution to creating a “new era” of socialist transition towards global Communism: A fundamental political myth reentered the political scene in different attire. On August 21, 1968, Ceauşescu personally directed the best political masquerade of his presidency: When [he] addressed a crowd of over 100000 people from the balcony of the Central Committee building in one of Bucharest’s main

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squares and angrily condemned the Warsaw Pact intervention a few hours after the invasion of Czechoslovakia which became a national-Communist legend, it was nothing but a masquerade but it worked. A power-mad neo-Stalinist leader without the slightest democratic inclinations succeeded overnight in awakening genuine popular enthusiasm and winning unlimited credit from a population that conceived that Romania would follow the line of liberalization . . . with the West.71 Dealing with the historical realities of the 1950s, Popescu’s text was not a real threat to the political status quo reaffirmed by the Romanian Communist Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ceauşescu’s antiSoviet stance, elaborated in relation to an argument for the “absolute sovereignty of the socialist states,”72 and his foreign policy, have legitimized the seemingly reformist character of his leadership in the eyes of most Romanians. It is important to mention here the visit to Bucharest of American President Richard Nixon on August 3, 1969, which contributed, at the time, not only to overall Cold War diplomacy games, but also to helping Ceauşescu build his international credentials: “At home and abroad,” writes Gabriel Fischer in 1972, “the Ceauşescu image has gradually changed from that of a ‘ruthless,’ ‘rigid,’ ‘defiant,’ ‘reserved,’ ‘suspicious,’ party hack to that of a ‘youthful and energetic,’ ‘courageous,’ ‘determined,’ ‘sincere,’ ‘self-secure,’ and ‘persevering and consistent’ leader.”73 At this particular moment, D. R. Popescu was not a political dissident but a high-ranking member of the Romanian Communist Party; when The Royal Hunt was published in 1981, he was actually elected president of the Romanian Writers’ Society. The Royal Hunt was released during a period of Communism when the Romanian public space remained a very monolithic social reality, and Popescu a representative of an intellectual group that maintained a safe relation to state power. This, in fact, reflects the novel’s intended ambiguity: Kalagherovich may be the victim of power struggle and a true/unrepentant Communist; he may also be an impostor, a former Party leader, who planned to get rid of his ambitious assistant but lost the game. In The Joke, creating a narrative voice and a subjective space belonging to the victim, Kundera gave the reader a sense of certainty manifested through the novel as a form of aesthetic reflection on political kitsch. In contrast, D. R. Popescu’s novel borders on uncertainty. When he finally appears in the village, Kalagherovich finds himself in the awkward position of defending his status as victim as Moses, one of the villagers from Braniste, accuses him of being an

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impostor and the master plotter of a scheme “to seize a lot of people in political positions, even Galatioan, [his] assistant [who ultimately replaces Kalagherovich] and throw them into a police van.”74 In their introduction, the novel’s translators Bogdan and Cottrell affirm, beyond doubt, that Kalagherovich is indeed the victim: “The procedures used to get at him [Kalagherovich] were the classic ones: He was accused of being the ‘agent of a foreign power’ to engage in ‘criminal activities’, one who has finally ‘proved’ to be a ‘deadly enemy of the new society.’”75 Their claim is only partially supported by the overall motif of the novel: the attempt to figure out the past, to shed some light over the social confusion of the 1950s, mirrored by mysterious events happening in a small village in southern Romania. A decade after these events, in an investigation to find out the truth about his father’s death, Ticu Dunaritzu designates Kalagherovich as the main target of the political intrigue. Not the only target, however, since “in doing away with Kalagherovich, before wiping him out” the repressive group “did something unimaginable: he did away with the witnesses” (RH 34). The arrest of a low-ranking member of the Communist Party on the basis of false testimony, suspicion, and the presumption of subversive activities, is a common event in the long narrative of political repression in Eastern European countries. But what is even more important here are not the typical show trial and the false confession that Kalagherovich is presumably forced to sign, but his attempt to save his friend, Horia Dunaritzu, by asking him to collaborate with the police: “The chain must be broken, he must say whatever he’s asked to” (RH 115). In other words, because there is no way out of this power game, everyone who wants to survive must play their role, must fulfill their duty to the party, must perform the “communist sacrifice.”76 We know that Horia Dunaritzu is willing to confront this ritual of power from his conversations with Moses, the villager who accuses Kalagherovich of being an impostor: “Let’s just take the words about the disease bringing death, and death cleaning up the earth . . .” “Yes, what about them?” “In your mouth they’re fine, in Kalagherovich’s you say they’re venomous.” “He was referring to us: that a disease should come and wipe us out! He also said that a disease had already come, a disease that was worse than a disease and . . .” “Stop, stop, Moses. What do you mean by ‘us’?”

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“What everybody means: us, we who strive to forge a new world.” “And Kalagherovich, what does he want? Why was he in prison?” “He was put in prison before the liberation of this country so that he could be pulled out and placed in a high position, saying that he had a good record. It’s one of the enemy’s methods, a red herring.” (RH 86) In the paragraph quoted above, the allegorical interpretation of the term “disease” establishes the frontier between those guilty of betraying Communist values and the true believers in the coming of the new world. In Kundera, the constitution of this internal political frontier discloses the mechanism of political targeting based on the Communist Party’s literal reading of Ludvik Jahn’s defamatory joke, which is founded—as Claude Lefort demonstrated—not on a state of utter lawlessness or illegality but on the perversion of the law that originated in the Stalinist power model. The inability of the Communist apparatchik to laugh is thus equivalent to an insistent desire to transform the revolution into a sacred, untouchable ideal—the very origin of Communist kitsch. Terry Eagleton sees the “pathological ‘overreading’” in Kundera’s fictional universe as proof of “a compulsive semiosis, which eradicates all contingency.”77 The (obsessive) desire for subtexts and the paranoid fear of being misunderstood constitute the two founding elements of Kundera’s fictional descriptions of the “daily hermeneutics of suspicion.”78 As the previous chapter argues, The Joke is a bitter examination of how, in this context of an all-encompassing suspicion, the Communist idyll became a farce and Communist subjectivity reduced itself to mere political games, enacting a grotesque theater of deception and power. The effect of the mechanics of repression is a culture of suspicion that takes over public as well as private life. Popescu approaches a similar theme: Sacrificing your name and your life to the Party becomes a moral duty.79 The sacrifice implies a “literary game”: False testimony (a written fictional confession) becomes the basis for the State’s right to fight its enemies, and “after hammering at you with their fists and questions, [they] always appealed to you as a Communist, in other words to your conscience as a Party member, as they told you to help them, for it was precisely your duty to help them crush their enemies” (RH 124).

Farewell to Realist Socialism D. R. Popescu’s novel exposes an interesting interpretative problem regarding the allegorical dimensions of the narrative: Is the imaginary rabies epidemic a political or an existential allegory about the security

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of the village community? Furthermore, if “allegory” is the proper rhetorical category to describe, via an intended narrative formula, the overlap between the various plot levels of this Eastern European novel, what is its significance in the context of the Cold War discourse’s impact on the global system of literary production? More concretely, how does a politically untranslatable writing paradigm (coined here as “Eastern European allegory”) enter a dialogue with postmodern American novels such as Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, whose allegorical tendency cannot be separated from its usage of free poetic strategies to gauge the Cold War panic in American democracy? Due to the tendency in allegory and parable “to keep secret in the act of making public,”80 allegory emerges as the key trope of an aesthetic space where literary narrative could gain some freedom from the constraints of the ideological. The literary production of the 1950s, under the name of socialist realism, a literary genre made-in-USSR, focused on the supreme overlap between ideological prescription and literary expression: “Literature had to mirror industrial labor, achievements in socialist agriculture . . . to penetrate the hot kernel of social reality, revealing in its ‘greatness’ and ‘complexity’ the activity of . . . the local Party organization.”81 This direct subordination of art to politics was simply a coverup form of political propaganda, whose main aim was not a strategy to legitimate Communism in a “democratic” public sphere. The function of this propagandistic style was rather to prove that the democratic idea can only find its legitimacy in the Communist myth of the “new man,” the hero of texts, such as Ion Calugaru’s Steel and Bread (1952) or Cezar Petrescu’s Men from Yesterday, Men from Today, Men from Tomorrow (1955). Realist socialism, the channel through which the “new man” emerges as the foundational political myths of global Communism, is one of the easy targets of The Royal Hunt’s modernist narrative. The narrator of this novel is Nicanor, a young boy in Braniste at the time of the rabies epidemic; he chronicles the villagers’ fanatic belief in the outbreak of a rabies epidemic as well as the actions of Miss Firulescu (the nurse) and Dr. Danila (the village doctor) in these circumstances. The story is, however, the result of a prism effect: Childhood memories are filtered by the adult consciousness without losing their innocence. The omniscient narrator of the realist fiction is substituted with Nicanor’s indiscreet gaze, filtered through the adult’s observations. A voyeur and a spy, the kid walks on stilts like circus people, “four meters above the ground” (RH 6). This literal panoramic narration is the effect of separation—the child’s own innocent play proves itself the novel’s only reliable testimony in a world that is corrupted by panic and indeterminacy, as

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well as by political tactics worthy of the Stalinist age. The naiveté of the story-telling act is similar to an important Hungarian novel of the period, Peter Nadas’s The End of a Family Story (1977), but in The Royal Hunt the fantasy degenerates into nightmarish-monstrous visions. During his long illness at the beginning of the novel, Nicanor experiences delirious episodes. His apocalyptic dreams correspond to the convulsions of the social body and its process of metamorphosis: “Men with heads of a man and a dog ate some more naked soldiers. I saw them eat a man with one mouth and with the other spit out the bones” (RH 16). More so, Nicanor’s nightmare evokes an image that explicitly refers to the “state of nature”: “The monsters weren’t dead creatures; I had apparently been in their world, in the land of the people who eat people” (RH 16). Nicanor’s nightmare is projected onto the village’s public (communitarian) space and consequently several hermeneutic paths derive from its prophetic role: “On one narrative level it is the story or log of the traumatic experiences of a boy who witnesses strange, dramatic occurrences in the life of his village; on a secondary level it is a caustic judgment on social and political realities; but at its deepest level of meaning is a penetrating exploration in the psychology of terror and a mythic projection of its dehumanizing effect on individuals and entire communities.”82 As all the other novels of Popescu’s epic cycle (written from 1969 to 1976), The Royal Hunt witnesses the effect of postwar political turmoil—the transition to socialism—on a small rural community in the south of Romania, right on the banks of the Danube. Perhaps the true allegorical dimension of this novel relates to its effort to figure out the historical process that affects the village. The novel lacks the figure of the wise peasant, an Ilie Moromote (the protagonist of Marin Preda’s Moromeţii), who debates political issues with fellow villagers. Braniste appears in D. R. Popescu’s writing as a self-sustained world, as a monadic structure. At the same time, the events in the village function as a distorted mirror for the “obsessive decade.” Romanian literary critics have noticed that D. R. Popescu’s representation of postwar rural life lacks the stability of realist descriptions, “a coherent world, ordered by biological or social laws verified by tradition.”83 If we can speak of a modernist literary expression developed in The Royal Hunt, it is constituted by “the adequate modality to enter a confused, unbalanced world, where the old values have been destroyed; in a universe turned upside down, the signs of dislocation are actualized by a suspension of values.”84 In the case of Popescu’s novel, the political intrigue surrounding the Kalagherovich case illustrates this point. Whereas the apocalyptic vision presented here has little to do with nuclear holocaust, or with

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any other images (religious or secular) of global destruction, the mass panic described is an example of a social hysteria that could potentially take over any community threatened by plague and potential extinction. It is in this newly open interpretative matrix that The Royal Hunt proposes a secondary political meaning that relates the historical dead end of Communist mythology to the security (i.e., the “condition of being protected from or not exposed to danger,” OED) of a small village community. In this context, the political question addressed by this novel is linked to the anthropological dimensions of Popescu’s narrative. At a conceptual level, the allegorical formula created by The Royal Hunt allows the rethinking of political myth within the larger context of “an archaic division of powers” theorized by Hans Blumenberg: If one turns from the professionally . . . depicted terrors of the present, and all the more of the future, to the past and to its past [die Vorvergangenheit—the pluperfect], one encounters the necessity of picturing an initial situation that serves the purpose of the old status naturalis [state of nature] of philosophical theories of culture and the state. This concept of the limit toward which the extrapolation of tangible, historical features into the archaic can be formally defined: as the absolutism of reality. What it means is that man came close to not having control of the conditions of his existence and, what is more important, believed that he simply lacked control of them.85 In order to draw attention to the political implications of his theory, Blumenberg mentions a literary text, Auf den Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs, 1939). Noting that Ernst Jünger “laid out his allusions to the events of the time [Nazism] in a mythical scenery,”86 Blumenberg reads the novel as modern allegory about the rise to power of Nazism. We can adapt this reading pattern to Popescu’s The Royal Hunt: “Everything that man gained in the way of dominion over reality, through the experience of history and finally through knowledge, could not remove the danger of sinking back . . . into archaic resignation.”87 In The Royal Hunt, however, it is not only the experience of history that is at stake, but the political mythology that enables the break with the linear progression of history. Popescu suggests that, in spite of the powerful significance (Bedeutsamkeit) of the myth accompanying the social transformation that occurred after the war, authentic Communism turned into terror during a process of metamorphosis similar to the brutal dehumanization of a traditional community facing a mortal danger. As Blumenberg noticed, in relation to Jünger’s

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novel, the archaic absolutism of reality becomes in these political allegories “a late, artificial absolutism.”88 The excessive visions of Popescu’s fiction are created by naturalistic descriptions as well as by the mythical displacement of realist prose.89 Everything happening in the novel appears to have been the effect of a preexistent mythical scenario. For instance, the villagers consider the rabies epidemic as a “direct effect of breaking a ritualistic interdiction against hunting on a particular day of the year.”90 The novel opens with Nicanor’s first discovery of the traditional narrative of the “royal hunt,” an ironic metaphor referring to the villagers’ fantasy, their desire to conduct a ritual based on the old principles of political sovereignty—the king can break the ban against hunting because he is king: “Today is the day when, in the good old days, the king used to come here to hunt. That is to say, the king came only once. And since then, every year on this day people go hunting.” “Why?” I didn’t understand. “Because on this day hunting is forbidden.” “And then it wasn’t forbidden.” “It was, but the king broke the law, and he had the right to do it because he was a king.” “And so they have the right?” “They don’t, but they break the law because they want to feel like kings. And on this day they are kings,” said Lereu. “So, those guys are enjoying themselves like the kings and the emperors of the whole world.” (RH 7) This image of the masters (men) and slaves (dogs/beasts) is at the center of Popescu’s symbolic story: The drunken “sovereigns” of the modern village are happy playing their fictional game. All the dogs are named after kings and emperors; the only link between the isolated village universe and History is thus reduced to a couple of names: “Longbarrel had christened his mastiff Caesar; Cowskinner, Mussolini; Pecker had dubbed his Franz Joseph” (RH 17). And the list continues with other names, from Richard to Joseph (Stalin) and from Napoleon to Hitler. The comic effect of this allegorical image is all the more powerful as Nicanor sees the hunters as they “swaggered along like children” (RH 17), engaging in this rhetorical game as though it allowed them to “feel above history” (RH17). As an adult, Nicanor realizes the farcical character of the villagers’ “royal hunt,” their compromised relation with history, the lamentable attitude of sealing their fate to the political climate of the era. In his reflections about this scene, he exposes the lie of this community game and its

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political underside—the relation of power is not between men and beasts with funny names but between Galatioan, the Communist county leader and Kalagherovich’s former assistant—and the villagers: History was more horrifying than just a few dogs with lofty names, whom they could love and whose fur they could caress, or whom they could get to go after rabbits or foxes, or purely and simply whom they could kill if need be. I’ll never forget how in the middle of all the hunters was (the only one on horseback) Galatioan, who had moved from Campuletz several years before. He was the only one without a dog, and precisely of that, it seemed to me that he was haughtier than all the other hunters; in any case, he had a glint in his eye, as if all the hunters were really his dogs. (RH 18) When the hunters return to Braniste, they are all drunk, looking like “a victorious and exhausted army.”91 This Dionysian scene is a typical one in the literature of the Balkans, from the prose fiction of Miodrag Bulatovich to that of Borisav Stanković, drawing its energy from the orgiastic spectacle. The mythological scenario organizes Popescu’s poetic description: As the drunken hunters are taken over by panic, their play turns violent. When Lereu screams to the others that Pecker’s dog is rabid, the hunters load their guns. According to Nicanor, “all the rifles seemed to go off at the same time and the dog died without even hearing anything” (RH 19). Franz Joseph is the dog executed; this is only the beginning, though, as they “hit seven other dogs on the head with clubs and axes, dogs with hanging jaws who were miserable and hoarse, and who had run away from home” (RH 30). According to Nicolae Manolescu, the men kill the dogs to reestablish the old order, the hierarchy between masters and slaves, to feel again above history. Within the allegorical format of this novel, textual ambiguity is intensified by ambivalent meanings: “The rabies epidemic is and is not rabies: it is described as a dog’s illness, but also as a human psychosis; the killing of Franz Joseph originated in the panic moment of the drunkards, announcing, at the same time, the village’s entry into a season of terror and suspicion.”92 The collapse of the realist narrative is obvious from the outset. In its ruins, therefore, emerges a poetics of political myth. The Royal Hunt’s characters have become, in Manolescu’s interpretation, “empty signs, lacking psychology and being able to carry any name or mask, however absurd they may be.”93 There is one element that needs to be added to this reading, the naturalistic quality of Popescu’s writing and its significance to the overall question of political allegory.

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Right after Nicanor’s account of the violent execution of stray dogs, a descriptive passage draws the attention to a specific milieu: The summer heat came early, heavy, unbearable, without a breath of wind and without any rainy skies. The flies multiplied and it began to stink in the backyards from the garbage that wasn’t burned in the fall or taken to the fields in the spring. Leaves that had barely come out in the morning would droop around noon, and the leaves on the pumpkins and the sorrel would melt like wax and flop down on the ground as if they wanted to die. Dogs kept on leash in shady places were forever shuffling around the water put out in pans for them to drink, and barking and snapping at the flies that swarmed around them as if they were dead. Or maybe they indeed smelled like the dead; the Unseen was at work inside of them, as Lereu said. (RH 20) The villagers are absent from the scene; the village itself seems empty or simply paralyzed. The summer is an overwhelming presence that negates the forces and energies of life. Nothing moves, unless to fall to the ground and disintegrate. This is precisely the metaphorical sense in which the paragraph is developed, from the literal immobility of nature to the poetic suggestion of the “intention” to disappear by melting into the earth. In the second half of the paragraph, the silence is broken: Dogs on leashes are fighting the heat demon and the swarming flies. If death does not appear as such in this world and does not take a symbolic mask, it is because as an unseen spirit it can only be identified by smell, the smell of a body laying around under the torrid sun for too long. In Chapter 6, a similar scene describes the literal bodily decomposition of an executed animal: “The dog remained where he had fallen, and the next day the stench got into him, and the flies swarmed all over him, sticky things as they are, especially the great big green ones crowded around to suck out the dead sap from him; the red blood around his forehead turned yellow, like a crown, where death had entered into him” (RH 63). The Royal Hunt brings forward a rare fascination with death, not the personified image of a dark underworld, but the destruction of organic life that has taken, in Popescu’s writing, an aesthetic dimension, albeit a negative one. In Deleuze’s view, “naturalism could only grasp the negative effects of time: attrition, degradation, wastage, destruction, loss, or simply oblivion.”94 This image corresponds, on the one hand, to the psychological havoc created by the “story” of the rabies epidemic and by one of the villagers (Pecker) coincidentally showing symptoms of an incurable disease—which is believed to be rabies—during his daughter’s

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wedding. On the other hand, this grotesque and detailed description of the dead animal’s body devoured by worms and “greedy flies” (RH 62) reflects the surrealist moments of Nicanor’s nightmares. In order to create an existential or metaphysical side of the allegory that supplements its political meaning, the text gives way to a poetics of degeneration. The narrative starts with the impulsive act of the villagers and lingers on describing the marks given by death to the physical body. The villagers “saw death itself, how it came and settled forever in the living flesh” (RH 23). Popescu’s naturalism suggests the blurring of the boundaries between the human and the animal reign, on the one hand, and between life (milieu) and death (the unseen demon), on the other. In this sense, dehumanization is, in fact, the response to this symbolic traversal of boundaries: The men respond to their instinctive energy simply because they feel they have become too close to a beast-like way of life.95 Nicanor’s visions are not simply a means to prove the kid’s reaction to the events in Braniste, but the true image of a community devoured by its own fear. Initially, the villagers act out of fear, but soon it became obvious to them that “catching dogs was a kind of game, a sort of joke of hunt” (RH 22). They all become involved in this simulacrum. On the one hand, fighting the “rabies” means defending the village from death: “Barking meant not only becoming animal, losing all one’s human qualities inside the outer shell of a man, no, in falling from the ranks of the human you didn’t just fall into the ranks of the animal, you fell into death” (RH 62). On the other hand, these operations to secure the village community are the effect of terror, and the villagers, victims of their own fear, cannot find an easy way of protection and care—not even in archaic superstition and remedies given by Sevastitza or in the efficient animal control program organized by Miss Firulescu, the overzealous socialist activist. The villagers’ confrontation with the rabies epidemic cannot be perceived as only the effect of irrational acts. On the contrary, the community finds itself in a particular situation of power. Miss Florentine Firulescu, the nurse, takes advantage of the situation and runs the operation—she becomes the necessary authority figure in times of crisis, the efficient citizen of the socialist village acting against the contamination of the human masters by the virus of the beast slaves: “But before I [Dr. Danila] came to the village, you had already killed a pile of curs and declared rabies. . . . You all, the village, you yourself [Miss Firulescu].” “They’ll say of every dog who is dizzy from starvation, and who can’t stand on his feet, and who barks with a voice that’s altered

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by not eating, that he’s afflicted with rabies. And it suited me to say yes. That way . . . we get rid of a lot of stray dogs fast, and at the same time we gave people the chance to have an extra mouthful of corn pudding on the table, and not to share it with the damn curs who were of no good anyway, because there wasn’t any reason for them to be protected by dogs; nobody can steal anything from them, they’re as poor as their own curs.” (RH 81) The Royal Hunt describes the fight against an epidemic that can reduce man to beast, against an incurable disease (a form of death worse than death) that symbolically represents the loss of human reason. This situation is thus different from the typical narrative of the confrontation with a deadly epidemic (for instance, Albert Camus’s The Plague) and the existential horizon of its allegorical meaning. In his essay “Panopticism,” Michel Foucault has addressed the political significance of this typical narrative of survival in times of deadly epidemic: The security of the community (and its survival) is grounded in the special disciplinary mechanism that is enforced. The town becomes a “segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.”96 The community reorganizes itself in the event of an emergency and ensures that its members conform to this new logic of power. The epidemic is not simply a disease affecting one individual, but a threat to the community as a whole. The space for social interaction, either private or public, is thus paralyzed. According to Foucault, the “plague is met by order; its function is to sort out every possible confusion: that of disease, which is transmitted when bodies are mixed together; that of the evil, which is increased when fear and death overcome prohibition.”97 The scenario described by D. R. Popescu is an allegorical version of the “panopticism” scenario, hence an ambiguous articulation of political and existential meanings. At the same time, the case study of Foucault’s text (“the order published at the end of the seventeenth century [and] the measures to be taken when the plague appeared in a town”98) functions in a different context. Popescu’s fictional rabies epidemic constitutes a disease that may simply be a projection of the impulsive reaction of the drunken hunters or the effect of the oppressive atmosphere of the milieu (the heat and the drought on the one hand, the extreme poverty of the village on the other). In this situation there is no clear disciplinary mechanism being enforced and, at the same time, the fiction of the festival surrounding the events told in The Royal Hunt cannot be a celebratory ritual, a time of “suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the frenzy

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of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect . . . individuals unmasked, abandoning their statutory identity and the figure under which they had been recognized,”99 but a masquerade of cruelty, fear and death. In Dr. Danila’s words “the whole village is a kind of carnival; they kill their own cattle, set fire to dogs, they’re having fun” (RH 82). In this “panopticist” world, the disciplinary mechanism simply means that the villagers tacitly accept their doom and take part in the destruction of their own world. The only direct exercise of surveillance performed here belongs to the narrative act. In The Royal Hunt, the panopticon is no longer the place that “induces in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.”100 Surveillance/spying becomes child’s play, the only position outside the mechanism of power: “I had started to walk around on stilts,” Nicanor confesses, “because of the mud and because some circus people on stilts had passed through our village and I was astounded that they could be so far from the ground and far above us, all of us whose jaws dropped at the sight of the ribbons they pulled out of their noses and ears” (RH 6). Through Nicanor’s curiosity, and mostly through his literal detachment from the villagers’ cruel game of masks, we get access to the inner transformations that occur in Braniste, the horrific details, to paraphrase Manolescu, of the birth of a monstrous species, the human animal as well as the Communist bureaucrat. The young Dr. Danila, who has a crush on Miss Firulescu, believes he can use the fiction of “the rabies epidemic” to his advantage, making the villagers see him as an important man who puts the interests of the community before anything else. At the same time, he is curious to see what social and political practices are exposed by the emergency situation. He gives up on his attempt to present a rational/scientific alternative to the villagers’ beliefs only because he discovers in this circumstance a political truth: People in Braniste fear the party leader, Galatioan, more than they fear their own death, as they agree to kill all the dogs but spare only the one who belongs to Galatioan’s parents. The political thriller becomes a mythological farce when a villager (Pecker) shows the symptoms of a rabies contamination. From now on, the villagers fall into a mystical crisis; they turn to the forgotten world of traditional remedies to ward off the evils of the disease they all think is a threat to their individual lives and their communal existence. Witchcraft becomes an alternative solution to the efficient measures Miss Firulescu and Dr. Danila try to take in order to ensure everyone’s safety. Pecker’s daughter, for instance, “believed so strongly that a dog had bitten her, and that only by cutting the evil gathered under the tongue could be saved”

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(RH 70). Sevastitza, the village witch, represents the force of archaic powers; her influence in the community increases during the community’s desperate attempt to re-enchant the world, to order communal life according to traditional symbolic structures. Sevastitza’s most surprising intervention in the order of the village world occurs towards the end of the novel, when she “changed everyone’s name, to protect them from the rabies demon . . . so that the evil spirit wouldn’t be able to find them and stick to them” (RH 113). In The Royal Hunt, superstition corresponds to the political beliefs vehemently expressed in connection to the Kalagherovich case. The “new woman” of the socialist village, Ms. Firulescu, needs to compromise with the old regime of knowledge based on a systematic ritual practice. According to Gail Kligman, the ritual is a “dramatic form of symbolic action that articulates the relationship between a symbolically constructed order of meanings and a system of interpersonal and institutional relationships.”101 In her anthropological study about lifecycle rituals in Maramures, a region in the northern part of Romania, Kligman describes the Communist attempt to alter this world of the past, to modernize it according to Marxist-Leninist principles. Building the socialist state requires the construction of the new man: “As you can see, we have had an easy time constructing factories. But it is incumbent on us to transform man at the same rate so that he will be capable of mastering new techniques . . . and new ways of thinking.”102 At the end of the novel, the villagers, in collaboration with Miss Firulescu, attempt to “burn everything there that was full of worms and hunt everything that was afflicted with the disease, to clean out the area and leave the forest as virgin as before” (RH 160). After Danila has found out that Kalagherovich was “sold out” again—this time, for being “infected” with rabies—and was taken to an asylum, he becomes the target of the hunters’ panic. This final episode of the novel confirms the initial hypothesis that the social hysteria triggered by the imaginary disease and the mystical crisis is the metaphorical reflection of the true political disease, Stalinism. In Horia Dunaritzu’s words, “Kalagherovich was referring to a true disease, that truly exists . . . [he] didn’t invent the disease, it exists, but people don’t see it out of fear, and they say it doesn’t exist. It does exist, and because of it, Kalagherovich is now in prison” (RH 92). The allegorical exploration of the socio-political effects of a Romanian village’s confrontation with “a phantom that walked around day and night where you least expect it” (RH 136), a metaphorical description of the rabies epidemic and the terror it produced, reminds us of the

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Phantom in Robert Coover’s The Public Burning. In the American novel, the Phantom stands for a clear political entity, the Soviet Union, ironically described as an elusive and unpredictable enemy, corresponding to a political reality closed in by the mystifying power of the Iron Curtain. Crossing this frontier that separates Uncle Sam’s America from Eastern Europe, as well as American postmodernism from Romanian mythological realism and its naturalist undertones, the allegorical display opens up political as well as existential meanings that mirror each other. The study of this continuous reflection or distortion of meaning specific in D. R. Popescu or Robert Coover can give us surprising insights about American postmodernism’s own allegorical quarrels with Uncle Sam. The Royal Hunt is not excessive in its cultural or literary proportions, but in the poetic image it aims to construct—it does not have the encyclopedic or systemic composition structure of postmodern novels such as The Public Burning or Fuentes’s Terra Nostra, but projects a spectacle in which “everything is mixed together . . . in a macabre vision of the birth of a new and horrifying species.”103 Coover has famously stated in an interview that writing The Public Burning was like “striving for a text that would seem to have been written by the whole nation through all its history.”104 This narrative desire for a macroscopic view of events, a view that embodies the totality of national history, the totality of collective identity, in novelistic language, is partially fulfilled by situating the plot in the political arena. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are going to be executed as “atomic spies”—their story is a political dilemma for a fictional Vice President Richard Nixon, who becomes one of the main narrative voices, leading the reader through the maze of the American power system and its theological underside, the invisible transcendent space where resides an authoritarian Uncle Sam, part political cartoon, part a substitute father. In LeClair’s words, “this loyalty to dense and large wholes, to compositions that orchestrate, makes The Public Burning and other systems novels massive but not necessarily monuments of cultural permanence.”105 The political stakes of Coover’s excessive poetics, of his postmodern masquerade, is accomplished by an elaborate “systext”—LeClair’s term—of the Menippean satire and by an obscene allegory whose vision ends in a show-biz execution ceremony and in Dick Nixon being sodomized by a mythical Uncle Sam. Represented as the rhetorical space of an obsessive fantasy of political betrayal, the Cold War appears as a conflict between unpredictable enemies and, at the same time, as a complex rhetorical machinery of deception; in the words of Hungarian writer and sociologist György Konrád: “Each of the two world heavy-weight champions would like to

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show he is the strongest in the world; they are playing a game with each other whose paraphernalia include nuclear missiles.”106 The Royal Hunt does not center on this (or any) particular image of the Cold War, but on a frontier separating the socialist world from its absolute other and from its proper national-historical identity. This negative tension at the heart of Communism is translated into the obsessive fascination with the “betrayal” of the people whereas the ordinary village is pressured to embrace the modern myth of the New Man in Stalinist Romania and suffer through the ordeal of a global modernization path dictated by the Soviet ideology of social justice. While Popescu’s literary reflection on Communism certainly lends itself to a global perspective, in more ambiguous terms than Coover’s text, its symbolic narrative about Stalinism should be read as universal fable about any mass turned totalitarian, blinded by ideology (the corruptive disease), and manipulated by fear. If, in The Royal Hunt, the people of the socialist village, the builders of the New World, appear as a barbaric, fanatic, and criminal mob, it is not because we encounter here the familiar stereotype of the mad, unruly, and irrational crowd, but because the novel projects the literary image of any social group that, feeling disconnected from society and uprooted from the world, engages in a destructive biopolitical project in the name of universal progress. Popescu’s portrayal of this wretched people could thus be more frighteningly truthful than Coover’s artificially constructed image of America, called upon by Uncle Sam in Times Square to enjoy the ritual execution of two American Communists, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

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All Power to the Networks! Logic is of course unshakable, but it cannot hold out against a man who wants to live. —kafka, The Trial Concentration camps and mass persecution make it hard for writers to deploy their favorite weapon: irony. How can you be ironic in the face of so tragic a subject? —kiš, Homo Poeticus

The Universal Infamy of History—Danilo Kiš’s A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, a Postmodern Book of the Dead The philosophical interrogation of the political amounts to theoretical narratives that typically look at modern society through the lens of paradigmatic cases: democracy in Europe and America as forms of the postmetaphysical (i.e., properly historical) society but also Soviet totalitarianism as a concerted political and ideological effort to solve the paradoxes of democracy. In the final chapter of his book Complications: Communism and the Dilemmas of Democracy, Claude Lefort describes Soviet Communism as a phenomenon intricately related to political globalization; given the “sudden decomposition of the regime,”1 and the post-Cold War expansion of both capitalism and the ideologies of the free market, the globalist significance of the Communist movement is often overlooked. “The Communist enterprise is indeed illuminated, writes Lefort, by resituating it within the framework of what one today calls globalization.”2 At the same time, describing the relation that Communism has had to the formation of world-space, Lefort’s argument turns to the core claim of his democratic theory as outlined in several essays among which “The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism” (1979). As the disincorporation of the European body politic unfolds and the political-theology of the King’s Two Bodies structure enters the path to secularization, what “emerges is the image of the people which . . . remains indeterminate, but which nonetheless is susceptible of being determined, of being actualized at the level of phantasy as an image of the People-as-One.”3 The alluring image of a society without

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divisions becomes legible, however, in terms of ideological resources provided by the historical process of globalization. The single global space emerges at the end of the nineteenth century as an alternative horizon to the Eurocentric world picture pieced together by imperialist expansions, the legal doctrine of the jus public Europaeum and the post-Enlightenment ideology of progressive modernization for all of humanity.4 Within this horizon of globalization, the semantics of social unification and homogeneity on a planetary scale became ideological conditions of possibility for the Communist movement: It is rarely observed that the formation of a single world-space provided the resources to conceive beyond different cultures, political systems, and inequalities in development, a single social state; a total mastery of human relations under the name of the One; an abolition of divisions that, no matter their manifestations, had always implied an experience of the Other; and, lastly, a system in which the positions of dominating and dominated would be eliminated.5 World War I, the historical circumstance through which the Communist movement found a political body in the Soviet regime, accelerated the process that refers “not only [to] an interdependence of European nations but [also to] the unification of the globe—the constitution of a worldspace.”6 Whereas Lefort focuses exclusively on the “Communist event,” we are primarily interested here in the relationship between world-space and the global Cold War’s discursive approaches to Communism and democracy. Our hypothesis suggests that the fantasy of the People-asOne produces a matrix of power that rests not only on overcoming the indeterminacy of the democratic—the disembodied social form—but also on obscuring the paradoxical identity of world-space: finite and unified, on the one hand, transfinite and fragmented, on the other. One aspect of the mastery of world-space that is particularly relevant in the context of the Cold War refers to forms of social organization, political propaganda, security practices and military tactics that can be subsumed under the category of the network. We take cue in pursuing this argument from Bruno Latour’s point about “the conceptual aspect of network”; that is to say, “this notion [has been] useful long before it gained its new incarnation in real life-size nets, webs, and Gaia-like planets (like Earth or Pandora)”:7 What I have always found great in the metaphor of the net—writes Latour—is that it is then easy to insist on its fragility, the empty

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spot it leaves around (a net is made first of all of empty space), the subversion it introduces in the notion of distance (the adjectives “close” and “far” are made dependant on the presence of conduits, bridges, and hubs), but above all, what it does with universality: the area “covered” by any network is “universal” but just as long and just where there are enough antennas, relays, repeaters, and so on, to sustain the activation of any work. Thanks to the notion of networks, universality is now fully localizable. In network, it’s the work that is becoming foregrounded, and this is why some suggest using the word worknet instead.8 We can apply this conception of network to the Stalinist terror’s capacity to extend its reach, through its extensive police apparatus, beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. The universality of the Communist revolution is fully localizable in the police work to piece together a potentially infinite web of fictional stories that link innocent individuals in a transnational narrative that claims to expose acts of betrayal and secret collaborations with the enemies of the working class. On the one hand, this immense archive of guilt, deception, and tragic farce constitutes the text through which the perversion of law is given the semblance of legitimate justice. On the other, through this immense bureaucratic work to secure the People’s democracy, a notion of social connectivity emerges: In a universe wherein law, knowledge, and power are in relation of identity, everyone is potentially connected. There is only one position of exception, however, to this logic of the social network of terror; Stalin is the element in the chain not linked to all the others, an element inside and outside the network at the same time. As in the previous chapters, two literary texts will guide my investigation of this problematic. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (1977) by the Yugoslavian writer Danilo Kiš explores the way networks of power and domination operate in the Communist international movement under Stalin. This institutionalized practice of linking fabricated narratives of secret conspiracy against the Soviet social project at home and abroad, parallels the frail network structure of international Communism. At the same time, the fact that the global expansion of Communism was, in fact, a matter of ideology as much as of creating political networks appeared in Cold War American discourse as the evidence for containment by all available means: ideological (propaganda and cultural diplomacy), financial (aid), military (direct engagement of Soviet-sponsored regimes) and clandestine (by means of covert intelligence operations). In his novel Libra—a fictional biography of Lee Harvey Oswald—Don

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DeLillo imagines the secret power networks that emerge in the Cold War context as the US creates a pattern of political and military interventions as platform for world modernization under the banner of liberty—that is, in the name of universal political rights on the one hand and a free market, on the other. In A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (1977) the Serbian writer Danilo Kiš has written one of the most scathing novelistic accounts of the selfdestructive character of Soviet Communism, focusing on the demise of the Comintern.9 The novel has a simple premise: Literary imagination takes on the challenging ethical and political task of presenting the archetypal scenarios, which show the Communist party’s suicide.10 Kiš does not only deal with the mystification of political ideas per se, but with the Stalinist “counterrevolution.”11 The literary narrative links the international Communist movement to the totalitarian destiny of the Soviet regime. At the same time, the book addresses the political culture of the Cold War, in that it offers an implicit critique of pro-Soviet Western intellectuals who failed to speak out against the Stalinist Gulag. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich is not, however, an epic depiction of revolutionary terror, but a speculative literary fiction, which draws on documentary sources, in order to envision the political mythology of sovereignty. Kiš conveys, through his web of stories, the repressive means by which the Soviet regime operates as center of power within the transnational network of the Comintern: It was not only inside the Soviet Union that Communism had to expand in order to fulfill its promise of social justice for all. . . . The main purpose of his revolution had been to prepare the ground for other revolutions to come; first, in the developed countries of Europe and then, as their social conditions allowed for it, in the colonial territories. In order to assist and promote such revolutions the Bolsheviks in 1919 set up the Communist International, or Comintern, a worldwide organization. Lenin’s aim for the Comintern was also to help “Bolshevize” the main socialist parties.12 From the very beginning, Soviet transnational politics was monolithic in nature as it showed totalitarian impulses in ideology and policy. According to Kiš’s novel, Stalinism enacts an imagination of power that reaches beyond national-state borders; it also founds a political apparatus, in which, as mentioned above, one position only in the system is secure against potential conspiracies, against suspicious foreigners who

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can always turn against the world proletariat revolution and the political mission of the Third International. If Stalin is the one who cannot be targeted by the legal fiction legitimating his regime, this conception of sovereignty suggested by Kiš’s book provides a hypothetical framework to understand what feeds the Party’s appetite for imagined conspiracies against the Soviet state: not only the pseudo-theological logic of selfsacrifice, but also the existential insecurity of the Communist movement, its uncertain path in the struggle to abolish all inequalities and deliver on its promise of global emancipation. According to Slavoj Žižek, “what characterizes [the] Stalinist movement . . . is the inherent tension between the new nomenklatura and the Leader who is driven to repeated ‘irrational’ purges, so that the nomenklatura is unable to stabilize itself as a New Class: the self-enhancing . . . cycle of Terror potentially involves everyone, not only the entire ‘ordinary’ population but also the highest nomenklatura—everyone (with the exception of the One, Stalin himself) was under permanent threat of liquidation.”13 Totalitarian states have gone so far as to rewrite the entire social contract based on the belief that they are in a permanent state of insecurity. According to Arendt, this political view is based on the “assumption that everything is possible”—that is, on the absolute right of preemptive “justice” that leads “through consistent elimination of all factual restraints to the absurd and terrible consequence that every crime the rulers must conceive of must be punished, regardless of whether or not it has been committed.”14 Possible crimes, in turn, are not only subject to punishment but also to a moral ordeal, evidenced by written confessions of innocent political prisoners documenting terror through their lies. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich is a book about the responsibility of literature, about the role of the writer who becomes contemporary by dealing with “the infamy of history.” According to Kiš, the writer’s freedom to speak against the constraints of reality does not provide literature with an intrinsic redemptive quality, since the freedom of writing can also be a source of infamy.15 More specifically, one of Kiš’s texts, published in a collection entitled The Encyclopedia of the Dead is the story behind the creation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Following Norman Cohn’s famous historical analysis of this topic in Warrant for Genocide, Kiš’s “The Book of Kings and Fools” “chronicle[s] the work’s insane impact on generations of readers and its tragic consequences.”16 The text thus gives us two stories: the one that viciously pretended to tell the truth of the Jewish conspiracy, and another one that simply relates the impact of the first: “I wanted to use a historically documented and more or less familiar case to cast doubt on the commonly accepted notion that books

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serve only good causes. In point of fact, sacred books, and the canonized works of master thinkers, are like a snake’s venom: they are a source of morality and iniquity, grace and transgression. ‘Books in a quantity are not dangerous; a single book is.’”17 According to Svetlana Boym, “the history of the making of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been translated into fifty languages, demonstrates how a certain archetypal plot travels from medieval demonology to gothic fictions, then to the classical nineteenth-century novel, and finally to rightwing popular culture.”18 In presenting the narrative structure of a conspiratorial myth realized in its negative reversal—the Jewish plot appears as such only as the central trope of European anti-Semitism—Kiš develops indeed an ethics of writing. In A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, his narrative target is not the devastating power of one single book, the effects of the blind belief in the story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (renamed as The Conspiracy) but the production system of conspiracy, whose fiction of social justice perverts the rule of law.19

Borges, Kafka, and the Counterbook Among Kiš’s American critics, Jonathan Brent has been most vocal in questioning Kiš’s poetic methodology: Kiš fuses political and ethical analysis with the demands of a highly self-conscious literary form in which Kiš becomes an actor in the stories. As historian painstakingly reconstructing historical truth from archival documents, Kiš defines himself by the ironic detachment of one for whom the subject has already become history. Yet in 1976, as an Eastern European living within the orbit of the Soviet Empire, Kiš was not at all free of his material. The archives in which he might have conducted his research were not opened for study, and the history of which the Comintern formed a part was by no means completed.20 As the author of this critique, Jonathan Brent is not an ordinary American writer experiencing the end of Soviet totalitarianism but the executive editor of the extensive book series, Annals of Communism, published by Yale.21 What Brent considers “unthinkable” for 1976, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, has become the reality of 1994; the crimes of Communism can be properly documented in books such as The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939 and Enemies within the Gates: The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression. While Brent’s critique of Kiš is justified from the perspective

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of scholars studying Soviet history, we need to shift the focus of the analysis from the biographical-historical context to the actual practice of literary writing in order to speak of a literary response to Stalinism, derived from a much needed reevaluation of our relationship to the past, to the burden of memory and the silence of history. Perhaps the truth of the historical archive is less important in this case than the process through which marginal evidence, insignificant historical fact, becomes the source for literature, the illuminating structure of a secret history, which cannot be told by historians, but needs to be imagined by writers. The prophetic urgency of A Tomb for Boris Davidovich underscores the meaningful engagement with a forbidden history, Kiš’s path to writing under the pressure of the political. In using a documentary method, Kiš remains faithful to the literary, which may perhaps involve a necessary betrayal of historical/scientific methodology. As Branko Gorjup noted, the use of historical documentation denotes “Kiš’s fear of the arbitrary nature of the imagination [and] if used properly a document can objectify a text and provide it with the necessary dose of irony.”22 At the same time, as it becomes instrumental in limiting the author’s “lyrical impulse,” this writing method is paradoxical, in that it is both “a device to authenticate the subject as it was to create an illusion of its authenticity.”23 Kiš’s book is a compilation of seven thematically related stories or biographies; six of which make up the geography of the Stalinist terror, while a seventh one (Dogs and Books) is about the persecution of the Jewish population in the Middle Ages—a “counterpoint to the time of Stalin, [the goal of the story is] to show the infamy’s universality, to indicate temporal and spatial analogies, and to emphasize the cyclical nature of history.”24 In terms of their poetic composition, these fictional biographies directly derive from their historical referent; the conversion of historico-biographical document into literary fiction is thus the main poetic strategy used by Danilo Kiš to tell “the story” of the Stalinist Gulag. Kiš uses a narrative formula that Borges created in his early collection of texts entitled The Universal History of Infamy (alternative title in English, The Universal History of Iniquity). Gorjup calls this narrative technique, “spotlighting”: Kiš “foregrounds a number of individuals from those millions who had died in Stalin’s camps—hence the theme of ‘one common destiny’.”25 While this is a convincing interpretation, I am reluctant to see Kiš’s novel as fulfilling a symbolic form derived from classical metaphysics of reflection: “History, the large, amorphous, faceless mass that had swallowed those individuals, becomes, through each one of them, internalized and personalized.”26 If I strongly object to this claim, it is because this new notion of personified “History” ultimately obscures

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the ethical stakes of Kiš’s narratives. Even if these characters are unified by “common destiny,” they are also singularized by a personal encounter with the repressive political organization. Whereas these encounters are the result of the terror network, they are also derived from a complex game of chance that no Law of History can fully master. The storyteller concentrates on the presentation of a narrative logic that creates relations among the various protagonists of the book: Micksat Hantescu, Gould Verschoyle, A. L. Chelyustnikov, Karl Georgevich Taube, Boris Davidovich Novsky, and his fourteenth-century double, Baruch David Neumann. On the one hand, these six characters function as paradigmatic figures belonging to an unwritten history text; on the other, they become problematic figures of “representation.” What do these stories prove, what kind of evidence do they bring to literature? Does this novel attempt to give (as a gift) a resting place to the dead in its very pages by commemorating their flashing movement through the world? Finally, is there a universal dimension to by this prophetic narrative traversing of death and conspiracy? In order to answer these questions, it may be useful to mention beforehand that A Tomb for Boris Davidovich’s publication in the Communist Yugoslavia triggered a literary scandal, a campaign of denigration against Kiš: Kiš was accused not so much of anti-Stalinism (which was not a crime in Tito’s Yugoslavia after the events of 1948) but of anticommunism—an attitude almost unpardonable at the time. It is not coincidental—writes Vasa D. Mihailovich—that the campaign against Kiš began only after the publication of A Tomb. . . . The accusers did not accept Kiš’s painfully logical conclusion that it makes little sense to oppose one form of deadly dictatorship— Nazism—while either closing one’s eyes to or even supporting its sibling—communism.27 Kiš responds to these accusations in a book entitled The Anatomy Lesson, where he further reflects on the use of historical documents to write works of fiction, as well as on his clear political stance, two of the main arguments offered by Serbian critics against his writing. A section of this book is dedicated to Borges’s influence on his literary style: “I take up certain devices introduced primarily by Borges, devices that amount to nothing more than the masterful use and doctoring of documentary material, a technique already present, through in slightly different form in Isaac Babel (and even earlier in Poe . . . ).”28 As to relate himself even more to Borgesian poetics, Kiš states his distaste for novels written in

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large poetic structures, and his appreciation for works that condense biographical information to a few details/elements. As Borges wrote about his own texts, “certain techniques are overused: mismatched lists, abrupt transitions, the reduction of a person’s life to two or three scenes. . . . These stories are not, nor do they attempt to be psychological.”29 A few stories from El Aleph (1949) and Brodie’s Report (1970)— namely, Emma Zunz and The Intruder—are important to Kiš’s writing because Borges is “moving away from the metaphysical and shifting the accent from the soul to the body.”30 The structural composition of The Universal History of Infamy (1935) is Kiš’s main literary model, which he uses however with a different purpose than the one aimed by Borges. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich is in fact a “counterbook” to the speculative baroque fictions of the early Borges or the heterotopic writing of Ficciones: “A Tomb for Boris Davidovich is a counterbook to the books of Borges. Not a parody, no, a counterbook.”31 What is meant by “counterbook,” a term used by Borges in his metaphysical parable, “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius”? Kiš cites one sentence from Tlön—“A book which does not include its opposite, or ‘counter-book,’ is considered incomplete”32—as an aphorism, without lingering on Borges’s story, which describes a fictional world that appears enigmatically in an encyclopedic entry. There is no history of Tlön, no political organization, and no details about private affairs. The space of quotidian life is simply incorporated into a philosophical fable of hyperbolic proportions. Confronted by the mysterious encounter with this “brave new world,” the narrator implies that its creation must be the result of an underground operation, “the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, mathematicians, moralists, painters and geometricians, all under the supervision of an unknown genius.”33 This is the story of a fantastic conspiracy, with no other target than the system of the world; Borges’s heterotopia does not in fact draw everything into chaos, but reorganizes the universe according to an alternative onto-logical structure.34 In the midst of this complex mirroring of metaphysical foundations, we come across a brief explanation about the often-anonymous books written in Tlön. Firstly, “works of fiction are based on a single plot, which runs through every imaginable permutation.”35 Secondly, “a book which does not include its opposite, or ‘counter-book,’ is considered incomplete.”36 These two conditions demonstrate the absolute “idealism” at work in the creation of Tlön, “to deploy every possibility contained in an argument . . . an ideal which, taken to its limit, makes literature impossible or at least, highly problematic.”37

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Perhaps, the best way to understand Kiš’s anti-metaphysical position exposed by his attitude towards Borges is to reflect on the promise to write a counterbook to the “rather lame stories” that make up A Universal History of Infamy.38 Because “the true infamy is in the camps,”39 writing A Tomb for Boris Davidovich Kiš cannot “amuse himself by falsifying and distorting (without any aesthetic justification whatsoever) the tales of others” and is thus un-writing Borges’s metaphorical simulacra.40 Furthermore, what Kiš wants to overcome is the metaphysical level of documentary writing that Borges via Kafka approached in his style: The “individual is perceived essentially as a philosopheme in Kafka’s sense of the term, the individual in a world that is a labyrinth of metaphysical meanings (a kind of substitute for Kafka’s castle) among which, as in medieval poetry and painting, the search for the Soul and Essences proceeds outside the realm of History.”41 Consequently, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, the counterbook to Borges’s “history of infamy,” is also an attempt to complete, in an ironic Tlönian manner, Kafka’s literary project, to modify its politico-theoretical legacy. Kiš’s book, written as a “counterbook” to The Universal History of Inequity, examines the inescapable ontological trap of totalitarian infamy by describing Kafkaesque situations within a political horizon rather than a metaphysical one. Kiš’s adaptation of Borgesian narrative composition is, however, important for another reason. It is meaningful for Kiš to avoid the tempting excesses of the novel genre from realist to modernist style, particularly the elaborate textual labyrinths and encyclopedic ambitions of Joyce or Pynchon. There is not even the need for psychology and plot development to create the impression that a world is being created out of totalitarian infamy, and that a novel is being written. Yet literature might witness a world that has been reduced to the utopian possibility of an immense network of relations between individuals, the object and subject of the total police state: The modern dream of the totalitarian police, with its modern techniques, is incomparably more terrible [than the fantasy of the Okhrana]. Now the police dreams that one look at a gigantic map on the office wall should suffice in any moment to establish who is related to whom and in what degree of intimacy. . . . If this map really did exist, not even memory would stand in the way of totalitarian claim of domination; such a map might make it possible to obliterate people without any traces, as if they had never existed at all.42 To map this world, even by means of allegory, would amount to become complicit in a matrix of global domination and to attempt the conversion

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of social reality into a mathematical set of relations. In this dystopian logic of rationalization, totalitarian regimes find the secret path to expanding their preemptive security project. The creation of the society-archive, of the network that has assumed control of human world and culture, is thus the end point of totalitarian utopia. Show-trials, purges, political interrogations are the means to this end: “The police has secret dossiers about each inhabitant of the vast country, carefully listing the many relationships that exist between people, from chance encounters to genuine friendships to family relations; for it is only to discover these relationships that the defendants, whose “crimes” have anyway been established “objectively” prior to their arrest, are questioned so closely.”43 A Tomb for Boris Davidovich evidences Kiš’s concern with the responsibility of the writer facing the collected documents and notes (most of them kept in closed archives) that make up the sublime object of totalitarian infamy— not a book, but a network of texts written for and before the Communist law of universal “social justice.” While remaining hidden throughout the novel, Kiš appears, therefore, as an archivist, a writer who has selected, from the dense catalogue of victims, a few names, a few individual stains or traces, engulfed by time and history, erased from collective memory. In designing his “book of the dead,” the writer is responsible for telling the story, every particular story of cruelty, but how can he respond to this infinite demand? How can he write the vast “encyclopedia of the dead,” the text about “the infamy/inequity of history” in which everything is recorded? Is there a way to respond to the scars of history, without being overburdened by the repetition of violence? As we have begun to argue, Kiš’s ethical stance derives from revising the literary aesthetics of the Kafka-Borges nexus. Set against the genre of the metaphysical fable, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich offers us a series of fictional biographies as well as the new connecting links that emerge between them as a result of the characters’ personal choices, the logic of Stalinist terror and pure chance. The absurd-Kafkaesque dimension of these fictionalized lives does not simply consist in their sudden downfall and submission to the will of the Party officials but, more interestingly, in the absurd nature of their destiny—in coincidences that escape political control. Kiš’s style remains, to a certain extent, metaphysical, yet his major accomplishment is ethical and political—to write an exemplary text of world literature that traverses its historical context and geographical setting. As representatives of the various human types and motives, which can be marshaled by a given ideology, Kiš’s characters are inexhaustibly memorable. Indeed, they’re universal. The steady man

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Chelystikov—writes William T. Vollmann—is of a piece with the Khmer Rouge general I once interviewed who joined that gang of Maoist murderers with open-eyed enthusiasm simply because he could see that Pol Pot could win. The poet Darmolatov can be found today in every culture and regime of the world.44

Political Deception and the Responsibility of Literature Whereas Kiš did not personally experience the Holocaust or the Gulag, his relation to the twentieth-century totalitarian genocides was nevertheless direct and traumatic: His first novel, Garden, Ashes written with a lyrical, melancholic note, tells the story of his Jewish father who “vanished” in the concentration camp. A Tomb For Boris Davidovich, Kiš’s book about the Gulag, has nothing personal or autobiographic in it, hence, its acknowledged antilyricism; it simply contains as the testimony of a nonwitness, the decision to respond and thus to overcome an impossible task, the impasse of responsibility. Kiš was thus attacked for the decision to respond to Communist torture through an innovative usage of literary sources and historical documents but also for a writing that is not derived from a direct experience of the Stalinist ordeal.45 Precisely because it is not derived from autobiography, Kiš’s book addresses differently Solzhenitsyn’s ethico-political question; it does not only showcase the evil of Communism (the cruelty of the Secret police), but it also inquires into the politico-literary logic that made it possible. There is, however, a relevant biographical context, which explains the book’s relation to the discourse of the global Cold War. In an interview, Kiš confessed: “The idea behind A Tomb for Boris Davidovich came from the convergence of two points: my experience with Western intellectuals who unreservedly supported the infamy of history and Borges’s totally unsuitable title.”46 Kiš, who was living in France at the time, became critical of the “Marxist bias”47 among Leftist intellectuals. Kiš’s reaction to the events in 1968 is thus more instinctive than theoretical; he situates himself against the phantasmatic role real-existing Communism played for most French intellectuals: “When it came to ideology, sociology, or politics, they brooked no opposition, those alleged intellectuals; they were extremely intolerant and saw everything in Manichaean terms: The East was heaven, the West was hell—exploitation, consumerism, etc.”48 A Tomb for Boris Davidovich was written in France (Bordeaux in 1976) as a documentary text able to penetrate the smoke screen created by the Cold War among French intellectuals—in psychoanalytic terms, the book sought to transverse the fantasy of the ethical horizon of Communism.

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Eight years after this text was written, and after a series of attacks in Belgrade against its legitimacy, Kiš arrives to the conclusion that “political opinions are deadly for [his] literature.”49 In the same interview, he argued for a radical division between literary praxis and political activity, an idea that does not eliminate political questions from literature, so much as it defines a more acute, irresolvable tension between the two. Asked about the 1968 events, Kiš responded: “I was an instructor of Serbo-Croatian in Bordeaux at the time. Both in print and in conversation, I was opposed to all the protest movements. I finally decided: you’re either engaged in political struggle or you’re a writer. I don’t think the two go together. The literary careers of many French writers ended at the very moment they were being hailed as political thinkers. I’m thinking of Sartre as well as Aragon.”50 While this remark could be easily dismissed as unfair, it discloses a more serious problem, the ideological division between Central European and Western intellectuals. Slavoj Žižek’s analysis of Havel’s “penetrating . . . denunciation of the inherent hypocrisy of Western Marxism” could easily apply here: “What cannot fail to strike us is the almost total absence of theoretical confrontation with Stalinism in the tradition of the Frankfurt School, in clear contrast to its permanent obsession with Fascist anti-Semitism.”51 The failure to confront properly the Stalinist camps is perhaps also notable in the work of Giorgio Agamben, who sees the “camp as biopolitical paradigm of the modern” (see Part 3 of Homo Sacer).52 The story “The Mechanical Lions” uses the interplay between recorded and disposable history to present the visit of a Western socialist leader to the Soviet Union. The story begins with a section entitled “The Colossus” about the discrepancy between the information provided by official documents and the knowledge of a historically “invisible” reality: The only historical personage in this story, Edouard Herriot, the leader of the French Radical Socialists, Mayor of Lyons, member of the Chamber of Deputies, Premier, musicologist, etc. will perhaps not play the most important part. Not because (let us state at once) this part is of less importance to the story than that of the other person—unhistorical though no less real—who appears here, but simply because there are many other documents about historical personages. (TBD 29) While Edouard Herriot’s biography is worthy of any “decent encyclopedia” (TBD 29), the other (unhistorical) character, A. L. Chelyustnikov is brought to “life” from unreliable and highly contradictory documents. The story about the encounter between these two characters, “although

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seemingly a figment of the imagination” (TBD 31) appears as a necessary literary provocation to the laws of historiography: I will tell the story . . . freeing myself for a moment of that awful burden of documents in which the story is buried, while referring the skeptical and curious reader to the appended bibliography, where he will find the necessary proof. (Perhaps it would have been wiser if I had chosen some other form of expression . . . where I could use all these documents in the usual way. Two things, however, prevent me: the inappropriateness of citing actual oral testimony of reliable people as documentation; and my inability to forgo the pleasure of narration, which allows the author the deceptive idea that he is creating the world and thereby, as they say it, changing it). (TBD 31) The last sentence of this paragraph announces in an ironic manner the main theme of the “Mechanical Lions,” deception. Two of the stories from Borges’s “history of inequity” resonate with this topic: “The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro” and “Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv.” Kiš’s text does not, however, restrict the plot to the figure of one “impersonator” (Tom Castro or the mysterious veiled prophet Hakim), but brings forward the figure of a bureaucrat (A. L. Chelyustnikov) who fulfills the Party’s desire for simulacrum. The characters of Borges’s stories “gain coherence through disguise . . . their dispersion is concealed, instead by a mask” and their figuration is a mere “metaphorical simulacrum.”53 The displacement is obvious in the case of Tom Castro alias Arthur Orton alias Roger Charles Tichiborne: The story reads as “an exercise in theatrical distancing, where everything is something else and everything lacks its original effigy (or name).”54 These brief encounters with a fictional reality divorced from its referent are translated by Danilo Kiš in a distinct way; the instability of identity or the “treacherous nature” of the simulacrum is precisely what his literature will try to break with. There is perhaps no hint of mockery in these texts, not even in “The Mechanical Lions,” the most humorous of all the stories in A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. Instead, what Kiš is aiming at is to “give” or to project an image where no image is considered possible, where all memories are long forgotten, and all history books have no reach. At least initially, Kiš seems to find the right literary resource to face political simulation with the weapon of irony. The precise conspiracy here is one designed to change or reverse reality; the Cathedral Saint Sophia constitutes the main object and the setting of the deception. Orchestrated by Soviet leaders, the deception is performed for their French guest, the

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radical socialist Edouard Herriot. Kiš’s ethico-political conflict with the French Leftist intellectuals regarding their beliefs in the Communist dream undoubtedly fuels this plot. While Herriot is an irreligious man (a condition perhaps of becoming a true Communist), it is still, according to Comrade Pyasnikov, the secretary of the Provincial Committee, impossible “for . . . a Frenchman not to raise his voice against the persecution of priests” (TBD 35). Thus, since the interest of the Soviet leaders is to conceal the existence of political persecution, the first task of A. L. Chelyustnikov is to make Herriot believe that Kiev is a place of religious freedom. In his visit to this Russian city, the Frenchman plans to visit Saint Sophia, an old Byzantine Cathedral built as a “murky tribute to the glorious days of Vladimir, Yaroslav and Izyaslav” (TBD 37). After the revolution and the institution of Communist rule, the Church has lost its historical and religious significance and had been confiscated by the party as a working-class property that “shelter[ed] under its high vaults a part of Spartacus Brewery—the drying kiln and the warehouse” (TBD 40). The transformation is completed not simply by a redesign of the architectural space, but by hiding the symbolic marks of the Church’s spiritual destination and substituting them with the political symbols of the new era: The frescoes and altar are covered (as a result of a recent decree) with long hemp curtains, which are draped along the walls like grey flags. In the place where the Immaculate Virgin, “surprised by the sudden appearance of the Archangel,” once stood (or, more exactly, still stands under the grey veil), there hangs the portrait of the Father of the People in a heavy gilded frame: the work of the academic painter Sokolov, a worthy artist. (TBD 40) In fact, the encounter between Chelyustnikov, as himself, and Edouard Herriot never takes place—this is perhaps what makes this event more so adequate to be mentioned here by Kiš. What occurs instead is a diversion during which, for a few hours, the cathedral of Saint Sophia “recovers” its lost identity: The brewery warehouse is briefly restored to its original name, as the central figure of a plot to fool the French politician. The central actor, who delivers the performance of the priest wearing a fake beard and being dressed “in the priest’s robe from the theater wardrobe, with its purple sash, and the high priest’s hat” (TBD 42), is, in fact, Chelyustnikov, while the congregation present in the church is composed of members of the local Party: “With twelve workers from the cultural brigade and their two bodyguards, this makes a total of sixty believers” (TBD 47). The mission is successful and Herriot is duped, a

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situation suggestive of the spell cast by Communism over French intellectuals: “I am returning from a journey that passed with ridiculous ease—writes the Frenchman about the visit to Moscow and Kiev. They didn’t signal their mechanical lions to growl at me. I was able to observe everything freely and in peace” (TBD 50). This story is the evidence of the fact that Kiš does not only use documentary material from available sources, for instance, Karlo Stajner’s book about the Gulag (Seven Thousand Days in Siberia), but also creates his own literary archive. This notion may appear “unimaginable” to a historian, as one may infer from reading Jonathan Brent’s critique: A Tomb is written from the standpoint of the end of history it constructs, thus condemning the totalitarian system more effectively to oblivion than any overt action or statement in the text. While the form of A Tomb grants the historian/author the freedom to pursue his research in State archives, which could have only been possible once the State had disappeared, it also condemns Kiš, as documentary historian, to the moral and political absurdity of what at the time would have been an unimaginable space.55 If Kiš engaged in writing a “historical” novel, this was at the time impossible, as long as the archives were not open. His responsibility does not go against the existence of a political reality that was in 1976 inescapable. On the contrary, precisely because he cannot conceive of any logical ways to see the end of totalitarianism in Central Europe, he takes the risk of transgressing barriers imposed by the status quo. Perhaps, for a historian, this act has no value, but from our perspective, it sets up, around prophetic writing, a site for political imagination and ethical decision. In inventing a literary archive, Kiš is thus not interested in documenting all the horrors of Communism, simply because no books and no archives can exhaust the history of terror. According to Branko Gorjup, “for Kiš, the document became a link with life buried in the depths of time, itself lost in historical darkness, awaiting illumination . . . supplying the author’s imagination with an experienced reality.”56 The archive we discover, by reading Kiš’s stories, occupies a liminal space created by literary artifice: Kiš conceals “the seam between the real and apocryphal ‘documents,’ by preventing the demystification of literary ‘sources’ lest the house of fiction collapse.”57 Any literary archive needs to be situated in relation to the double bind offered by the Greek word arche, which, according to Derrida, names “at once the commencement and the commandment”

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and thus “coordinates two principles in one: the principle according to nature or history, there where things commence—physical, historical, or ontological principle—but also the principle according to the law, there where men and gods command, there where authority, social order are exercised, in this place from which order is given—nomological principle.”58 However, as Derrida will point out, the meaning of the word archive is derived from the Greek word arkheion (the house or the domicile of archons, “the documents’ guardians”) the idea of commandment; it is here that the gathering of the archive’s functions occurs: unification, identification, classification, “paired with the power of consignation,” which aims “to coordinate a single corpus, in a system or in a synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration.”59 The archive invented by Kiš is real and fictional at the same time, since it uses existing documents simply as an infrastructure for a literary edifice, a literary arkheion. It is something possessing both a private—as any text, it exists through the inscription of the author’s personal signature—and a public dimension, as it addresses itself to readers, without any discrimination. No longer secret, like the uncanny archive containing the volumes of the miraculous book, The Encyclopedia of the Dead (see Kiš’s story with the same title), A Tomb for Boris Davidovich constitutes that space where one can potentially tell some truth about Communism, while the whole truth—as Lacan warned us—remains, for structural reasons, unspeakable.

The Empty Tombs: Life, Singularity, and the Soviet Camp The ancient Greeks had an admirable custom: for anyone who perished by fire, was swallowed by a volcano, buried by lava, torn to pieces by beasts, devoured by sharks, or whose corpse was scattered by vultures in the desert, they built so-called cenotaphs, or empty tombs, in their homelands; for the body is only fire, water, or earth, whereas the soul is Alpha and Omega, to which a shrine should be erected —kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

Danilo Kiš’s novel can be read as a “postmodern book of the dead.” The texts in A Tomb for Boris Davidovich do not accompany the dead on their journey in the underworld, but ensure a different type of transition. These stories talk about a culture of death that does not require any “rite of passage,” and of a collective type of perishing or demise, which no longer seems properly human. The topic of Kiš’s stories is not death-as-such, but the destination and the destiny to a collective

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death, the path that designates a human being no longer worthy of her/ his death.60 Kiš’s main literary engagement, the writing of fictional biographies, the creation of a literary archive, enables him to distinguish between bureaucratic determinism (conspiracy as a net/trap) and “the terrible game of chance” (the logic of contingency) and to create as biographical plot—some would use the term destiny—the fatal articulation of one with the other. In all the stories narrated here, chance plays a demonic role; all these men, who used to be protagonists of their own lives, are thrown into the hands of a fully determined system of oppression “for no reason at all.”61 The protagonist of Kiš’s first story from this volume (“The Knife with a Rosewood Handle”), Micksat Hantescu, is far from being an innocent victim of the system. In the first episodes, we discover this character as apprentice to a Jewish craftsman, Reb Mendel, permanently involved in Talmudic polemics with his master. When Reb Mendel’s household is under attack by a fierce skunk, Micksat Hantesku is called upon to intervene. The young man designs a trap, “a distant replica of those his grandfather used to make long ago in Bukovina” (TBD 5) and after catching the stinking beast he proves his cruelty by skinning the skunk alive, right there in Reb Mendel’s yard. The scene is dominated by a powerful naturalistic description, but its end lies in the craftsman’s horror: “When Reb Mendel finally spoke, his voice sounded hoarse and terrible, like the voice of a prophet: ‘Wash the blood off your hands and face. And be damned, Herr Micksat!’” (TBD 6). The prophecy does not disclose any secret; its meaning is not restricted to the following narrative event, the Jewish craftsmen’s refusal to hire Micksat in the aftermath of the “skunk affair,” but to a larger series of biographical episodes, which will lead to political implications. The first event of this series is the encounter with a certain E. V. Aimicke, with whom Micksat shared a similar social status. Without any real employment, they “are united by the same hate” (TBD 7), and forced to “earn their livelihood by helping out in the hunts Count Bagaryan organized in the neighboring countryside, in which Antonovka’s lumpenproletariat served as substitute for dogs” (TBD 7). This is the site, at the bottom of society, where Aimicke introduces Micksha (diminutive of Micksat) to the ideas of Communism, simply described in this text as “a future without hounds, nobility, and hunting horns” (TBD 7), as a world without oppression. The mythical image is not complete without the place where it becomes the ideological kernel for potential political action. The fictional biography does not go to the heart of Aimicke’s political

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organization; it simply mentions that Miksha was accepted as a member during a secret meeting, which occurred in the cellar of a suburban Antonovka house, an underground institution for any conspiracy, or subversive political activities of the sort. Kiš’s text explores the intricate structure of the clandestine political organization, without any interest in a psychological analysis of its members. In this story, there is no first person narration, which would articulate the affective nuances of Miksha’s political awakening. Instead, there is simply the fact of the subject’s submission to an external authority legitimated perhaps by a powerful myth, whose origin is not the utopian Communist project, but the very nature of the political organization, a secret group giving its members a sense of existential purpose, missing from their ordinary lives. Mishka is therefore one of those Comintern men, “sworn to tasks whose justifications they did not know; who consented in eliminating their counterparts as soon as the latter were judged to be traitors, suspicious or simply dangerous.”62 When Aimicke asks Miksha to execute a member of this organization, who has supposedly betrayed them, the latter accepts the “assignment,” without questioning this decision: “‘You’ll see the face of the traitor [said Aimicke]. But don’t get taken by appearances: a traitor’s face can take a look of great righteousness’” (TBD 9). During the night, Miksha is caught off guard by this parabolic phrase, and attempts to approach it in antiTalmudic fashion; he tries to proceed as he used to, in his arguments with Reb Mendel, but the result is unsatisfying: “He tried to slip the deadly mask of the traitor onto the face of each of his comrades, but while it fitted the face of each, it suited none completely” (TBD 9). The density of the literary style made evident in this paragraph is the product of a speculative hermeneutic force that appropriates the documentary material composing the literary archive. This appropriation does not proceed in an analytical manner by focusing on the evolution of a character or the development of the plot, but rather synthesizes the information and assigns it to short sections/episodes, which become in themselves elaborate narrative phrases like a tracking shot in a modernist film. Their expressive nature is evident, insofar as they refuse to move beyond the suggestive frame they construct. One instance is perhaps illustrative of this argument. Miksha’s victim, Hanna Krzyzewska, is introduced to the reader in an episode entitled, “The Face of the Traitor.” The biographical details are brief, as if copied in a rush from some secret police file: fled Poland using false papers, earned her living giving German lessons, “served as a link between the Munkachev and Antonovka cells” (TBD 10). As the murderer approaches her at the meeting spot, where she would

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receive her punishment, a narrative close-up distinguishes Hanna’s stigma, while a cynical narrator questions the legitimacy of Miksat’s action: “She had freckles on her face . . . but they didn’t have to be a mark of Cain, those sunspots—maybe a mark of race and the curse, but not a mark of betrayal” (TBD 9). The literary description focuses on the symbolic intensity of the image, the Face of the Traitor is a genuine literary motif that does not belong to the “terrible language of facts” (TBD 10), and does not give any illusion of certainty. Instead, this figure (the Face of the Traitor) produces a textual speculation, a rhetorical questioning of reality and, at the same time, a necessary suspension of historiography, which leads to an open inscription of the criminal act in a metaphor, thus sanctioning reality with a tropological signature: “Did he think at that moment that over the face of Hanna Kryzewska—the face sprinkled with freckles like sand—the mask of a traitor clung like a golden death mask?” (TBD 10). The murder scene further included in the story proves that Kiš does not perform a “hermeneutics of suspicion”: a narrative model based on the unfolding of the structure of reality, which permanently escapes the representation conducted by science, art or simply by doxas. At the same time, Kiš is not simply suspicious of various discourses that claim to give an accurate version of a particular set of events, but accepts his own failure to approach the “mysterious connections” always already present in the fabric of human existence. After Hanna Krzyzewska miraculously recovers from Miksha’s first attempt to put an end to her life, the killer “plunged his short Bukovina knife with the rosewood handle into her breast” (TBD 11), executing his stabs with angry precision. The narrator slowly dispenses with documenting this scene and permits rhetorical intervention. As it turns from expressionist-realism to Central European modernist writing, the text shows a cultural and metaphysical horizon of this death, while giving it a proper literary and mythological form: “Through the clacking of the train wheels and the muffled thunder of the iron trestle, the girl began, before the death rattle, to speak—in Romanian, in Polish, in Ukrainian, in Yiddish, as if her death were only the consequence of some great and fatal misunderstanding rooted in the Babylonian confusion of languages” (TBD 11). Hanna Kryzewska’s body was found a week later a few miles from the murder scene, but the investigation to solve this crime could not establish the identity of the victim or lead to any clues about her attacker. This is the point where the story “Knife with a Rosewood Handle” breaks with any impression of linearity. The plot is suspended or

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fractured by a surprising event: Hanna Kryzewska, incognito political agent and victim of a violent death, unexpectedly reappears in an investigation concerning E. V. Aimicke, “suspected of setting fire to the warehouse of the Digtaryev firm” (TBD 12). According to the narrator, this incident triggered “a chain of puzzling and mysterious connections” (TBD 13): In police custody, Aimicke confesses his involvement with anarchist groups. The only proof for his conspiratorial practices is the murder of Hanna Kryzewska; in Aimicke’s confession, the name of the victim is linked to the name of the killer. The possibility of making the link between two disparate events is presented as a direct consequence of the play of chance. The “clear loops of [Aimecke’s] . . . bicycle tracks in the thick autumn mud” (TBD 13) represent for the narrator “an Ariadne’s thread” (TBD 13). The postmodern version of this myth confronts us, as in Borges, with a labyrinth that has become the infrastructure of all the stories. In A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, the purpose of the Ariadne’s thread is to restore the plot, to create a narrative detour by incorporating in the final episode of the story a previously “uncontainable” element, which may account for the narrator’s initial confession of perplexity as the origin of this text and for the deadly confusion which seemed to have followed Hanna Kryzewska to her grave. In November 1936, the Soviet citizen M. L. Hanteshy (alias Miksha Hantescu) is arrested at the Red Freedom state farm where he worked in the slaughterhouse. Reb Mendel’s prophecy is now fulfilled, and after months of torture, Miksha acknowledged having killed Hanna Kryzewska “as a duty to the party” (TBD 14). This murder represents, at the same time, the narrative path to revealing the new labyrinth structures that rule Soviet society. This maze is relevant to fiction writers, precisely because the Stalinist system of targeting and repression is composed by fictional texts, fabricated confessions allowing the constant expansion of the sphere of power, while serving the role of consolidating the symbolic function of sovereignty. In this story, Kiš imagines Miksha’s political epiphany as the moment when he is incorporated in the infernal machine of conspiracy production, whereas his confession constitutes an effective way to legitimate for the state the mystification of reality: While he wrote out the confession in his rough peasant hand, he was observed, from the wall of the modest interrogator’s office, by the portrait of the One Who Must Be Believed. Miksha looked up at that portrait, at that good-natured, smiling face, the kind face of a wise old man, so much like his grandfather’s; he looked up at him pleadingly, and with reverence. After months of starvation, beating,

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torture, this was a bright moment in Mishka’s life, this warm and pleasant interrogator’s office, where an old Russian stove crackled as one had long ago in Miksha’s house in Bukovina, this tranquility beyond the muffled blows and the shrieks of prisoners, this portrait that smiled at him so like a father. In a sudden rapture of faith, Mishka wrote down his confession. (TBD 15). This scene, described here by Kiš, may also refer to literature’s power to mystify factual events. The nature of the forgery produced by this act would be, however, a negation of the legal and political simulacra created by Stalin’s police. The police very well know that these are not threats to the order of the state, but to recognize this fact would undermine their own position in the state, and would, by extension, undermine the sovereignty of “the One Who Must Be Believed.” In other words, sovereign is the One who cannot be targeted by the secret police, who cannot be accused of conspiring against the state. In this situation, political belief plays a double role: On the one hand, it appears through the “moment of revelation” as the ground for acknowledging crimes against the Party, of constructing a fictional self (Miksha Hantescu declared he “was an agent of the Gestapo,” who “worked to sabotage the Soviet government,” TBD 15), on the other, it condemns to this fate a group of twelve people, who have become members of a great conspiracy-fantasy against the Soviet state. Under the meek eyes of the One Who Must Be Believed, Miksha’s self-sacrifice would prove his absolute loyalty to Communism. Kiš’s irony is, however, unforgiving. In the sovereign’s insistent, yet kind gaze, we discover the successful work of political hypnosis, which not only allows Miksha to admit his guilt, but also to take with him a certain number of “others” to his empty tomb. The sovereign’s power remains intact, however, not because it is mediated by politico-religious symbolism, but rather because it remains at the center of the police-mechanism whose task is to shape social reality into a network of impersonal relations by breaking people’s bones and destroying their lives. On the path to conspiracy, Micksat Hantescu discovers the indeterminate game of chance, the contingent character of his own futile existence, but submits himself, presumably via political revelation, to momentary certainty. This certainty is not, as Jonathan Brent claimed, the sign of a self, retaining “autonomous power”63 but a deceptive image created by Kiš’s writing. Behind the surface of the literary epiphany, there is simply the idea of an experience of existential indeterminacy, which never fails to show death as the only way out of the labyrinth.

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According to A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, any totalitarian regime relies on the use of conspiracy (as targeting mechanism) in order to legitimate the bureaucratic enforcement of authority. A partial exception to this thesis is the story “The Sow That Eats Her Farrow.” While fighting in Spain on the “good” side, the protagonist, Gould Verschoyle, an Irishman, is kidnapped by a secret Soviet group, whose members included A. L. Chelystnikov. He is brought to the Soviet Union, and, after a socalled trial, he is sent to a prison camp. Gould Verschoyle’s presence in this archive may be considered a dead end for conspiratorial links, as his naïve fall into the trap (TBD 24) cannot lead to the invention of other anti-Soviet plots. This story shows, however, how repressive mechanisms create traps where the victims can be caught alone, in their most vulnerable position.64 Boris Davidovich, a revolutionary hero who becomes involved in the endless chain of betrayal and treason, is unlike the other victims of Stalinism mentioned in Kiš’s book. The reason is not his historical status—Boris Davidovich, alias Novsky, “appears in revolutionary chronicles as a character without a face or a voice” (TBD 73)—but the fictional potential of his bibliography. The story recognizes an enigmatic persona, a man “whose political principles gave validity to a rigorous ethic” (TBD 73) and portrays him as the protagonist of a remarkable destiny. The first and “glorious” part of this biography is not simply fictional, but emerges as the fantastic story of a secret agent, a man of many faces and names (Bezrabotny, Jacob Mauzer, or Zemlyanikov), who organizes terrorist acts against the Czarist establishment in the second half of the Russian nineteenth century. These events, as well as Boris Davidovich’s excellent skill in the art of disguise make up a legendary character, even more intriguing, given the fact that he remains in the underground of political events as the central actor in numerous anti-Czarist conspiracies: [Boris Davidovich] was the organizer of and participant in the famous “expropriation” of the mail car, when several millions rubles came into the hands of the revolutionaries; in addition to the confiscated Brownings, he had on three separate occasions transported explosives and arms to Russia; as the editor of Eastern Dawn, which was printed on cigarette paper in a secret printing shop, he personally transported rubber stencils in his black suitcase; the spectacular assassinations of the last five or six years were his doing (they were different from all the other assassinations: the bombs assembled in [his] secret workshop reduced their victims to a heap of bloody flesh); . . . by his own admission he dreamed of creating a bomb, the size of a walnut but with tremendous

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destructive force; . . . he had escaped twice from prison and once from a labor camp. (TBD 80) Neither the legend, nor the political position Boris Davidovich holds at the Central Office for Communications and Liaisons in Kazakhstan prevent his arrest on December 23, 1930. The net of conspiracy traps him through the confession of a certain T. S. Reinhold, who accuses him of being a British spy, an accusation that is a direct attack on the mythical biography briefly mentioned above. Fedukin, his interrogator, is the bureaucrat, who must persuade Boris Davidovich of his “moral obligation of making a false confession” (TBD 90). Boris Davidovich is not simply asked to give his life to the Communist cause, to perform a heroic act, but also to negate the mythical content of the revolutionary past, in which his life played such an important role. As a traitor, Boris Davidovich is required to drop his fictional name (Novsky, alias the New Man), his right to immortality. Confined in Sudzal Prison, in a cell where one “feel[s] as if he were buried alive” (TBD 90), Boris Davidovich experiences his mortality not simply as a consequence of physical failings of his weak body, but as the result of a metaphysical dilemma, “whether to accept the transitoriness of this being-in-time for the sake of that precious and expensively acquired knowledge (which excludes any morality and therefore is made in absolute freedom), or, for the sake of the same knowledge, to yield oneself to the embrace of nothingness” (TBD 91). Even if he is reduced to “an empty shell of being, a heap of decayed and ever-tortured flesh” (TBD 92), Boris Davidovich refuses to destroy his own biography. His form of escape is not Mishka’s political epiphany leading to a false confession, but the realization that his whole destiny, “the autobiography . . . he had been consciously writing with his blood and brain” (TBD 92) is on trial. Can he, in reaching this conclusion, potentially resist the external pressure exerted by Fedukin, his interrogator? Is he going to overcome his vulnerability, despite his being all by himself in this sordid affair? This situation can be briefly compared to the interrogation episode in Orwell’s 1984 by taking into account the significance of the infamous Room 101 in the Ministry of Love. O’Brian, the powerful interrogator, and the human face of the abstract authority figure, Big Brother, knows that his victims need to be confronted with their most secret fear: “for everyone there is something unendurable—something that cannot be contemplated.”65 The interrogator in Kiš’s text does not have the ideological persona of O’Brian; he sees himself only as a modest player in the game of conspiracy, a mere member in a vast state bureaucracy, aware that his role is only temporary. All power, in fact, belongs to the network!

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There is a single guiding idea for Fedukin, a notion of moral duty towards the sovereign power (the Party and the Leader): “Anyone became a blood enemy who could not comprehend this simple and almost obvious fact: to sign a confession for the sake of duty was not only a logical but also a moral act, and therefore worthy of respect” (TBD 99). He sees himself as the agent who will enforce a supreme moral law; this made-up identity overcomes his true role in the machine. Even though he knows it is only likely his downfall could be triggered by the same logic, in his conflict with Davidovich over the false confession, he thinks of a terror situation, in which the former revolutionary does not only face suffering and death, but also the absolute erasure of his biography. Fedukin’s solution is to challenge the one who is no longer afraid of dying with bearing responsibility for having other prisoners killed: “Novsky realized with horror . . . [the] infernal plan: each day of his life would be paid for with the life of another man; the perfection of this biography would be destroyed, his life work (his life) deformed by these final pages” (TBD 94). The interrogator uses against Boris Davidovich a strategy that needs to be related to the twofold meaning of the conspiracy net: the falsification of one’s existence and the responsibility of drawing others to the same fate. The strange men who are killed one by one before Novsky’s eyes make up a fictional group as they are united by their senseless death. In this case, there is not even a need for a political fiction to justify their demise. They had already been found guilty for other crimes, and must be killed just to show that their violent end represents the destruction of their potentiality, “the seed of future biography” (TBD 95). When Davidovich finally agrees to compromise, it becomes clear that, according to Kiš, the totalitarian art of conspiracy is, in its net-like narrative structure, the monstrous double of fiction writing. The two men, the interrogator and the victim, are both writing the confession—the former is offering a certain frame-work, a narrative logic, while the latter fights for “every word, every phrase” (TBD 98). Davidovich’s attempt is to produce a text that would not only submit to the authoritative demand, but also hide or keep secret the true status of this confession. The text becomes the site of an invisible struggle between “the truth of a single man” (98), and Fedukin’s morality based on the absolute nature of state authority. In Kiš’s literary archive, Boris Davidovich is the victim who, like the protagonists of famous show trials—was “made to participate in his own public degradation, actively forsaking his dignity.”66 The radical task assumed by Kiš’s literary response to the atrocity of the Gulag does not, however, create yet another ethical discourse centered on the figure of the victim. If his stories do not focus on the Gulag as a biopolitical

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experiment, it is because their focus is on two global dimensions of totalitarian terror, from Eastern Europe to China and Cambodia: the demand for self-sacrifice and the erasure of the victims’ stories. The camp or the interrogation office are “made to be veritable holes of oblivion into which people stumble by accident and without leaving behind them such ordinary traces of former existence as a body and a grave.”67 As we read Kiš’s forceful book, we return to a fundamental aporia, rather than to the belief that literary writing can defeat oblivion: On the one hand, no one else can die for me, I am “responsible” for my one death, on the other, genocides and mass killings have deprived contemporary history of the sense of singularity and finitude. Being the writer who tried to break into the Tomb of History, Kiš responsibly questions our notion of singularity from the perspective of the “literary act” as such; his prophetic elegy may not be able to reverse or intervene in the “infamy of history,” but, at least, can still speak about it with irony: On the forth day, [after his mysterious disappearance in the camp], a guard spotted Novsky at the ironworks, unshaven and looking like an apparition, warming himself next to the furnace. They released the German shepherds. Following the howls of the dogs, pursuers burst into the foundry building. The fugitive was on a ladder at the top of the furnace, illuminated by the flames. One eager guard began to climb up. As the guard approached him, Novsky leaped into the boiling mass. The guards saw him disappear before their very eyes; he rose like a wisp of smoke, deaf to their commands, defiant, free from German shepherds, from cold, from heat, from punishment, and from remorse. (TBD 108)

Arcanum Imperii: Don DeLillo, Libra, and the Secret of Democracy Spywork, undercover work we invent a society where it’s always wartime. The law has a little give. —don delillo, Libra Is not War merely another kind of writing and language for political thoughts? It has certainly a grammar of its own, but its logic is not peculiar to itself. —carl von clausewitz, On War

With its focus on rogue secret agents, paramilitary groups, the Soviet propaganda machine and a young American’s failed attempt to fulfill his

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socialist fantasy, Don DeLillo’s Libra constitutes an exemplary literary study of the political Cold War. I consider the novel not simply as a poetic model for an ideology critique of American contemporary politics and culture, but primarily as a literary discourse that, through a speculative fiction about the Kennedy assassination and a fictional biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, enacts a political parable about institutional secrecy and its exceptional legal status as the core of democratic sovereignty in the age of the global picture.68 Libra enters an indirect dialogue with A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by showcasing the literary text’s relation to the historical archive: DeLillo explores Oswald’s documented relation to Soviet ideology as well as his real or fictional involvement with US-based intelligence operatives and their global power networks. More so, DeLillo’s interest in the advancement of military and media technology makes his contribution to the concept of the political all that more relevant. Pursuing victory in the Cold War, at any cost, American democracy appears as a “target of opportunity” for secret groups and their political, economic and military interests.69 The idea that “we” live in a society dominated by war, as one character says at the beginning of the novel, resonates with Carl Schmitt’s observation from 1962 that in “Cold War situations [the partisan] becomes a technician of the clandestine battle, a saboteur, a spy.”70 Libra’s cast of dubious characters, T. J. Mackey, Win Everett, Larry Parmenter, and David Ferrie, should not be confused, however, with the partisans and their irregular fighting because they lack one essential feature: in Schmitt’s terms, a telluric character, a relation to the land. In their network, the conspirators act, however, in a similarly ambiguous space, neither properly military nor properly political. In Libra and in earlier novels such as Running Dog (1978), DeLillo introduces fictional scenarios of netwar, a concept widely used today by social scientists and by the US military to explain current developments in the nature of warfare, defined as “emerging mode of conflict (and crime) at societal levels, short of traditional military warfare, in which protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies and technologies attuned to the information age.”71 After the fall of the Berlin Wall and in the aftermath of 9/11, netwar encompasses today modes of violent conflict and subversion of international law as well as civil disobedience and revolutionary activism: “Transnational terrorist groups, black-market proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, drug and crime syndicates, fundamentalist and ethno-nationalist movements, intellectual property pirates, immigration and refugee smugglers” are part of a socio-political spectrum that also includes a “new generation of revolutionaries, radicals and activists

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who are beginning to create information age ideologies, in which identities and loyalties shift from nation state to the transnational level of global civil society.”72 One of the challenges we face in comprehending netwar refers to the complicated relation network groups have had with traditional state hierarchies and to hybrid formations made up of state/ non-state actors. We need to explore this theme by looking at the birth of netwar in the labyrinthine complex of power-ideology and military technological might of Cold War discourse, not only in the context of the media-technological revolution but also in that of political and military interventions in the Third World by the two superpowers. Reading DeLillo’s work, we discover the roots of contemporary netwar in the “fog of the Cold War.” As a result, we note that the idea of Cold War as an objective antagonism between democracy and Communism is intentionally turned around from the start. The frozen conflict between the United States and the USSR is displaced into a different political tension, into an antagonism that permeates Libra’s world as a whole: The deep structure of this properly democratic experience of social division can be assumed by various signifiers such as racism or anti-Communism, but also through a floating (i.e., confusing) signifier, conspiracy. DeLillo is also very much aware that any representation of a political situation cannot be done from a position of absolute objectivity. In the novelistic account of the shooting in Dallas, the limit of the event’s representability is included in the narrative, as part of a literary montage. The poetic goal (i.e., the target) is to enable us to see through the reality of November 22, 1963, whose scripted political ceremony ended up in a surprising violent act, caught on camera by Abraham Zapruder. Critics have suggested that DeLillo takes on conspiracy myths because they mask the real antagonisms of American society. I will argue that this social fiction (that is, the figure of an invisible master, or of a parallel power) is itself embedded in the two most significant Cold War narratives about US sovereignty claims of global security: the technological-political language of military targeting and the theological-political language of secrecy. Two sides of the same coin! The novel describes the complicated narrative interconnection of bizarre coincidences and conspiracy scenarios that lead to Lee Harvey Oswald’s involvement with a group of CIA agents (helped by pro-Cuban paramilitary factions) plotting to shoot the American president during an official visit to the South. The subversive action does not only originate in CIA structures, but is also a belated effect of the Agency’s secret anti-Communist operations, more specifically the Bay of Pigs (1951), Kennedy being held responsible for the military fiasco of the secret anti-Cuban mission. The initial master of the plot, Win Everett, relies,

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at a basic organizational level, on the existing structure of government secrecy. As one character from DeLillo’s novel Running Dog said, “this is the age of connections, links, secret relationships.”73 Libra envisions the process of de-politicization of modern states by describing how clandestine operations become central to the military strategy in the global Cold War. Whereas DeLillo’s literary fiction touches on the dynamic of US policy to infiltrate and subvert Third World socialism, it also echoes the role of military contractors and private security companies such as the infamous Blackwater Corporation in the ongoing war against terrorism. At the same time, given the limitations of international jurisprudence, the novel shows how this military-political apparatus is legitimated by a theologically inspired notion of secrecy that secures the democratic state against its proper regime of law.

Kafka in Dallas: The Strange Literary “Opportunity” of Political Assassinations As DeLillo suggested, Lee Harvey Oswald decided to shoot the American president simply because he had the opportunity to do so. As it designates a central episode of the American absurd, The Kennedy assassination story sustains Libra’s postmodern investigation of the CIA’s secret missions in Latin America (more specifically the Bay of Pigs invasion) and the targeting of foreign leaders (a military strategy that has become, in recent years, part of the American “war against terror”). This “American tragedy” has two protagonists, the American president murdered by a sniper and the man accused of killing him, Lee Harvey Oswald. According to Libra, the intersection of the expansive conspiratorial network and Oswald’s already fictionalized self is the main cover-up operation that cannot find its way into the official conclusions of the Warren Commission. Its proper literary meaning is derived from DeLillo’s own narrative intervention, summarized in the essay “The American Absurd”: “Oswald would not have walked two blocks to shoot at the president. The president had to come to him, and this is what happened, ruinously on November 22.”74 In the novel, David Ferrie manipulates Lee to believe in the fateful meaning of the president’s presence in the proximity of the Texas School Depository, right at the corner of Dealey Plaza. Libra emerges therefore as the literary terrain where we witness a hegemonic struggle, between various fictional actors, to define various terms such as coincidence and plot/conspiracy, without attempting to establish any closure to the Kennedy assassination case. The novel takes into account a fictional

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scenario that would produce a symbolization of the traumatic historical event, the assassination of President Kennedy, the very event that, according to DeLillo, broke “our history’s back,” and would, at the same time, prove the necessary failure of this task. From a psychoanalytic view, conspiracy becomes, within Libra’s fictional space, the signifiersymptom of an impossible complete symbolization. Perhaps, the best way to understand DeLillo’s postmodern poetics is to consider the contingent event that leads to JFK’s death as the impossible effect of a reality created by David Ferrie’s rhetoric. Earlier on in the novel, coincidence appears to Lee “stranger than total control”75; it enables him to make connections, to observe “fearful symmetries,” patterns that cannot be accounted for by ordinary logic or by common sense perception. In Ferrie’s manipulative rhetoric, any simultaneous occurrence that stands out from the common place creates the certainty of a mysterious order concealed under the trivial things of everyday existence. It is not surprising, in this sense, that the verb co-incidere (to occur together) in Medieval Latin had predominantly an astrological use, hence the relevance for DeLillo’s metaphorical composition of the figure “Lee Harvey Oswald” as a “negative libran . . . unsteady and impulsive,” whose inner “scale” can tilt either way. What brings Oswald to the assassination is not the “total control” of the plan designed by Win Everett and subsequently by T. J. Mackey but “a pattern outside experience” (L 384) generating the event. DeLillo does not, in fact, cede to a full-blown paranoid vision, but carefully revisits the odd articulation between necessity and contingency.76 The event has, by now, taken shape; its ghost looms before Oswald’s eyes as a moment of personal truth, a place and a name belonging to “another level” (L 384). What we cannot yet see unfolding appears only as a specter: the right time for action, the moment of a personal kairos when Oswald can finally encounter his destiny. Lee Harvey Oswald creates the “violent connection of the unconnected”77 and becomes the riddle of an incoherent reality. In a recent essay, DeLillo returns to the events of the JFK assassination and considers Oswald’s murderous act as a “prefiguration” of American absurd. The figural interpretation at stake here is not grounded or secured—to use Auerbach’s terminology—by the temporal logic of future fulfillment. In this sense, we are thus not dealing with foretelling, but with an attempt to tie together within the figure of “the American absurd” disparate events in recent American history. The etymology of the term “absurd” (the Latin term absurdus—inharmonious, tasteless, foolish) shows a metaphysical sense in which all events are absurd since they are believed to ruin a preexistent order or harmony; this prophecy

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(solidified by Cold War political metaphysics of history) draws attention, to the culture of suspicion and violence that has permeated American society since the early 1960s: A “culture of distrust and paranoia began to develop, a sense of secret manipulation of history, and this feeling intensified through the decades, from Dallas to Vietnam to Watergate to the doorsteps of Iraq.”78 In other words, this experience of the absurd is specific not only historically but also culturally: “The twentieth century was built largely out of absurd moments and events. In time we had to invent an adjective, European and literary, that might encapsulate the feeling of impending menace and distorted reality and the sense of a vast alienating force that presses the edges of individual choice. These things are Kafkaesque. In America it is the individual himself, floating on random streams of disaffection, who tends to set the terms of the absurd.”79 DeLillo differentiates between the European and the American absurd: The Kafkaesque names the invasion of the private by impersonal forces of modern society whereas the “shock of unmeaning” in America arrives with individuals who desire a role in the making of history, who are driven by the culture of publicity as much as by their alienation from the social world. As DeLillo put it, Oswald kills JFK as a “way of organizing [his] loneliness and misery”; at the same time, his crime produces “a network out of it, a web of connections.”80 Yet as in the case of Kiš, who claimed to transform the Borgesian-Kafkaesque metaphysical writing into a literary text that directly engages the ethical-political horizon of the twentieth century, DeLillo himself relies on this literary paradigm when he imagines in Libra the “networks of chaos and ambiguity” surrounding the assassination of the American president, the “extraordinary personal history” of Oswald and the global underworld of Cold War secrecy. DeLillo claims the Kennedy assassination “invented” him as a writer, hence contributing to the formation of his particular literary expression. The traumatic moment in Dallas constitutes the “primal scene of postmodernism”; in other words, “the confusing and contradictory events in Dealey Plaza which have been reshot and retold in countless media repetitions come to serve as an appropriate primal scene for the cultural logic of late capitalism that is dominated by the simulated spectacle.”81 The assassination (the primal scene of postmodernism) becomes accessible only as mediated by modern literary imagination. DeLillo’s postmodernism, the traumatic event of November 22, 1963, and the Kafkaesque absurd are, in fact, linked by a notion of “opportunity” that deserves a closer analysis. “Opportunity” no longer refers to the idea of “blind chance” (radical contingency) but to “the time, condition, or set of

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circumstances permitting or favorable to a particular action or purpose” (the OED definition of “opportunity”). The notion “target of opportunity” was recently used by Samuel Weber to analyze the beginning of the recent war in Iraq, one of the landmark events mentioned by DeLillo as defining the American absurd: “In order to seize the opportunity that apparently presented itself on March 19 [the information concerning the presence of Saddam Hussein at a specific Baghdad location] the American war plan had to be modified, and the start of hostilities advanced by at least twenty-four hours.”82 The new plan, beginning now with a “singular strike” aiming at the Iraqi sovereign leader, would be successful as long as the American military managed to seize the opportunity offered by the target. In what precise sense can we use this notion of targeting to discuss DeLillo’s novel about the death of another sovereign, the American president? What does it mean to shoot at the sovereign of a democratic state as compared to attempting to kill an ill-famed Iraqi dictator in a “singular strike”? Why is the target of opportunity significant in understanding conspiratorial organization and its fictional double, conspiracy theory? Libra’s narrative fiction privileges the Bay of Pigs invasion, the political and military fiasco that affected the lives and careers of the CIA agents who helped organize the cover-up military action against Castro. Two years after this event, Win Everett finds himself excluded from the center of power of the intelligence community. He develops a plan to return to active duty, trying the back door of the agency: He invites two friends from the “good old times” of the Bay of Pigs invasion to Dallas and comes up with a conspiracy proposition: We need an electrifying event. JFK is moving toward a settling of differences with Castro. On the one hand he believes the revolution is a disease that could spread through Latin America. On the other hand he’s denouncing guerilla raids and trying to get brigade members to join the US Army, where someone can keep an eye on them. . . . We want to set up an event that will make it appear they have struck at the heart of our government. This is a time for high risk. I’m saying be done with half measures, be done with evasion and delay. . . . You’ve been waiting for this every bit as much as I have. . . . We want to set up an attempt on the life of the President. We plan every step, design every incident leading up to the event. (L 27) An attempt to assassinate the American president blamed on the Cubans opens a new “window of opportunity” to strike Castro. The aim

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of the plot is thus to create an event, originally planned to take place in Miami that would justify American interference in Cuba. The conspirators’ task can only be achieved by using a simulated target (JFK) in order to prompt an attack on Castro. Implicitly, the United States is the simulated target that opens the way for new military actions against Cuba. Win Everett’s dialectical mastery cannot be missed: In order to achieve geopolitical supremacy in Latin America (synthesis), the United States—represented here by a group of patriotic CIA agents—needs to “negate” itself, to strike at the heart of its own sovereignty. This dialectical construction is, from the start, a mere simulacrum, since eventually the Cubans would appear responsible. Beyond this play of truth and concealment, Win Everett’s rhetoric offers interesting insights into the rationale of preemptive action. In a world at risk for Atomic conflict, the political doctrine of preemptive action did not play a central part in official American foreign policy, as it does now, in the aftermath of the Cold War. Rather, the “strategy of multilateral deterrence . . . had . . . been accepted by postwar American governments as a basic principle in dealing with other nations.”83 Cold War history proves, however, that quite a few exceptions were made to this principle and that intelligence operations functioned under a different political rationale, whose central idea was to act with urgency, i.e., to act now: “If we want a second invasion, a full-bore attempt this time, without restrictions or conditions, we have to do something soon. We have to move the Cuban matter past the edge of all these sweet maneuverings” (L 27). There can be no justification of preemptive action, even in the context of a secret operation, without the long-term goal or ideal. In the Cold War context, this refers to a strategic geopolitical game, to securing a new frontier of separation between two mortal enemies. In its initial conception, the fictional plan in Libra relies entirely on a successful simulation: the creation of a false target (JFK) and a detour leading back to a real one (Castro). The “powerful logic” (L 28) of the plan also consists in staging a “spectacular miss”: “We don’t hit the President. We miss him. We want a spectacular miss” (L 51). The plot can achieve its aim only if the American president survives the assassination attempt. Win Everett imagines a political theater where the principle of sovereignty remains intact and is, in the long run, safeguarded through this unauthorized military action. As the director of this performance, Win Everett casts the president (the sovereign) in the role of a passive protagonist, which is key to ensure a political outcome that serves American interest in Latin America. DeLillo’s novel starts off with the president as the potential protagonist of Win Everett’s comic farce. This comic farce

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becomes tragic, once the plot is no longer under Win Everett’s control, and Kennedy constitutes the real target. In order to “extend their fiction into the world” (L 50), to transgress the limit of the literary, the conspirators need something more than a simple intention to act. Win Everett’s project relies on a different protagonist, the fall guy of the false conspiracy. For DeLillo, the conspiracy scenario (i.e., the real-existing conspiracy) appears as the double of literary narrative. The man they will sacrifice needs to be reduced to “a name, a face, a bodily frame” (L 1), to a set of predicates that correspond to the imaginary scenario coined by Win Everett; a hollow man must be the perpetrator of a hollow plot.84 What Win Everett needs in order to secure his plan is not a person but a persona. In his creative thrust, he dreams of a general typology, dependent, from the start, on a literary image: “This kind of man, a marksman, near anonymous, with minimal known history, the kind of man who surfaces in murky places . . . is arrested for some violent act, is released to drift again, to surface, to disappear” (L 50). The conspirators desire someone who can serve as surface of inscription, a figure who can easily be appropriated by the conspiracy, without being part of the group responsible for the creation and incarnation of the plot. When talking to Oswald, David Ferrie makes sure that the conspirators are not named and that the infamous “they”—the figure of the “Other of the Other,” in Lacanian terms—corresponds to the over-determined meaning of “coincidence.” The dialogue between David Ferrie and Lee Oswald illustrates the main point of Pynchon’s fifth proverb for paranoids in Gravity’s Rainbow: “Paranoids are not paranoids . . . because they’re paranoids but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, into paranoid situations.”85 Oswald allows David Ferrie to play his perverse tricks, to create a situation with proper conditions for self-delusion: “You’re a quirk of history”—Ferrie says to Oswald—“You are a coincidence. They devise the plan, you fit it perfectly. They lose you, here you are. There’s a pattern in things. Something in us has an effect on independent events” (L 330). In the discourse of the novel, Oswald is preceded by his own biography. He first appears in a conversation between Larry Parmenter and George de Mohrenschildt as the possible referent to the figure that Win Everett is imagining at the center of their plan. Oswald’s attempt to shoot at the controversial rightwing figure, General Walker, makes him an ideal candidate for the role invented by Win Everett. In an interesting twist, Oswald himself becomes a target of the conspiracy. The metaphorical displacement of the term target relies on the symmetry/pattern that political targets (General Walker and JFK) create throughout the novel.

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Writing the fictional biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, from the anonymous teenager to the name inscribed at the heart of the traumatic event in American history, DeLillo imagines an “American tragedy” whose protagonist internalizes the Cold War’s totalizing discourse, its capacity to link universal ideology to military strategy and political struggle. The biography of Lee Harvey Oswald is the story of an American trying and failing to find refuge in the Soviet Communist society, but he is much more than that: “He joined the US Marines, quoted Marx to his barrack mates, served at a sensitive U-2 base in Japan and would eventually develop connections of various kinds, some documented, others only conjectured, with people of provocative political shadings—from Tokyo to Moscow to Minsk and from there on to New Orleans, Mexico City and Dallas.”86 Through his global experience, Oswald becomes “an object of a historically determined ideology. In this case, he is the object of the Cold War ideology with all its myths and narratives. He realizes that because this ideology permeates both sides of the Iron Curtain, he has the same status in the East as in the West; he is a ‘zero in the system.’”87 Is Oswald’s decision to assassinate a political opponent an aspect of an unconscious attempt to enact the national contradictions of Cold War American democracy88? For DeLillo, targeting General Walker is the expression of Oswald’s political discontent: His act derives from an inability to see a ‘political’ solution to a culture of oppression symptomatically linked to rightwing populism. Oswald tries to give the JFK assassination a political meaning as well, emphasizing his personal commitment to the pro-Cuban cause. The drift towards Castro appears in the novel as the effect of Oswald’s search for a pure form of Communism, a mythical entity Soviet society has failed to create. His continuous displacement in the fictions of Libra is propelled by the global articulation of his national experience and by his own desire to project new identities and thoughts of the potential role he could play in a political plot. It is as if his life were simply the means to overcome, in an enigmatic way, the geographical and geopolitical polarization of the Cold War. The uncanny dimension of Oswald’s existence permeates DeLillo’s fictional account of Walker as Oswald’s political target. This example illustrates the infrastructure of Libra’s poetic composition, the coincidence-plot. Whereas the CIA group desires to hit Castro by initially using a false target (the American president), Oswald decides on a real target (the “fascist” American general) in order to protect Castro, to show American support for the Communist Cuba. Oswald is, however, not completely disinterested; his secret desire is to be known for his act, to become the symbol of the Communist movement, in America and in the world.

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On-Target Media: Military Strategy vs. Narrative Practice Clausewitz’s famous statement, “war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means,”89 establishes a connection between the form of violence called war and the political contract between individuals and organizations that exists only if it can prevent, through rhetoric and policy, the outbreak of such violence. Carl Schmitt, who points to the utter antagonistic nature of any political relation, sees Clausewitz’s thesis as a threat to the autonomy of the political, posited on the friend-enemy distinction and derived from the legal bracketing of war. Following Rodolphe Gasché, we learn what is at stake in Schmitt’s critique: If, indeed, there is continuity between war and politics, then the differences constitutive of classical European public law collapse. The formula amounts to a blurring of the clear distinctions made between war and peace, friend and enemy, but also neutrality and nonneutrality. [Clausewitz’s] formula thus opens the way for abolishing contained war. . . . It opens the door for a state of peace that has become indistinguishable from war, not only from the Cold War but also from the current undeclared war of and against terrorism.90 If political conflicts can no longer be distinguished from military ones, this may also point out the emergence of global power relations that the Schmittian legal fiction of the jus publicum Europaeum cannot contain. Michel Foucault suggests that “politics sanctions and reproduces the disequilibrium of forces manifested in war,”91 hence the reversal of Clausewitz’s formula, “politics is the continuation of war by other means,”92 the core statement of Foucault’s seminar Society Must Be Defended, his most concise reflection on biopolitics and govermentality. The fictional scenario created by DeLillo in Libra, particularly the idea of “a society where it’s always wartime” and where “the law has a little give” (L 64) is yet another adaptation of Clausewitz’s point. In DeLillo’s novel, however, clandestine military operations and secret conspiracies, not politics per se, are the “continuation of war by other means.” If this hypothesis potentially indicates an underside to Foucault’s anti-sovereignty narrative, it also identifies in the political myth of conspiratorial power, the source of political fantasies that will not submit to govermentality, “the art (and later the science) of managing bodies and things, life and wealth.”93 In the fiction of conspiracy, politics withdraws from the public sphere; sovereignty—“the power of execution or the power of

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finishing as such, absolutely so and without any further subordination to something else (to another end)”94—also retreats in the ambiguous zone of conspiratorial power. This claim is not a speculative remark derived from reading DeLillo’s novel, but the result of “a modern mutation in the thinking of war” made clear by Clausewitz’s insight; in other words, the “classical way of thinking about war as . . . extreme expression of sovereignty is now set at a distance in more or less confused manner.”95 Before we pursue this point further, we need to consider yet another theoretical narrative, which considers war in the context of mediatechnology’s global revolution. This argument is evident in moments of prophetic exaltation that we often encounter in the writing of media theorists: “True wars are not waged over people or fatherlands—writes Friedrich Kittler—but rather between various media, communications technologies and data streams.”96 In other words, the meaning of history is written neither within public or behind-the-scenes politics, but by a secret technological underside of human civilization, which intensifies in the twentieth century, as modern warfare sets the stage for the mass production and distribution of storage, transmission and computing media.97 This fundamental thesis, which takes various formulations throughout Kittler’s work, comes as the result of a reflection on technical media that substitutes the cultural-anthropological paradigm (interpretation in terms of “bodily prosthesis”) with Claude Shannon’s mathematical model (interpretation in terms of entropy). At the same time, the thesis is derived from reading the postmodern Jeremiad, Gravity’s Rainbow (1972); in Thomas Pynchon, the author of the book, and Boeing engineer turned writer, Kittler finds a fellow thinker of media ontology: “War was never political at all, the politics was all theater, all just to keep the people distracted . . . secretly, it was being dictated by the needs of technology . . . by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy burst of war.”98 In the KittlerianPynchonian universe, Clausewitz’s claim is, at best, anachronistic. In order to understand the relevance of Clausewitzian theory to the global media and military system, we need to discuss the role of political targeting during and after the Cold War. The notion of targeting does, in fact, bring into focus a model of rational-strategic thinking present in practices from various fields of contemporary life—the military, marketing, medicine, politics and writing—that aim to master the occurrence of the unforeseeable. Samuel Weber astutely notes, however, “whereas targeting tends to generalize momentary control of a situation qua opportunity and project it indefinitely upon the future, it can wind up exposing itself all the more destructively to the unforeseen.”99

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In a narrower sense, my argument thus confronts—in Samuel Weber’s terms—“the militarization of thinking.” Even in the context of the emergence of drone targeting in the past years as the hegemonic media-warfare response to terrorism, my argument does not attempt to solve the legal and ethical questions opened by this military strategy, but rather to show that the conflict between “communication technologies and data streams” is fueled by an imaginary of power that is irreducible to its technological materiality. The imaginary of power is thus what links the logic of warfare-media (communication technology generated by strategic rationales and the Pentagon’s support of its development) and the information/entertainment system whose media apparatus relies on the continuous engagement of its spectators-citizens in narratives of temporal and spatial displacement. The war in Iraq emerged, for example, from a tragic policy error— overconfidence in the military might and intelligence technology followed by absurd fictions about weapons of mass destruction. Turning to the case analyzed in detail by Samuel Weber, we note that “singular strike” that was meant to kill Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, from the distance, changed the initial US war plans, thus relying on a window of opportunity that proved as illusory as the administration’s war goals. In the aftermath of September 11, “the directly targeted killing of foreign adversaries, once rejected as beyond the pale, has [thus] become a prominent issue in debates over US security policy.”100 In the case of Iraq, the confusion of tactics and strategy is, however, not simply caused by the “fog of war” (the metaphor used by Clausewitz to designate the unreliable character of all war intelligence). The logic behind the failed killing of Saddam had already been inscribed in the dangerous fantasy that led the Bush administration—a brief war followed by a democratic happyending of spontaneous order. At the dismantling of this fantasy, images of a disruptive civil war contradicted the presumed logic of media-warfare that was established during the Gulf War of the early 1990s. As the Iraq War appeared off target, unable to envision itself as a conflict that would successfully weaken transnational terrorist networks, it could only repeat a bloody media spectacle, remediated as if made for the culture industry’s international audience. The new means of war incorporate, however, the military thinking that enabled democratic states to target “bad leaders.” Building on Derrida’s analysis of rogue states, in the post-9/11 context of US antiterrorist policy, Samuel Weber has linked the figure of illegitimate or rogue sovereigns in the international arena to Christian theology while also showing, in a discussion that resonates with Libra, that the word

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rogue appears in our political vocabulary in the context of the JFK assassination: “Long before the term rogue was used to delegitimize foreign states, it was used to designate elements working within the domestic state apparatus but outside the official chain of command and control.”101 Libra displays the plan to assassinate the president as a continuation of the clandestine war against Castro and the overall political and military effort to contain the global expansion of Communism. At the same time, DeLillo offers a surprising prophetic insight: The negative theology of Cold War politics derives from imagining the rogue military power at the heart of American democracy involved in games of double deception both in the public sphere of the sovereign-nation and in the international community.102 The conspiracy-network described in the novel is thus an unstable structure. As the site where a subversive action is organized, the conspiracy does not have the logistic support of the military apparatus and relies therefore on the mobility of the partisan or guerilla warfare. In other words, the conspiratorial plan must be differentiated from the institutional organization of a military conflict that, in a specific political context, privileges the assassination of foreign leaders. The initial plot, the schedule of the actual operation as well as its specific setting, changes as the plot escapes the control of Win Everett, rogue former-CIA agent that initiates the targeting of the president. A definite point of break in the linear narrative of the conspiracy plot is, therefore, rogue CIA agent T. J. Mackey’s decision to do away with the creator of the plot, Win Everett. Mackey focuses on Kennedy as the real target of the plot; the president becomes a necessary sacrifice required by an unfinished intelligence business. The alteration of the conspiratorial plan is caused by the expansion of a network whose center (i.e., the place of the master) is dissolved in the complex maze of power, hence T. J. Mackey’s reflection in Libra: “too many people, too many levels of plotting” (L 304). Skip Willman has argued, “DeLillo ‘traverses the fantasy’ of conspiracy theory by dismantling the figure of ‘the Other of the Other’ (i.e., the invisible master) in Win Everett, the CIA veteran and master planner,”103 yet his analysis does not address the complications in the novel’s plot. DeLillo’s fiction starts with a clearly identifiable master figure, an ex-CIA operative, now a professor at Texas Women’s University, but as “mastery” becomes less and less certain once the plot is developed, an obscure form of authority takes over. Mackey himself knows that in contacting Alpha 66, he becomes involved with an unknown group, with potential other masters who can interfere with his own leadership position: “Some of Alpha’s boldest operations were run by elements hidden in the Agency. Alpha had CIA mentors. These were men Mackey wasn’t

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even close to knowing. They weren’t necessarily known to the leaders of Alpha. . . . Alpha was run like a dream clinic. The Agency worked up a vision, then got Alpha to make it come true” (L 304). The success of the conspiracy (in DeLillo’s novel) depends on the ability to identify the right “window of opportunity,” a notion relating to “target of opportunity” as potentiality to implementation.104 In the new political and technological conflict of “the war on terror,” military thinking seems to rely on the basic rationale of conspiratorial groups—that is, to approach their enemy mainly as a target of opportunity. According to Ward Thomas: “Guerilla movements’ success against more powerful foes has been striking. Transnational terrorist organizations present an even more difficult challenge: not only are there no easily identifiable armed forces to engage in combat, there are seldom specific geographic locations around which the threat is centered. . . . Perhaps out of frustration, states confronting non-traditional foes have proved more willing to employ non-traditional means, including targeted killings.”105 We can use DeLillo’s fictional scenario to compare military targeting in the war against global terrorist networks and the targeting model used by secret organizations (with involvement from intelligence agencies) during the Cold War. DeLillo links the practice of targeting authorized under the umbrella of government secrecy during the Cold War106 to the plot against the American president. In today’s situation, in a transnational context dominated by the global development of terrorist networks, the secret military operations of the Cold War, for instance, the attempts on Castro’s life in the 1950s and 1960s, become part of the official US policy of preemptive action, the main political and ethical rationale for targeting foreign leaders. According to a 2002 National Security Strategy document, “given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past . . . We cannot let our enemies strike first.”107 Even though we can easily read this novel as a prophetic warning against the preemptive war doctrine legitimated under President George W. Bush after 9/11, a more interesting discussion of literature’s engagement with the political emerges by focusing on the question whether, in examining the grammar of military and conspiratorial targeting, DeLillo is able to write a narrative that is not submitted to the sovereign goal.108 To put it briefly, Libra’s “target” is not to expose the sovereign-historical truth of the Kennedy assassination but rather to present, in the form of a literary montage, a response to the enigma of the president’s death. For the postmodern writer, the potentiality of the plot (i.e., its window of opportunity) actualizes itself in a concrete set of spatial-temporal

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coordinates, a place and a moment to achieve its end. As DeLillo shows in Libra: “Plots carry their own logic. There is a tendency of plots to move toward death” (L 221). This statement reminds us of a scene from White Noise in which Jack Gladney discusses the attempt on Hitler’s life: “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots. Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers’ plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children’s games. We edge nearer death every time we plot. It is like a contract that all must sign, the plotters as well as those who are the targets of the plot.”109 Every plot constitutes an organization of one’s actions in a temporal sequence. This ordering principle can only achieve an actual structure, by following the logic of finitude (the beginning of any real or imaginary “story” needs the confirmation of its end). In this sense, targeting (consideration, surveillance, localization) is not simply specific to military-political thinking, but is in fact part of the process of narrative elaboration. In the Western tradition, according to Jean-Luc Nancy, there are two conceptions of the end corresponding to two Greek terms: “Skopos is the target [la cible] that one has in one’s sight and at which one takes aim; it is the goal presently and clearly offered to an intention [une visée]. Telos, by contrast, is the fulfillment of an action or of a process, its development up to its end. [It] can also designate the summit, the apex, or, again the supreme power of sovereign jurisdiction. . . . Skopos is the draw of the bow, telos, life and death.”110 DeLillo’s rewriting of the plot against JFK differentiates between the target (skopos) of conspiracy and its long-term goals (telos), between the revenge plot against the American president motivated by a rogue CIA agent’s symbolic debt and the political plan to oust Castro. In the last episodes of the novel, the conspirators disappear from the book, as their political plan to create an anti-Cuban military operation dissipates. As they have perhaps become themselves the target of a more powerful and better-organized plot, DeLillo chooses to conclude the book by following Oswald’s path in the Dallas labyrinth, between two deaths; in this context, any notion of telos has collapsed, and the novel focuses on the significance of skopos. The semantic richness of this Greek term, and of the verb skeptomai (to consider, to examine, to watch out for)111 is preserved in at least two English words relevant to DeLillo’s novel: telescope (or riflescope) and horoscope (Oswald’s actions being linked to David Ferrie’s obsession with astrology). The term thus refers to the direct aiming of the gun, but also to the aiming of the film camera. The visual recordings of Kennedy and Oswald’s deaths do not constitute a way out of the labyrinth, but the evident interfering presence of a telescopic gaze. Abraham Zapruder is

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not mentioned by name in the novel but the following paragraph discloses his presence in the crowd, accidentally filming the death of the US president: “Someone with a movie camera stood on the abutment over there, aiming this way, and the man in the white sweater, hands suspended now at belt level, was thinking he ought to go to the ground, he ought to fall right now. A misty light around the President’s head. Two pink-white jets of tissue rising from the mist. The movie camera running” (L 400). According to the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, the visual document filmed by Zapruder on November 22, 1963 is “the only possible film of Kennedy’s death, all the other points of view are missing: that of Kennedy and Jacqueline, that of the assassin himself and his accomplices, that of those with a better vantage point, and that of the police escorts, etc.”112 In DeLillo’s literary version of the assassination scene, some of these viewpoints are not missing; they simply run counter to each other, as the text desires to mention them all: Jacqueline Kennedy’s voice of panic, the Secret Service messages (appearing in the text in italics), Zapruder’s vision and Raymo’s (the Alpha 66 conspirator) preparing the rifle for the fatal shot. With the exception of Zapruder’s film, all these other visual-narrative glimpses of the event tell a story from the perspective of someone not present in the scene. The text becomes a cinematic play with very few subjective shots. While this literary composition would be different from the one envisioned by Pasolini, who imagined “a footage shot from all those points of view . . . a series of long takes that would reproduce that moment simultaneously from various viewpoints,” it does create, however, under DeLillo’s own strategy, “a type of montage.”113 DeLillo describes America’s fall in the infernal geography of violence by reenacting the shooting in Dealey Plaza as a literary montage. This literary technique allows DeLillo to describe the diffusion of the political (the enthusiastic community greeting the president) in the experience of social alienation, chaos, and confusion. The text follows the disintegration of language, as the void of the assassination takes over Dallas. In DeLillo’s own words, “the book becomes one headlong scream towards November 22.”114 Parts of the story are narrated through Oswald’s eyes. This scene should “provide the ideal narrative vantage point from which to produce a conclusive interpretation of the case . . . but instead the text hovers somewhere between a lone gunman and a conspiracy theory.”115 In Libra, the access to the panoramic view from the sixth floor of the Texas School Depository gradually passes into a close-up image seen through Oswald’s riflescope. Oswald’s viewpoint corresponds to the imaginary

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situation described by Pasolini, a subjective shot (the ambiguity is intentional), offering itself to the reader as present, albeit a different one than Zapruder’s. After shooting twice and only wounding the president, Oswald acknowledges the presence of “a white burst in the middle of the frame, [a] terrible splash, a burst” (L 110). And the narrator (Oswald) goes on to explain what he has seen: “Something came blazing off the President’s head. He was slammed back, surrounded all in dust and haze. Then suddenly clear again, down and still in his seat. Oh he’s dead, he’s dead” (L 110). We can consider Oswald’s encounter with the abyss of the Other as the moment when DeLillo includes the limit of the visual space within its representation as a symbolic field.116 In this blurring of boundaries Oswald is riveted to the Other, to something more than him, which is also inseparable from him. Taken by surprise in the very instance of his criminal act, Oswald realizes he had been “tricked into the plot” (L 400), that he is only a “witness” of the crime against the president or the conspiracy against America. Oswald’s face returns to haunt us, as he is killed in front of the camera and his death plays on TV over and over as a sign of political panic and collective anxiety: “There was something in Oswald’s face, a glance at the camera before he was shot, that put him here in the audience . . . a way of telling us that he knows who we are and how we feel, that he has brought our perceptions and interpretations into his sense of the crime” (L 447). These scenes bring forward DeLillo’s own desire to create a narrative in which the notion of targeting dissolves in the complex assemblage of images and voices making up the impossible films of the assassinations. In this sense, the writer’s aims correspond faithfully to the filmmaker’s reflections on the presentation of reality: There are so many unreliable eyes and ears (or cameras and tape recorders) which record an irreversible event, one which appears different to each of these natural organs or technical instruments (shot, countershot, establishing shot, medium shot, close-up, and all other possible camera positions). Each of these presentations of reality is extremely impoverished, aleatory, almost pitiful, if one realizes that it is only one among many.117

The Political Theology of the Secret One of the plot details missing from our previous analysis is that, in Libra, a retired senior intelligence analyst, Nicholas Branch, is hired by the CIA to write the “secret history of the assassination of President

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Kennedy” (L 15).118 The novel presents a paradoxical situation—the man has access to almost all the confidential files from CIA’s Office of Security or from FBI’s classified collection; he is not able, however, to come up with the true story, albeit secret, about the events of November 22, 1963. While working on the case and realizing the “almost holy” strangeness of the object he studies, his only contact with the Agency is the Curator who sends him documents. That the CIA needs to create a confidential JFK archive implies that the president’s death is not simply part of the agency’s secrets (as most conspiracy theorists argue) but is in itself a secret for the intelligence community. This fictional situation becomes an illustrative case of the famous misquote from Hegel’s Aesthetics, used by Slavoj Žižek and J. A. Miller: “the secrets of the Egyptians were secrets for the Egyptians.”119 DeLillo’s Libra deals with government secrecy very much according to this rationale: Some secrets of the CIA are secrets for the CIA. This statement introduces DeLillo’s political parable about the relation of democratic sovereignty to security and secrecy, in the context of the Cold War. According to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the essence of government secrecy in the United States derives from the following mechanism developed among various agents and agencies that belong to the larger system of collecting and protecting “confidential” information: “Departments and agencies hoard information, and the government becomes a kind of market. Secrets become organizatorial assets, never to be shared save in exchange for another organization’s assets. Sometimes the exchange resembles the barter: I trade my willingness to share certain secrets for your help in accomplishing my purposes.”120 It should not be surprising, however, that Win Everett (DeLillo’s character) believes, “it was a natural law that men with secrets tend to be drawn to each other, not because they want to share what they know but because they need the company of the like-minded, the fellow afflicted” (L 16). In fact, after he was diagnosed with “motivational exhaustion” and exiled at the Texas Women’s University, Win Everett no longer has any secrets to share. This is the reason why he needs the company of those who are closer to the place where secrets are kept, found or created. The invention of the plot to shoot (and initially to miss) the president is yet another secret of an already organized underground intelligence group: “They were five men who could not let go of Cuba. But they were also an outlawed group. This gave their meetings a self-referring character. Things turned inward. There was only one secret that mattered now and that was the group itself” (L 23).

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In DeLillo’s novel, the creation of the space of secrecy belongs to a conspiratorial group. This site is anything but a fertile terrain for public dialogue leading to consensus. Arguably, the existence of this group showcases the weaknesses of the public model of democracy, faced in the context of Cold War’s intricate discourse, with the global ramifications of US power. Since this fictional “secret society” is, at the same time inside and outside the law, DeLillo offers a different perspective on the role covert programs and the intelligence community played in undermining public trust in democratic institutions as well as subverting the global legitimacy of US political modernity: “Such activities [covert missions to assassinate foreign leaders] almost inevitably become known. The damage to United States foreign policy, to the good name and the reputation of the United States abroad, is incalculable. . . . [T]he undermining of the American public’s confidence in its government . . . is the most damaging consequence of all.”121 Towards the end of the novel, Nicholas Brach becomes more and more suspicious of his own role to write a history of the assassination for CIA’s closed collection. He begins to believe that there is no absolute openness even within the agency and he “wonders if there is a limit inherent in the yielding of information gathered in the secret” (L 442). As he feels alienated in the labyrinth created by the Agency’s mysterious identity, Nicholas Branch (as perhaps DeLillo’s narrative alter-ego) offers an interesting political and metaphysical analysis of the institution he has worked for all of his life: Before his retirement, Branch analyzed intelligence, sought patterns in random scads of data. He believed secrets were childish things. He was not generally impressed by the accomplishments of men in clandestine service, the spy handlers, the covert-action staff. He thought they’d built a vast theology, a formal coded body of knowledge that was basically play material, secret-keeping, one of the keener pleasures and conflicts of childhood. Now he wonders if the Agency is protecting something very much like its identity— protecting its own truth, its theology of secrets. (L 442; my italics) If DeLillo’s task in Libra is “to deconstruct” the CIA, as a “secret parallel power,”122 Nicholas Branch’s reflections about the creation of a vast “theology” of secrets may be the crucial moment of that process. The theological genealogy of secrecy is relevant here, specifically the interplay between the Latin terms secretum and arcanum;123 more relevant in the discussion of a political theology of secrecy is the sixteenth-century idea of arcanum imperii. Before pursuing this point any further, a disclaimer is necessary.

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In DeLillo’s fictional world, theological secrecy has implications that need to be discussed in the context of secularization.124 DeLillo’s character draws attention to the political-theological structure of the secret not only to challenge a bureaucratic structure failing to operate according to the principle of the law (the national-security legislation that created the CIA, for instance), but to point towards the law’s own weakness, the law’s own vulnerability in relation to secrecy. One of the conspirators in Libra, Guy Banister acknowledges the rapport between democratic sovereignty and secrecy. Speaking about Kennedy’s charisma in a way that reminds of Max Weber’s concept, DeLillo’s character defines this term as follows: “Do you know what charisma means to me? It means he [Kennedy] holds the secrets. The dangerous secrets used to be held outside the government. Plots, conspiracies, secrets of the revolution, secrets of the end of the social order” (L 68). Sovereignty is secrecy; in other words, state power aims to sovereignty through decisions on what is to be held secret, the classified information banned from public knowledge and use. More so, if necessary, the decision itself can be concealed, as in the case concerning the CIA run operations in the Cold War, such as the Bay of Pigs. The meeting between Win Everett and Larry Parmenter at the beginning of Libra, however, offers a different idea of how intelligence and secrecy are related: “Knowledge was a danger, ignorance a cherished asset. In many cases the DCI, the Director of Central Intelligence, was not to know important things. The less he knew, the more decisively he could function” (L 21).125 DeLillo sees secrecy, not simply as the effect of the culture of confidentiality, centered on the “economy” of information exchange, but also as the result of a specific bureaucratic principle of responsibility. Acting according to the principle, “just get the results” (L 21), conveys an work ethic of efficiency: a job well-done, regardless if your work is to plan a cover up military invasion of Guatemala, to “poison Castro’s cigars” (L 21) or simply to find out if the Russians were up to no good. Groups like SE Detailed that Everett and Parmenter had once been part of, were given the freedom and the authority to create “the details” for their operations, while ranking members in the government agreed to be kept in the dark: “The Joint Chiefs were not to know. The operational horrors were not for their ears. Details were a form of contamination. . . . Each level of the committee was designed to protect a higher level” (L 21). Some secrets are thus necessarily available only to the agents themselves, the men who “were spawning secrets that quivered like reptile eggs” (L 21); everyone else has to be protected from the “fear and trembling” effect an absolute knowledge. According to Libra, secrecy is made up of a series of shields, whose aim is to keep

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the sovereign protected from CIA’s business (“The White House was to be the summit of unknowing,” L 22). If the “agency” is simply the source of an immense body of coded knowledge, as Nicholas Branch suspects, its made-up network of secrets “perpetuates itself” (L 22) as an automaton. Secrecy becomes the limit between the political power of the sovereign (and its sphere of responsibility) and the political status of the intelligence community as they attempt to constitute an exception to the law, the political-juridical order designated by a democratic sovereign. Secrecy thus secures the state not only against potential enemies, but also against illegal acts committed in the name of state security. Does DeLillo’s Libra suggest that the network of secrets administered by the CIA is simply a secularized form of the Christian secret?126 According to Hans Blumenberg’s insightful analysis, this definition of secularization—operative in Karl Löwith’s Meaning in History, or Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology—would imply the following argument. The world “appears as . . . an aggregate of specifiable and transitively qualitative transformations in which each case the later phase is possible and intelligible only in relation to the earlier phase assigned to it.”127 That is to say, in the context of DeLillo’s novel, political secrecy could only be understood as the result/product of a process or mutation originating in a theological concept. Even if it stands simply as a fictional hypothesis, confirming Blumenberg’s argument, and not as a legal or philosophical concept, the idea of a political theology of the secret is an original one. According to Mark Neocleous, the doctrine of “reason of state” (i.e., the interests of political power are not identical to the principles of Christian ethics) as formulated by Italian sixteenth-century scholars like Botero and Guicciardini was founded on the principle of state secrecy.128 The German scholar Arnold Clapmar took this idea (i.e., arcanum imperii) a step further and considers the notion of state secrecy as linked to “the doctrine of the sacred and mysterious character of kingship,” as Peter Donaldson demonstrated in his erudite exposition of Clapmar’s opus, De Arcanus Rerum Publicarum.129 In DeLillo’s Libra, the kernel of a secularization idea is found in a private scene, Larry Parmenter having dinner at home with his wife Beryl. They talk about his classified work in banal terms, as the CIA operative casually makes up an argument (so often heard today) about the beneficial results of market capitalism. As their discussion moves on to the CIA’s mission in the world, Beryl’s intimate thoughts shed a new light on the Agency’s fictional dimensions in DeLillo’s novel: “The Agency was the one subject in his life that could never be exhausted. Central Intelligence. Beryl saw it as the best organized church in the Christian

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world, a mission to collect and store everything that anyone has ever said and then reduce it to a microdot and call it God” (L 260). Larry Parmenter also relates to the Agency “in away that has nothing to do with jobs or institutions or governments” (L 259), a place where he can find understanding and trust. His rhetorical pathos resonates with his wife’s reflection about the CIA as the “best organized church in the Christian world” (L 260). If they confess their sins, the Agency is always willing to forgive its loyal subjects, “to consider a man in a new light” (L 259). In Marc Osteen’s words “the theology of secrets disseminates blame, offering guilt-free confession and total absolution.”130 The CIA is therefore considered a religious organization hidden under the protective veil of the modern democratic state. This idea does not rely on a transfer of concepts from theology to politics, due to a historical process. DeLillo’s character formulates instead an analogy between Christianity as a religion of the book and the CIA’s task to produce a secret universal archive. As Blumenberg noticed, “analogies are not transformations” and emphasized instead the metaphorical character of “all borrowing from the dynastic language treasures of theology.”131 DeLillo openly uses metaphorical language to present a meaningful literary mirror to the institutions of government secrecy. In Beryl Parmenter’s view, the CIA’s hold on absolute knowledge arrives at a final aim, only through a techno-theological synthesis, “a microdot” called God.132 This digital stage of this secularization process only repeats, in fact, a familiar theological process mentioned by Blumenberg: “the deus revelatus [revealed God], historicized, becomes once again the deus absconditus [hidden God], as which He revealed himself.”133 Confirming DeLillo’s suspicions in White Noise and Underworld, the technological age of digital transfer produces its own theology of concealment: Unable to transform the world, as Blumenberg would have it, the false sacred spaces of postmodernism can only hide “that which the world cannot tolerate.”134 The metaphorical nature of DeLillo’s theology of the secret relates in essence to Blumenberg’s redefinition of political-theology as “the sum of a set of metaphors, whose selection reveals more about the character of the situation in which use is made of them than about the origin of the ideas and concepts that are employed in dealing with such situations.”135 Let me turn, as a way to conclude, to the state of exception—in Giorgio Agamben’s terms, the arcanum imperii of the paradigm of politics/government in the Western World—which I shall consider in the more specific context of political secrecy and the Cold War version of “constitutional dictatorship.” As Clinton Rossiter shows, “in the Atomic Age upon

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which the world is now entering, the use of constitutional emergency powers may well become the rule and not the exception.”136 According to DeLillo’s novel, the government’s monopoly on secrecy is a new political reality, corresponding to the bi-polar fragile stability of the Cold War, an idea that is well documented historically.137 For Guy Banister, the subversive (i.e., dangerous) secrets used to be created outside the state apparatus by underground groups once able to manipulate history. The mythical power and influence of secret societies is over, now that “the government . . . has a lock on the secrets that matter” (L 69). As Banister adds “all the danger is in the White House, from nuclear weapons on down” (L 69). The atomic bomb as the ultimate “secret” becomes here the central trope designating the Cold War as the historical referent to democracy in the age of suspicion. The president’s right to decide what is kept outside the democratic (i.e., public) scrutiny represents the specific Cold War meaning of exception. The idea of secrecy involves a sociological notion of exception that needs to be distinguished from Schmitt or Agamben’s juristic concept. As Simmel noticed, “the secret gives one a position of exception; it operates on a purely social determined attraction. It is basically independent of the content it guards but . . . is increasingly effective in the measure in which the exclusive possession is vast and significant.”138 At a more abstract level, DeLillo’s novel describes the confrontation between two types of secrecy. One model constitutes the ground of sovereignty; the other denies the sovereign right to decide what cannot appear in the public space. In consequence, Guy Banister’s motto illustrates the virtues of conspiratorial secrecy: “Strip the man of his powerful secrets. Take his secrets and he is nothing” (L 68). The plot against America relies on creating an exception to the already enforced state of exception government secrecy has acquired under the historical conditions of the Cold War. In this sense, the enigma of Kennedy’s assassination constitutes a secret for the CIA, as well as, an event originating in the secret underground of anti-Communist military operations conducted by the same agency. Joan Copjec’s discussion of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s remarks on Zapruder’s film is explicitly showing the stakes of the dialogue I have staged between DeLillo’s novel and recent theoretical debates centered on the political logic of the exception and the retreat of sovereignty. In an essay entitled “What Zapruder Saw?” she wrote: One wonders if Pasolini did not catch a glimpse in this footage [Zapruder’s film (my note)] of the assassination of America’s premiere legal authority, the tearing of his flesh, of a perverse relation

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to the law—a relation in which the law is no longer regarded as necessary but fallible (because it has to be represented by particular policies and persons), but is viewed instead as an infallible contingency. In the latter case, the punishing and humiliation of the law’s representative would aim not at installing a new law, but preserving the certainty of the law’s truth and would thus replace the autonomy of the citizen-subject with a determination to carry out the duty spelled out by a heteronomous edict.139 The film of Kennedy’s death is the postmodern image of a gratuitous violence against the law, as the only way to touch the law is by “tearing the flesh” of the human being who symbolically (and democratically) incarnates it. This event occurs in a world where the political structure of the state is no longer fueled by a theological principle of continuity. In the aftermath of the “democratic revolution” and the consolidation of American sovereignty on the secular ideas of symbolic representation, this theological principle is no longer at stake, and a possible identification of the sovereign with “bare life”140 occurs without any properly religious mediation. What makes possible this identification is the very technological structure of our social space, the persistence of films and recordings, bringing to the present the “estranging” image of the past: The Zapruder film is one of these documents, “powerfully open, . . . glary and artless and completely steeped in being what it was, in being film. It carries a kind of inner life, something unconnected to the things we call phenomena.”141 The visual image of Kennedy’s death isolates, in its material body, the excess of the American president’s bare life and institutes a void too frightening, not to acquire a mystical status.

Concluding Remarks: Transnational American Studies in the Fog of the Cold War

What is the significance of the Cold War antagonism between democracy and totalitarianism to the political modernity of the global present? An answer to this question, this book has argued, is formulated in post-1945 American and Eastern European interpretive novels. Being exemplary literary fictions about “writing at the pressure of the political,” these narratives work through traumatic events of contemporary history. In their fictional worlds, we witness the dissolution of Cold War universalisms and are confronted by the trials of the political in the age of the global picture. More specifically, novelists such as Pynchon, Kundera, Coover, Popescu, DeLillo, and Kiš examine a political imagination held captive by the split between two visions of universality (freedom in the West vs. social justice in the East) and by a culture of secrecy that ties national identity to security imperatives. In their diverse—and, at times, conflicting interpretations of the political Cold War—these writers do not propose utopian alternatives to the dead-end of totalitarianism or to the impasses of democracy but tease out the complications that the “present” moment weaves into ideological representations of History. Furthermore, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the literary investigation of ideas, forces and circumstances that shattered modernity’s promises (such as secularization, autonomy and rights) sustains the novelists’ desire to be contemporary. In order to see through the obscurity of their age, for which the “fog of the Cold War” counts as an apt name, these writers adopted, in secular terms, a prophetic rhetoric (with Kafkaesque and Orwellian overtones) that gravitates between two discursive modes: the elegiac (with an emphasis on the impossible consolation that

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literature should give to the victims of History) and the visionary realist (with an emphasis on the insight gained by literature as it imagines the unseen rooms where History is decided). The task of this book has been to stage “imagined dialogues” between United States and Eastern European novels rather than simply compare them from a thematic and poetic standpoint. This dialogic model opens the path to study the transnational narratives that make up the global discourse of the Cold War and to evaluate the hegemonic role of US rhetoric of national exceptionalism. Given the transatlantic focus of our research, we acknowledge that significant aspects of the global Cold War are beyond the scope of this book. Our goal has not been to offer a panoramic view of all narratives about globalism produced in the context of the US-Soviet conflict and their “scramble for the Third World” but to find in representative snapshots of Cold War modernity—captured by the world of the novel—those elements around which its global discourse or world picture is constructed: atom bomb, Stalinist show-trials, anti-Communist propaganda, totalitarian terror, secret military operations and political targeting. How does our approach, founded on the interface between comparative literary methodology and political theory, relate to current academic efforts to “re-frame the transnational turn in American studies,” an interdisciplinary field of research whose scholarly motivations, academic fantasies and anxieties are marked by the scholars’ affective relation to Cold War America?1 We would like to mention, in these concluding remarks, only the points where the transnational perspective derived in The Underside of Politics differs from the new directions of the discipline outlined by contemporary scholars. In our view, the literary texts discussed in this book (and many others) participate in the work of American studies, rather than representing, as cultural artifacts, its research object. If scholarship is no longer the privileged interpretive writing form of the “field,” this situation requires us to address the “disciplinary coherence . . . that emerged largely in reference to its opposition to exceptionalist narratives of national identity”2 in regards to literary narratives about Cold War America. We are not suggesting here that there is a fundamental disjunction between scholarship and literary writing in their interpretive work, but that their distinct ways of engagement with America’s role in the world considers the centrality of exceptionalism within a larger field of “cultural contradictions” in American democracy—to use John Brenkman’s term. The major achievement of recent American studies scholarship, particularly in the work of Donald Pease, which we briefly discussed in

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the introduction, was to show why Cold War discourse appropriated the myth of American Exceptionalism—to foster a “state fantasy” that structured US citizens’ lives by linking national cultural experiences to a polarized global imaginary. In other words, “US dominance during the Cold War was sustained through the state’s representation of us as an exception to the rules through which it regulated the rest of the global order.”3 In light of this logic that focuses on the effective role of exceptionalism, the work of American studies scholars (and in many cases, writers) is to produce narratives that are able to dismantle the collective fantasy that supports it. Even as we agree with Pease’s argument, we do need to consider more closely what assumptions inform dominant views of the Cold War in American studies—that is, of a discursive formation that “fostered a cartographic imaginary that divided the planet into regions aligned with opposed ideological dispositions.”4 This book presented a more nuanced analysis to the discursive construction of the Cold War. If we only consider this phenomenon through the lens of ideological and geopolitical division, we fail to see how its hegemonic narrative also operates as a collective fantasy, yet a peculiar one because, unlike exceptionalism, it cannot be fully claimed by the nation-state. We should perhaps consider a different theoretical angle: Emerging in the fog of the events that ended the world war, the geopolitical fantasy of balance of power aims to enact the desire for global order. We are often reminded of the lasting effects of the Cold War on democratic culture: apocalyptic rhetoric, militarization of public discourse and populist demonology. A more significant legacy of Cold War politics lies in its conception of global order, in itself a construct derived from juridical norms and military procedures through which “the earth had been appropriated, divided and cultivated” from the moment when “the planet on which we live” appeared as a meaningful totality.5 Military technology and information networks have shaped the Cold War into the age of geopolitics (or, in our terminology, the age of the global picture), right when a complex set of historical circumstances and forces broke down the Eurocentric representation of the world. According to Schmitt, the international legal norms that had regulated the world-space as two worlds (land and sea) and created their “completely different concepts of war, enemy and booty” shifted their vocabulary to geographical concepts, while preserving the deeper “elemental antithesis” of land and sea—the firm ground, the territory through which modern conception of national sovereignty is demarked opposed to the freedom of exploration and trade, which took

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state sovereignty beyond its border while simultaneously exposing its limit: Today (1954), the world we live is divided into two parts, the East and West, which confront each other in Cold War and, occasionally, also in hot wars. That is the present division of earth. Above all, East and West are geographical concepts. In terms of planet, they are also fluid and indeterminate concepts. The earth has two poles—North and South; it has no East and West poles. In relation to Europe, America is the West; in relation to China and Russia, Europe is again the West. In purely geographical terms, it is impossible to find either an established border or a declaration of mutual enmity.6 Given the indeterminacy of these geographical categories, what was, in fact privileged by this division of the planet was not simply a balance of power in terms of the opposition between land and sea but also a status quo understood in ideological and military terms. Cold War discourse explicitly linked the myth of a stable global order to the experience of modern terror through the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (or MAD, as it was humorously coined by the father of game theory, John von Neumann).7 The “balance of terror” argument—to use Brian Massumi’s term—posited by this military doctrine opened the way for the global order narrative to become articulated in the political vocabulary of US democracy. A semantic equivalence between global order and national security emerged in the context of the ideological struggle to define modernity in the aftermath of World War II and of European colonialism. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, a different conception of globalism was at stake. As the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Europe, it presented itself as the leader the Communist movement that would soon lead the world revolution. The Soviet myth of global peace was predicated, however, on Stalinist terror, the underside of idealist fanaticism that ensured its popular appeal. The previous chapters have shown that by dismantling the Cold War as the fantasy of global geopolitical order, interpretive literary fictions capture the legitimacy crisis of the modernity projects that both the United States and the USSR claim to embody. American novelists such as Pynchon, Coover, and DeLillo write encyclopedic or systemic narratives through which American exceptionalism—the mythology through which the United States was able to disavow its imperialist practices in the Cold War—is absorbed into literary global fictions. From this perspective, American studies is no longer focused solely on exceptionalism’s

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resources to adapt itself to the shifting terrain of US national politics, but also on the work of interpreting (Cold War) globalism by situating it in relation to a pluralist set of political narratives about democracy. As it ensured that global order is both necessary and possible and that its conceptual legitimacy is unquestionable, Cold War discourse produced this fundamental axiom by erasing the boundary between the symbolic structure of geography and the imaginary representation of ideology. Construed as objective antagonism between democracy and totalitarianism, the conflict between the United States and the USSR could thus be the basis for a geopolitical balance of power. When the opposite view emerged, particularly in Leftist critiques, it held that totalitarianism was only a fiction, benefiting the hidden project of liberal-democracy, imperialism. This narrative failed however, to redefine the Cold War because it had not, in fact, questioned its presuppositions beyond the formulation of ideological polarization. We need to approach the Cold War paradigm of globalism in different terms, to consider the polarization democracy-totalitarianism as partial contamination through a third discursive element: the indefinite state of emergency. In the case of Cold War America, emergency functions as psycho-juridical structure that advocated constitutional dictatorship (rather than democratic participation) and instituted spaces of exception (secrecy) exempted from the oversight of the public sphere. This conception of emergency (and its conceptual correlative, the state of exception) cannot be easily contained; it spills over from the potentially regulated space of the nation-state into the geopolitical sphere. Whereas emergency may initially appear as the strongest argument for global order, its hegemonic role in the Cold War discourse has unexpected effects: As the conception of order (mostly defined in spatial terms) is threatened by emergency (defined in temporal terms, and referring to “a state of things unexpectedly arising and urgently demanding immediate action),”8 it begins to be defined in increasingly abstract terms, not as geopolitical or military balance of power, but as the resurgence of old myths and moral fables founded on the opposition between good and evil. As we begin to see how the fantasy at work in the global order determines various configurations of the democracy-totalitarianism structure, we also need to ask whether American studies responses to Cold War discourse and American exceptionalism operate within its imaginative horizon. One argument in this book is that, in doing the work of American studies, global interpretive fictions about the Cold War use their imaginative powers to traverse this fantasy, by constituting

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different political objects of affective attachment: the common man, the people, the network power. Let us briefly mention here one argument from the book. Coover and DeLillo address political questions in theological terms as they ask an intriguing question: How do we see ourselves in the world if we are able to dismantle the Cold War fantasy of order? For Carl Schmitt, “the metaphysical image that a definite epoch forges of the world has the same structure as what the world immediately understands to be appropriate as a form of its political organization.”9 If we reverse Schmitt’s point, we see how the geopolitical picture reveals its metaphysical (and theological) image. In this sense, Coover and DeLillo’s theological metaphors reflect and deflect, at the same time, the traumatic reality of the Cold War America: from political assassinations to Vietnam, and Watergate. Their fictions do establish an irretrievable distance between the literary work and the labyrinthine worlds of the Rosenberg execution or the Kennedy assassination, but expose challenges we face in interpreting their political contradictions. Coover’s political imagination satirically designates the allegorical Uncle Sam as the incarnating—and truly sovereign—force behind the institution of American presidency, and thus occupies the role of the “invisible master.” The central principle of American democracy, the sovereignty of the people becomes a simple footnote to Uncle Sam’s unwritten theocratic constitution. DeLillo’s approach to the question of the political comes from a different perspective, derived from the impact the Kennedy assassination had on the American social imaginary. As Libra implies, the violent death of the American president, witnessed by ordinary citizens in Dealey Plaza and accidentally filmed by Abraham Zapruder marks the entry into a “democratic” age of political suspicion, historically confirmed by moments as diverse as Nixon’s Watergate and the war in Iraq. DeLillo does not, however, see this traumatic moment as a return to the past, to “a society of a hierarchic and inegalitarian type, ruled by a theological-political logic in which the social order had its foundation in divine will.”10 In this sense, as long as it acquires a bureaucratic function, the political theology of the secret envisioned here has become part of democracy; in Libra’s fictional world, it also represents the central metaphor that allows us to consider covert operations not simply through a juridical standpoint11, but from the perspective of their legitimacy during the Cold War state of emergency. Libra thus offers an original reflection on the political in its ontological dimension, a diagnostic of liberal democracy based on the theological significance of political secrecy and on a hypothetical scenario describing the incomplete secularization of modern political institutions.

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Coover’s representation of the Cold War as allegorical space founded on the dualist mythology of division and enmity, of a war between light and darkness, constitutes the context of the novel’s satire of the emergency situation. In consequence, The Public Burning envisions a grotesque spectacle of American democracy being physically abused by a theocratic spirit, Uncle Sam. DeLillo’s Libra offers even less certainty about the reasons why contemporary American history “broke its back” while it entered the absurd phase of its “dream.” The political theology of the secret draws attention to a metaphysical image that is dense and ambiguous, a labyrinth constructed around the emptiness of the Kennedy assassination and confirmed by the image of Lee Harvey Oswald’s death, a few days after. The metaphysical image corresponding to the obscure clarity of what happened on November 22, 1963 is best described by DeLillo’s character Larry Parmenter: “There is always another level, another secret, a way in which the heart breeds a deception so mysterious and complex it can only be taken for a deeper kind of truth” (L 260). The target of DeLillo’s narrative is the prophetic “truth” of deceptive mystification on which the Cold War metaphysics of world order is founded. That literature needs to speculate on the deceptive mystification of politics and its much-needed global fictions is the imperative that links American writers’ interpretive narratives of the political Cold War to Eastern European novelists’ poetic struggle to come to terms with their individual and collective experience in totalitarian societies. Eastern European literature is the lens through which we discover that “the invisible master” (the emblem of the rogue network of power that emerges in the liminal space between the political and the military Cold War) becomes the dominant literary figure of that historical context where there is suspicion that the public master is not really in charge, that behind the scenes, corporations, government agencies, secret societies of all sorts are pulling all the strings. The invisible master, featured by Cold War American writers (from Pynchon to DeLillo), thus prophesizes the present retreat of the democratic-political, the legitimacy crisis of popular sovereignty while illuminating, at the same time, an often forgotten principle of political modernity: Democratic societies can exist only when power is affected by indeterminacy.

Notes

Prelude 1. The meaning of the term interpretation begins to shift as well—not in the sense that it searches for the manifest-content of certain phenomena designated as political, but in the sense that any literary writing, as narrative, is already an interpretation (or allegory, as de Man would have it), infinitely demanding another interpretation. 2. Oliver Marchart’s excellent study Post-foundational Political Thought provides, in addition to a commentary on Lefort’s work, an overview of other contemporary thinkers who have theorized “political difference” (i.e., the distinction between politics-the political): Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Alain Badiou, and Ernesto Laclau. Even though his main descriptive category, Leftist Heideggerianism is, in many ways, incompatible with the theoretical concerns of ethical Marxism or radical democracy, he convincingly argues, “the political . . . serves as an indicator of precisely the impossibility or absence of an ultimate foundation of society” (Oliver Marchart, Post-foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007], 154). 3. Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy: Past and Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 36. 4. Ibid., 68. 5. Ibid., 44. 6. Chantal Mouffe. The Return of the Political (London: Verso, 1993), 101. 7. David Curtis Ames, the translator of Lefort’s text, acknowledges in the foreword, “the translation of the subtitle, à l’épreuve du politique, has posed fairly insurmountable problems. An épreuve is a ‘test,’ a ‘trial,’ even an ‘ordeal’ [or] . . . a ‘travail.’ I have called upon or called attention to all these options in the present translation in order to capture the term’s sense of a challenging experience that involves a confrontation with reality” (Claude Lefort, Writing: The Political Test [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000], x–xi). Roland Végsö suggested that I consider the title as a unified sentence: “To write at the challenge of the political”—“To write under the pressure of

214 / notes the political.” The title seems to ask: How can you measure writing according to the standard of the political? 8. Lefort, Writing, xxxix. 9. Ibid., xlii. The sentence evokes, more specifically, Lefort’s remark about an “art of writing,” which Tocqueville had produced, by exploring “the social fabric [tissu] in its detail, fearing not that he might discover therein contrary properties” (Ibid., 48). 10. Claude Lefort, “The Logic of Totalitarianism” in The Political Forms of Modern Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986), 277. 11. Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 10. 12. Ibid., 19. 13. Ernesto Laclau, “Power and Social Communication,” Ethical Perspective 7, no. 2–3 (2000): 139. 14. Marchart, Post-Foundational Political Thought, 2. 15. Bernard Flynn, The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2005), 151. 16. Giorgio Agamben opens his essay, “What Is the Contemporary?” with similar reasoning: “It is essential that we manage to be in some way contemporary of . . . texts”—studied in the context of a seminar—“centuries removed” (Giorgio Agamben, What Is an Apparatus? And Other Essays [Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009], 39). 17. Roberto Esposito, “Totalitarianism or Biopolitics? Concerning a Philosophical Interpretation of the Twentieth Century,” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 4 (Summer 2008): 634. For a historical account of the imposition of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe, see Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (New York: Doubleday, 2012). 18. Eric Auerbach, “Figura,” in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1984), 58. 19. Esposito, “Biopolitics,” 638. This is the core of Esposito’s critique: “If communism isn’t only situated on the conceptual horizon of democracy that emerges from the French Revolution but in a certain sense brings it to fulfillment in its excess of egalitarianism, how then can it withstand the distinction, fundamental to the entire discourse, between totalitarianism and democracy? How can totalitarianism be defined in opposition to what it originates from?” 20. Lefort, Complications, 66. 21. Agamben, What Is an Apparatus, 41. 22. Rosanvallon, Democracy, 30. 23. Among recent theorists, Jacques Rancière focuses on the historicity of the literary (“classifying the art of writing under the notion of literature [that can be] traced back to approximately the beginning of the nineteenth century”) in order to establish a “link” between “politics as a definite way of doing and literature as a practice of writing” (Jacques Rancière, “The Politics of Literature,” Substance 33/1, no. 103 [2004]: 10). While I find his approach quite convincing, my interest is not so simply on finding a homology between modes of literary expression that appear in the nineteenth century (or, in this case, the late twentieth) and the emergence of democratic forms of political subjectivity. 24. Ibid., 46. I am citing here an explicit Lefortian moment in Rosanvallon’s call for a “philosophical history of the political.” Rosanvallon does overstate, however, the

notes / 215 significance of literary language in his essay, without providing a clear analysis of the “expansive purpose” that poetry and novels take “in the midst of the democratic age” (50). Our analysis would overcome this problem by bringing into focus the rhetorical “grammar” of political ontology, illuminated by the fictional-poetic worlds of the novel. The directions opened by discourse theory have thus informed my theoretical framework: “displacement of the research emphasis from sociolinguistic categories, which address the group, its constitutive role and its functional determinations, to the underlying logics that make these categories possible” (Laclau, foreword to Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies, and Social Change, ed. David Howarth, Aletta Norval and Yannis Stavrakakis [Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2000], xi). 25. Ivan Klima, introduction to Description of a Struggle: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing, ed. Michael March (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), xxi. 26. Harold B. Segel, The Columbia Literary History of Eastern Europe Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 68. 27. Agamben, What Is an Apparatus?, 44. 28. Ibid., 50. 29. Ibid., xx. 30. Ibid., xx.

Introduction 1. Agamben, What Is an Apparatus, 44. 2. Don DeLillo, Mao II (New York: Penguin, 1991), 157. 3. Ibid., 159. 4. It may be relevant to cite here Bill Gray’s motives: “Anyone can write a great novel, one great novel, almost any amateur off the street. . . . Some nameless drudge, some desperado with barely a nurtured dream can sit down and find his voice and luck out and do it. Something so angelic it makes your jaw hang open. The spray of talent, the spray of ideas. One thing unlike the next. Ambiguities, contradictions, whispers, hints” (DeLillo, Mao II, 159). Lefort has touched on literature’s relation to freedom in his “homage to Salman Rushdie.” 5. Don DeLillo, “The Power of History,” The New York Times Magazine, Sept. 7, 1997, n.p. 6. Sigmund Freud, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II)” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 12 (1911–1913) (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1964), 155. 7. DeLillo, “Power of History.” 8. Molotov, quoted in Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Origin of the Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 37. Hannah Arendt sees the “Great Game” of the Cold War as a new version of the imperialist ideology “whose rules permitted and even dictated the consideration of whole nations as stepping-stones, or as pawns, in today’s terminology [i.e., the terminology of the Cold War era], for the riches and the rule of a third country, which in turn became a mere stepping stone in the unending process of power expansion and accumulation” (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism [New York: Harcourt, 1968], xviii). 9. Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New York: Penguin Classics, 1982), 101.

216 / notes 10. Kiesling goes as far to suggest, “eliminating fog gives us a clear and more useful understanding of Clausewitzian friction.” “On War. Without the Fog,” Military Review (September–October 2001): 6. 11. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (New York: Vintage, 1996), 245. 12. As he remarks that antagonism between capitalism and socialism is part of the rationale behind Soviet power, George Kennan rationalizes the conflict between the United States and the USSR claiming that the latter emerged from the “Russian-Asiatic world” carrying with it “a skepticism as to the possibilities of permanent and peaceful coexistence of rival forces” (George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs 25, no. 4 [July 1957]: 568, 574). The cultural division between Western and Eastern civilization thus underlies, in an orientalist rhetoric, the objective nature of Cold War conflict. For a detailed account of this dimension of American Cold War discourse, see William Pietz, “The ‘Post-Colonialism’ of Cold War Discourse,” Social Text, no. 19/20 (Autumn 1988). 13. Don DeLillo, Underworld (New York: Scribner, 1995), 41. 14. Moira Fradinger, “Violent Boundaries: Antigone’s Political Imagination,” Theory@Buffalo, Democracy and Violence, no. 10 (2005): 103. 15. Moira Fradinger’s concise formulation of the term is useful here: “By ‘the political’ I do not mean the actually existing historical institutions of politics but rather their relation to the imagination that made them exist” (“Violent Boundaries,” 103). 16. Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken, 2005), 109. 17. Joan Didion, Democracy (New York: Vintage, 1995), 71. 18. Ibid., 72. 19. Ibid., 73. 20. Michael Tager, “The Political Vision of Joan Didion’s Democracy,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 31 no. 3 (Spring 1990): 173. 21. Ibid. 22. Andrew Hammond, Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict (New York, Routledge, 2006), 2. 23. Gordana Crnković, Imagined Dialogues: Eastern European Literature in Conversation with American and English Literature (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000). 24. Ibid., 9. 25. Laclau, foreword, xi. 26. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London: Verso, 1985), 107. The four main concepts in their theoretical project are articulation (“any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice”); discourse (“a structured totality resulting from the articulatory practice”); moments (“differential positions, insofar as they appear articulated within a discourse”); and element (“any difference that is not discursively articulated”) (105). 27. Ibid., 110. 28. Ibid., 105. 29. Barry Buzan, “The Present as a Historic Turning Point,” Journal of Peace Research 30, no. 4 (1995): 388. 30. David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 99.

notes / 217 31. The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eye Witness Accounts. ed. Jussi Hanimaki and Odd Arne Westad (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), x. 32. Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War. Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 2. 33. For a detailed historical account of this topic, see John Lewis Gaddis, “Dividing the World” in The Cold War: Essential Readings, ed. Klaus Larres, Ann Lane (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001). 34. The legacy of the Marxist messianic conception of globalization constitutes— via Trotsky and the Comintern—the foundational narrative of the Soviet Union, “conceived originally, not merely as a supranational polity and economy, but as one with no permanent borders, and a vast transnational constituency” (Benedict Anderson, “Globalization and its Discontents,” Field Day Review 1 [2005]: 178). 35. Pietz, “The ‘Post-Colonialism’ of Cold War Discourse,” 55. 36. The category of “suture” operating here is not the psychoanalytic notion famously discussed by Jacques-Alain Miller, but the “illusory self-enclosed totality that successfully erases the decentered traces of its production process” (Slavoj Žižek, “Da Capo Senza Fine,” in Judith Butler, Slavoj Žižek, and Ernesto Laclau, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality [London: Verso, 2000], 237). 37. Pietz, “Post-Colonialism,” 58. The most convincing section of Pietz’s argument is the analysis of George Kennan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (published anonymously in Foreign Affairs in 1947), in which totalitarianism appears both as a “‘relapse’ into barbarism”—illustrated by fascism—and as a natural development of Russian civilization and its mentality based on an oriental mind (ibid., 58–59). 38. Ole Waever, “Securitization and Desecuritization” in On Security, ed. Ronnie Lipschutz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 60–61. 39. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 177. 40. Ibid., 177. 41. Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s) (London: Verso, 1996), vii. A version of this argument appears in Westad’s analysis of the global Cold War: “Locked in a conflict over the very concept of European modernity—to which both states regarded themselves as successors—Washington and Moscow needed to change the world in order to prove the universal applicability of their ideologies. . . . By helping to expand the domains of freedom or social justice, both powers saw themselves as assisting natural trends in world history and as defining their own security at the same time. Both saw a specific mission in and for the Third World that only their own state could carry out and which without their involvement would flounder in local hands” (Global Cold War 5). For a detailed account of the geopolitical aesthetics of the Cold War and its relation to modernism, see Roland Végsö, The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013). 42. Václav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” in Open Letters: Selected Writings: 1965–1990 (New York: Knopf, 1991), 204. 43. This important essay is dedicated to the memory of Czech phenomenologist philosopher Jan Patočka, who has discussed modern technology in “Is Technological Civilization Decadent, and Why?” 44. Ibid., 129. 45. Ibid., 138.

218 / notes 46. This is Havel’s most explicit account of the totalitarian goal to create a system of power equivalent to technical automata: “The automatic operation of a power structure thus dehumanized and made anonymous is a feature of the fundamental automatism of this system. It would seem that it is precisely the diktats of this automatism which select people lacking individual will for the power structure, that is precisely the diktat of the empty phrases [for instance, ‘workers of the world unite’—the slogan discussed at length in the essay] as the best guarantee that the automatism of the posttotalitarian system will continue” (Ibid., 139–140). 47. Ibid., 208. 48. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 469. 49. Havel, “Power,” 134. 50. The impasse consists in the very fact that the critique of ideology cannot envision an escape from misrecognition of social reality that would not be, to some extent, ideological. 51. Ernesto Laclau, New Reflections on the Revolutions of Our Time (London: Verso, 1990), 92. 52. Claude Lefort, Complications: Communism and the Dilemmas of Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 26. Lefort mentions four ideas that are defining the Communist enterprise as “unforseeable product” of globalization (the creation of a world-space): the single social state (which has dissolved differences); the mastery of all under One; the abolition of divisions that presupposes an experience of other-ness; the elimination of the line separating the position of the dominated/ dominating in a social system (Ibid., 186). 53. This also means that we cannot posit the incorporation of the Cold War antithesis of ideologies in a larger synthesis the ideology of (Cold) War. 54. Lefort, Democracy, 19. At the outset of the Cold War, political scientists such as Clinton Rossiter attempted to create normative templates that would institute temporary regimes of constitutional dictatorship: “Survival alone is not our purpose, but survival as a free people under popular government” (“Constitutional Dictatorship in the Atomic Age,” The Review of Politics 11, no. 4 (Oct. 1949), 395–418, here 396). Popular governments have indeed survived while totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe have crumbled; yet two decades after its surprising end, the fog of the Cold War continues to wrap the “philosophical history of the political.” 55. Lefort, Complications, 28. 56. In the preface to the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt makes an argument that resonates with this notion of complication. She admits that “our period has so strangely intertwined the good and the bad that without the imperialists’ ‘expansion for expansion’s sake,’ the world might never have become one; without the bourgeoisie’s political device of ‘power for power’s sake,’ the extent of human strength might never have been discovered; without the fictitious world of totalitarian movements . . . we might have been driven to our doom without ever becoming aware of what has been happening” (viii). Could we also argue that without the Cold War, we would not have realized the self-destructive potential of modern technological civilization; without the Cold War test to democratic political culture, we would have still believed in the fiction that only totalitarianism is capable of curtailing the freedom gained after the disintegration of political-theological sovereignty? 57. Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum (New York: Telos Press, 2003), 146. While Schmitt’s account of

notes / 219 the political is undermined by his conception of modernity—especially if we agree with Hans Blumenberg’s critique—his work on globalization (The Nomos of the Earth) could be seen as a significant contribution to the philosophical history of the political. I am thus suggesting that, in spite of his conservative background and Nazi affiliation, Schmitt’s insight into the development of legal conceptions of global order is worth considering. 58. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996), 23. 59. Ibid., 22. 60. Ibid., 26. 61. Ibid., 37. 62. Ibid., 28. 63. Ibid., 19 64. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), 5. 65. Ibid., 36. 66. Kenneth Reinhard, “Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor” in The Neighbor. Three Inquires in Political Theology, ed. Slavoj Žižek, Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 11. 67. Schmitt, quoted in Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship (New York: Verso, 2005), 248. 68. Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject (New York: Verso, 2000), 241. 69. Donald E. Pease, New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2009), 24. According to Pease, state fantasy, the central aspect of any ideological formation in the context of modern-national political culture, “does not refer to a mystification, but to the dominant structure of desire out of which US citizens imagined their national identity” (Ibid., 1). 70. Like all myths, American exceptionalism is a story that has worked out (historically) a balance between its constancy and its “marginal variation” (Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988], 24). 71. This is a political ontology founded on the “structure of the sovereign ban” rather than on political difference, the distinction politics-political which parallels, for many contemporary thinkers in the Heideggerian tradition, ontological difference. 72. It is often invoked as the paradoxical state of the contemporary body politic— “a democratic state seeking to honor the rule of law is also one with a sovereign power situated within and above the law” (William Connolly, “The Complexities of Sovereignty” in Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life, ed., Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli [Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007], 24). 73. Agamben turns to the juridical theory of exception coined by Carl Schmitt (i.e., legal exception follows no rule) and applies it to Foucault’s study of biopolitics. Two utterly incompatible projects find a point of encounter in Agamben’s revived idea of the homo sacer, which he takes from Roman law. For an alternative view on this theoretical problem, see Bonnie Honig, Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009). 74. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998), 181. 75. According to Westad, “it is . . . less meaningful to talk about patterns of US and Soviet domination as ‘empires’ than to describe them in a temporal sense. Different

220 / notes from the European expansion that started in the early modern period, Moscow and Washington’s objectives were not exploitation or subjection, but control and improvement. . . . While imperialism got its social consciousness almost as an afterthought, in the Cold War it was inherent from the very beginning” (The Global Cold War 5). 76. Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca (New York: Cornell University Press, 1981), 19. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation PU. 77. “The fetish is the sign of an attempt to represent in the form of an object something that has disappeared or indeed never existed” (Marc Vernet, “Fetish in the Theory and History of Cinema,” trans. Hamilcar Otopengo, in Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories, ed. Janet Bergstrom [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999], 92). 78. Ernesto Laclau, “The Politics of Rhetoric” in Tom Cohen, Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 239. 79. Machiavelli, Discourses 1.6, quoted in Lefort, Writing, 137. 80. Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms (New York: Verso, 2005), 9. 81. Thomas Pynchon, foreword to 1984, by George Orwell (New York: Penguin, 1989), xi–xiii. 82. Ibid. 83. The term “prophetic realism” has been used to describe the conspiracy thematic that is central to American postmodern writers, to “the paranoid planetarity imagined by Pynchon and DeLillo” (Emily Apter, “On Oneworldedness: Or Paranoia as a World System,” American Literary History 18, no. 2 [2006]: 365). In her attempt to envision a transnational paradigm of “oneworldedness”—derived from the Cold War trope of paranoid subjectivity—Apter fails to provide a proper theory of prophetic discourse. Her claim that Pynchon and DeLillo, as allegorists of the nation, represent the exemplary form of American-led literary globalization— “export[ing] a singularly American style of one-world thinking . . . to consolidate the symbolic capital of American literary postmodernity” (Ibid., 385–386)—is thus founded on a skewed view of globalism as inherently threatening to local cultures rather than on a thorough study of the worldwide circulation and reception of American postmodernism. 84. Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (New York: Horizon Press Book, 1957), 237. 85. Ibid., 236. 86. Étienne Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy before and after Marx (New York: Routledge, 1994), 36. 87. Ibid. 88. Howe, Politics and the Novel, 238–239. 89. Ibid., 240. 90. Ibid., 237. 91. Ibid., 240. 92. Lefort, Writing, 2. 93. The “detour of a fictional account,” thus takes Orwell to a place, partially inaccessible to philosophical argument, a region where “boundaries between ‘internal’ and ‘external,’ between personal existence and the political, break down” (Ibid., 3). 94. Ibid., 11.

notes / 221 95. The whole quote reads, “I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe . . . that something resembling it could arrive” (Orwell, quoted in Howe, Politics, 240). 96. Pynchon, foreword, xvi. 97. E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1954), 125. 98. Forster considers as prophetic only four writers (Dostoevsky, Melville, D. H. Lawrence, and Emily Bronte), with its canonical center in Melville’s Moby Dick: “The essential [in this book] lies in its prophetic song, flows athwart the action and the surface morality like an undercurrent. It lies outside words” (Ibid., 138). Difficult as it is to understand why this aesthetic quality of novel writing falls under the category of the prophetic, we can fairly argue that for Forster the prophetic is a sublimation of novelistic discourse into song, into a “celestial” music which cannot be ultimately bound by meaning or interpretation. 99. Following Neher, Blanchot writes: “The word ‘prophet’—borrowed from the Greeks to designate a condition foreign to Greek culture—would deceive us if it invited us to make the nabi the one who speaks the future.” “Prophetic Speech” (“La parole prophétique”) in The Book to Come (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003), 79. 100. André Neher, The Prophetic Existence (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1969), 7. 101. Orwell, 1984, 263. 102. Neher, Prophetic, 7. 103. Pease, New American Exceptionalism, 77. 104. According to Mendelson, “Pynchon sets the action of Gravity’s Rainbow at the moment which he proposes at the originating moment of contemporary history, a gestative nine months around the end of the Second World War” (Edward Mendelson, “Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon,” Modern Language Notes 91 [1976]: 1270). 105. In contemporary critical theory and literary studies, the question of prophecy, as rhetorical mode and its role in the thought of Max Weber, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, and Maurice Blanchot, has largely been ignored. Exceptions are Roland Vègsö’s article, “Freud and the Prophetic” (Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 11, no. 3 [December 2006], 265–81); and Ian Balfour’s book-length study, The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy; following these texts, I am using the term “prophetic” as a rhetorical “mode that can intersect with any number of genres from the ode to the epic, in either poetry or prose” (Ian Balfour, The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy [Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002], 1). 106. Blanchot, “Prophetic Speech,” 79. 107. Ibid. 108. Pynchon, foreword, viii. 109. Ibid. 110. The parody of this theme is explicitly presented in Brigadier Pudding’s arrival at The White Visitation where he found “a disused hospital for the mad, a few token lunatics, an enormous pack of stolen dogs, cliques of spiritualists, vaudeville entertainers, wireless technicians, Coueists, Ouspekians, Skinnerites, lobotomy enthusiasts, Dale Carnegies zealots” (Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow [New York: Penguin 1973], 77). All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation GR.

222 / notes 111. According to the CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, “we also know now that some unwitting testing took place on criminal sexual psychopaths confined at a state hospital and that, additionally research was done on a ‘K’ drug in parallel with research to develop pain killers for cancer patients” (Project Mkultra, The CIA’s Reaserch in Behavioral Modification [Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977], 7). 112. Among the most persuasive answers to the first part of the question is Friedrich Kittler’s analysis of Pynchon’s narrative: “Instead of one war with its inner experience, there is [in Gravity’s Rainbow] a stochastic scattering of characters and scenes, of fronts and discourses, of Allied and German positions. Only the chance coincidence of two chance positionings creates the perspective of one hero and one plot. The Poisson distribution of the V-2 strikes in London coincides point for point with the private statistics that an American lieutenant named Slothrop maintains of his chance erotic encounters. And just as the super-sonic rockets . . . create ambiguity between cause and effect . . . Slothrop’s erections act as an index (in the sense of Peirce and all prophets), already designating the next strike position. The V-2s follow the erections, in the same way that the sound of the flight follows the impact” (Friedrich Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems [Amsterdam: OPA, 1997], 104–5). 113. As Pynchon criticizes the reading of 1984 as “simple condemnation of Stalinist atrocity,” he also reminds readers that Orwell’s novel was published in the United States during McCarthy’s anti-Communist fervor. 114. Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems, 101. 115. Kittler acknowledges, however, that Pynchon’s fiction “anticipates . . . the manned spaceflight of our time” (Kittler, Literature, 102). 116. Fredrick M. Dolan, Allegories of America: Narratives, Metaphysics, Politics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 70. 117. David Thoreen’s allegorical interpretation of this passage is only partially convincing. There is no evidence in the text that Truman, evoked earlier in the novel, is “parodied” here, even though Pirate appears to be “piloting an allegorical ship of state, reconstituted in the postwar world as an airplane” (David Thoreen, “The President’s Emergency Powers and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in Pynchon’s Vineland,” Oklahoma City University Law Review 24, no. 3 [1999]: 773). 118. In his assessment of Pynchon’s satirical project, John Brenkman makes a crucial polemical point: “Rushdie and others succeed where Pynchon fails precisely because of the relevance and depth of their diagnoses. The Menippean satire is a mode of social commentary, not pure metatextuality. Pynchon’s philosophical preoccupations are part of the form’s tendency to present, in Frye’s words, ‘a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern.’ Though paranoia is a single intellectual pattern par excellence, it is insufficient to the task of diagnosing American society” (John Brenkman, “Innovation: Notes on Nihilism and the Aesthetics of the Novel,” in The Novel: Forms and Themes, ed. Franco Moretti [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006], 818). While this is a legitimate critique, I do believe that beyond Pynchon’s successes and failures, what is particularly remarkable in Gravity’s Rainbow is a capacity to act out (via satire) the drama of prophetic writing, the conflict between “empirical reality” and the vision of the “world as meaningful totality” (Max Weber, Economy and Society [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978], 450). 119. See particularly the essays by Edward Mendelson and Tom LeClair.

notes / 223 120. Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 10. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation AN. 121. Weber, Economy and Society, 451. 122. Claude Lefort, “Le travail de l’oeuvre Machiavel” (Paris: Gallimard, 1976). 123. Hannah Arendt uses the term “blueprint” to describe Kafka’s literary technique: “Just as a man who wants to build a house or evaluate its stability would draw up a blueprint of the building, Kafka basically devises blueprints of the existing world” (Hannah Arendt, “Franz Kafka, Appreciated Anew” in Reflections on Literature and Culture, ed. Susannah Young-Ah Gottlieb [Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press, 2007], 104). 124. Mark Anderson, Reading Kafka: Prague, Politics and the Fin de Siècle (New York: Schocken, 1989), 22. 125. Arendt, “Franz Kafka,” 102. 126. Blanchot, “Prophetic Speech,” 79. 127. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957), 26. 128. Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), 40–43. 129. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968), 126. In a commentary by Hannah Arendt, we get even closer to properly formulating the politico-theoretical dimension of Kafka’s works: The riddle of Kafka, who in more than thirty-years of growing posthumous fame has established himself as one of the foremost writers’ writers, is still unsolved, it consists primarily in a kind of breath-taking reversal of the established relationship between experience and thought. While we find it a matter of course to associate richness of concrete detail and to ascribe to mental process abstract pallor as the price exacted for their order and precision, Kafka, by sheer force of intelligence and spiritual images, created out of a bare, “abstract” minimum of experience a kind of thought-landscape which, without losing in precision, harbors all the riches, varieties, and dramatic elements characteristic to “real” life. Because thinking to him was the most vital and richest part of reality, he developed his uncanny gift of anticipation, which even today, after almost forty years full of unprecedented and unforeseeable events does not cease to amaze us. (Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Six Exercises in Political Thought [New York: The Viking Press, 1961], 10) 130. Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1986), 58. 131. Ibid., 57. 132. I am not suggesting here that Stalinism can be in any way equated with McCarthy’s political paranoia campaign; however, as Arendt notes, “the totalitarian tendencies of McCarthyism in the United States showed most glaringly in the attempt not merely to persecute Communists, but to force every citizen to furnish proof of not being a Communist” (Origins 356). 133. My study makes a contribution to the global phase of Cold War scholarship. As Hammond astutely notes, “Cold War criticism is required . . . to embrace, investigate and theorize the global trends of mid- to late twentieth-century writing. There is a need for comparative analysis of thematic and stylistic trends within Cold War literature” (Cold War Literature 3).

224 / notes 134. This “deception” is thoroughly documented by Cold War literary scholarship. In a recent study, Adam Piette explores, for instance, “the contradictions forced upon all citizens by the Cold War’s nuclear endgames, the sacrificial manoeuvres those citizens internalized under the Cold War’s compulsions” (Adam Piette, The Literary Cold War: 1945 to Vietnam [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009], 209). 135. Jonathan Brent, “The Unimaginable Space of Danilo Kiš and Don DeLillo,” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 1 (March 1994): 181. 136. A. Shapiro, “Notes on Illness and Death in American Presidents,” quoted in Robert S. Robins and Jerrold M. Post, Political Paranoia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 1–2. 137. James Perry tells of other conspiracy theories: “Fletcher Prouty (the former Air Force officer and Pentagon insider) alleged that Stalin told FDR’s son, Elliot Roosevelt, that British intelligence poisoned FDR. Some rightists believed that Stalin poisoned FDR, although right-wing claims that FDR was Stalin’s dupe should lead to the conclusion that Stalin had no motive to kill FDR” (James Perry, “Roosevelt” in Conspiracy Theories in American History, ed. Peter Knight [Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2003], 627). 138. In totalitarianism, the fiction of conspiracy lies at the very foundation of the social bond—the true community appears as such (as a whole) only after its enemies have been identified and excluded. At the same time, as an overdetermined law, “conspiracy” refers to a libidinal investment in the figure or the image of the Party, which under Stalinism was constantly mediated by an extensive police apparatus.

1 / Kafka and the Cold War 1. Sander Gilman, Franz Kafka (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), 144. 2. Ibid., 145. 3. Slavoj Žižek, “I Hear You with My Eyes,” in Voice and Gaze as Love Objects, ed. Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), 95. 4. All the citations from Orson Welles, The Trial, are transcribed directly from the DVD of the film. The Trial, DVD, directed by Orson Welles, With Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau and others (1962; Harrington Park, N.J.: The Milestone Collection, 2000). 5. Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken Books, 1998), 223. Der Prozess (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1977), 270. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviations T and P, respectively. 6. Žižek, “I Hear You,” 95. 7. Ibid., 97. 8. Ibid., 96. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. In an article entitled “Art as Symptom,” Tim Dean identified the major premise of this discussion as “the tendency to treat aesthetic artifacts as symptoms of the culture in which they were produced” (21), a description characteristic of Žižek’s parasitic relation to culture: from pop junk to opera and from ordinary jokes to neorealist cinema. Dean adds, “there is no social system or movie or opera or novel that [Žižek] cannot interpret. We might say that there is no cultural phenomenon that, with his Lacanian schema, Žižek cannot master” (Tim Dean, “Art as Symptom: Žižek and the Ethics of Psychoanalytic Criticism,” Diacritics 32, no. 2 [Summer 2002]: 23).

notes / 225 12. Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991), 151. Here Žižek offers a more extensive analysis of Kafka’s work and makes important observations about the unreadable character of modern literature: “If modern literature can be characterized as ‘unreadable,’ then Kafka exemplifies this . . . in a way that is different from James Joyce” (151). 13. Benjamin, Illuminations, 143. 14. I am referring here to Matei Calinescu’s discussion of Baudelaire’s aesthetic modernity. Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde. Decadence. Kitsch. Postmodernism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987). 15. Benjamin, Illuminations, 144. 16. Žižek, “I Hear You,” 96. 17. Ibid. 18. Rodolphe Gasché demonstrates that Walter Benjamin’s “category of distortion concerns the revelation of the Law itself” (“Kafka’s Law: In the Field of Forces between Judaism and Hellenism,” MLN 117, no. 5 [2002]: 971–2001, here 990). 19. In a letter to Gershom Scholem from August 11, 1934, Benjamin writes: “I hold Kafka’s insistence on the law to be the blind spot of this work” (quoted in Gasché, “Kafka’s Law,” 972). 20. I am using this expression following the title of Balzac’s novel L’Envers de l’histoire contemporaine. 21. Since I will not be able here to cover the history of this important legal concept (i.e., Rechtsstaat), I would like to mention Hans Kelsen’s discussion of constitutional government (of a state governed by law), which is particularly relevant to my argument: “If a state is comprehended as a legal order, then every state is a state governed by law (Rechtsstaat) and this term becomes a pleonasm. In fact, however, this term is used to designate a special type of government, namely, that which conforms with the postulates of democracy and legal security. A Rechtsstaat in this specific sense is a relatively centralized legal order according to which jurisdiction and administration are bound by general legal norms—norms created by the parliament elected by a people; a chief of a state may or may not participate in this creation; the members of the government are responsible for their acts; the courts are independent; and certain civil liberties of the citizens, especially freedom of religion and freedom of speech, are guaranteed” (Hans Kelsen, Pure Theory of Law, trans. Max Knight [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967], 313). 22. Eric Santner, My Own Private Germany. Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 43. 23. Slavoj Žižek, “What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows about Abu Ghraib.” In These Times (May 21, 2004), http://www.Inthesetimes.com/article/747. 24. Martin Walser, “Description of a Form” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Trial. A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. James Rolleston (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1977), 22. 25. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 52. 26. Ibid., 49–62. 27. “Dieses Gesetz kenne ich nicht,” declares Joseph K. (P 13). 28. Gilles Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty” in Masochism (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 84. 29. “The sovereign power is the power that decided on the state of exception in which normal legality is suspended. This ultimately means that law hinges on a power

226 / notes of decision that is itself out of law. Agamben identifies the state of exception with the power of decision over life. What is correlated with the exceptionality of sovereign power is the exception of life” (Jacques Rancière, “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” The South Atlantic Quarterly 103, no. 2/3 [2004]: 300). 30. Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty,” 83. In the beginning of this chapter (“Humor, Irony and the Law”), Deleuze has previously shown that the Platonic concept of the law, which was universally accepted in Christianity, relies on the following rationale: “The righteous man obeys the laws of the country . . . and in doing so acts for the best, even though he retains his freedom of thought, freedom to think of the Good and for the sake of the Good” (Ibid., 81). 31. Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), 42. 32. Gasché, “Kafka’s Law,” 979. 33. Benjamin, quoted in Gasché, “Kafka’s Law,” 991. 34. Laclau, New Reflections, 40. 35. Laclau, On Populist Reason (New York: Verso, 2005), 95. 36. In my introductory reflections on post-foundational political thought, I rely on Oliver Marchart’s argument: “What is . . . at stake in post-foundationalist thought is the status attributed to foundations, whereby the primordial (or ontological) absence of an ultimate ground is itself the condition of possibility of grounds as present—that is, in their objectivity or empirical ‘existence’ as ontic beings. In other words: the pluralization of grounds and of identities within the field of the social is the result of a radical impossibility, a radical gap between the ontic and the ontological, which has to be posited in order to account for plurality in the ontic realm” (Marchart, PostFoundational Thought, 15). 37. Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 268. 38. Santner, My Own Private Germany, 13. 39. Ibid., xvii. 40. Sigmund Freud, “Psycho-analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 12, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1964), 24. 41. Jacques Lacan, The Psychoses 1955–1956. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III (New York, London: Norton, 1993), 78. 42. Hannah Arendt, “What Is Authority?” in Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 92. 43. Ibid., 93. 44. Ibid. 45. Ibid., 120. 46. Ibid., 122. 47. Tocqueville, quoted in Arendt, “What Is Authority?,” 7. 48. Žižek, “I Hear You,” 96. 49. Marx, quoted in Claude Lefort, The Political Forms, 93. 50. Danilo Kiš, Homo Poeticus, preface by Susan Sontag (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1995), 114. 51. In his critique of Agamben’s totalizing notion of politics, Jacques Rancière shows that there is at “least one point where ‘bare life’ proved to be ‘political’” (“Who Is the Subject?,” 303). He illustrates this claim with the statement from Olympe de Gouges, a

notes / 227 French revolutionary woman who stated that “if women are entitled to go to the scaffold, they are entitled to go to the assembly” (ibid.). Disposed of his rights, confronting a juridical system that does not recognize him as a “member of society,” but simply as subjected to an-already-decided guilt, Kafka’s character refuses to submit to the Law’s bureaucratic rule. Joseph K.’s disagreement with the priest’s claim that to doubt the “dignity” (Würdigkeit) of the doorkeeper means to “doubt the Law itself” (T 223) is a gesture belonging to Rancière’s own conceptualization of politics as “construction of dissensus.” According to the French philosopher, “a dissensus is not a conflict of interests, opinions or values; it is a division put in the ‘common sense’: a dispute about what is given, about the frame within which we see something as given” (Rancière, “Who Is the Subject?” 304). 52. Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty,” 86. 53. Stanley Corngold, Franz Kafka: The Necessity of Form (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), 229. 54. Ibid., 232. 55. Ibid., 244. 56. Reiner Stach, Kafka. The Decisive Years (New York: Harcourt Inc., 2005), 482. 57. Ibid., 481. 58. Ibid., 483. 59. Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” The Complete Stories, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 140–67, here 144. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation PC. 60. Michel de Certeau, “Tools for Body Writing,” Intervention 21, no, 22 (1988): 7. 61. Ibid. 62. Ibid., 8. 63. Ibid. 64. Stanley Corngold, “Allotria and Excreta in ‘In the Penal Colony,’” Modernism/ Modernity 8, no. 2 (2001), 286. Stanley Corngold’s return to “In the Penal Colony” in a recent essay constitutes the best commentary on the “nonsensical” episodes of Kafka’s story, the things designated as “childish nonsense” (den Unsinn eines Kindes) by the officer. The dramatization/play of childish nonsense (Corngold, “Allotria,” 282), which occurs in the moment of crisis, “when [the officer] is unable to convince the explorer of the value of the penal system he represents” (282) constitutes an allotria “this other Otherness, other to allegory (allos: Greek for ‘other’)” (282). The allegorical structure of the main plot relies therefore on the logic of separation. What is separated/ expunged as allotria interrupts the “process of reading” (287) diverting the attention from the rhetorical instrumentality of the officer’s political engagement and from the technological distribution of justice. 65. Certeau, “Tools,” 7. 66. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 84. 67. Ibid., 45. 68. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 492. 69. Clayton Koelb, “In der Strafkolonie: Kafka and the Scene of Reading,” German Quarterly 55 (1982): 519. 70. Franz Kafka, “In der Strafkolonie,” in Das Urteil und Andere Erzählungen (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1952), 99. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation SK.

228 / notes 71. Marx, Capital, 494. 72. Ibid., 492. 73. Samuel Weber, Theatricality as Medium (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 36. 74. Koelb, Clayton, “In der Strafkolonie,” 514. 75. This prophecy is here full of the empty messianic promise: Hier ruht der alte Kommandant. Seine Anhänger, die jetzt keinen Namen tragen dürfen, haben ihm das Grab gegraben und den Stein gesetzt. Es besteht eine Prophezeiung, das der Kommandant nach einer bestimmten Anzahl von Jahren auferstehen und das diesem Hause seine Anhänger zur Wiedereroberung der Kolonie führen wird. Glaubet und wartet! (SK 126) (Here rests the old Commandant. His adherents, who now must be nameless, have dug this grave and set up this stone. There is a prophecy that after a certain number of years the Commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from this house to recover the colony. Have faith and wait!) (PC 167) 76. Jacques Lezra, Wild Materialism: The Ethic of Terror and the Modern Republic (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 29.

2 / The Vicissitudes of Popular Sovereignty 1. Margaret Canovan, The People (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 3. 2. Ibid., 2. Canovan notes, “it is a peculiarity of the ‘the people’ in English, unlike the Lat. Populus . . . that it unites collective and individual senses. . . . Against the linguistic background, the idea of the sovereign people could be imagined in a number of guises. . . . Besides the nightmare vision of the common people let loose . . . it could appear also as an incoherent but appealing amalgam of the national people with its proud inheritance of law and individual people, equal human souls before God” (19). 3. Irving Howe, “Red Rulers and Black Humor,” The New York Times (October 24, 1982), http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/17/specials/kundera-joke.html. 4. Robert Boyers, Atrocity and Amnesia: The Political Novel since 1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 213. 5. Ibid., 219. 6. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera more explicitly addresses the notion of totalitarian kitsch. A brief genealogy of the term is offered in the recent essay “Die Weltliteratur”: According to Herman Broch, “kitsch was the dominant style of the nineteenth century (in Germany and in Central Europe). . . . People who experienced the secular tyranny of kitsch . . . feel particular irritation at the rosy veil thrown over reality, at the immodest exhibition of hearts forever moved . . . ; kitsch long ago became a very precise concept in central Europe, where it stands as the supreme aesthetic evil” (Broch, quoted in Kundera, The Curtain [New York: HarperCollins, 2005], 51). More so, “in the interest of humanizing sentimentality, kitsch squelches questions, camouflages conflicts, evaporates doubt. It attacks individualism, which may be regarded here as a rubric for what Jacques Derrida would call local difference” (Henry Sussman, High Resolution: Critical Theory and the Problem [New York: Oxford University Press, 1989], 6–7). 7. In “Heidegger, Kundera, and Dickens,” Richard Rorty explores this notion of the democracy of the novel and opposes it to Heideggerian postmodern skepticism.

notes / 229 Richard Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others: Collected Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 8. Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, 43. 9. Kundera, Curtain, 129. 10. Ibid., 104. 11. Ibid., 101–103. 12. Ibid., 104. 13. Milan Kundera, The Joke. Definitive Version (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993), 31. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation J. 14. Banerjee, Terminal Paradox: The Novels of Milan Kundera (New York: Grove Weidenfeld; 1992), 24. 15. Claude Lefort, Political Forms, 299. 16. Ibid., 299. 17. Virgil Nemoianu, Micro-Harmony: The Growth and Uses of the Idyllic Model in Literature (Bern: Peter Lang, 1977), 18. 18. Milan Kundera, Immortality (New York: Perennial Classics, 1999), 332. 19. Philip Roth, “Conversation in London and Connecticut with Milan Kundera” in Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work (Boston: Houghton, 2001), 97. 20. Ibid. 97. 21. Later in the same essay, he adds: “The Kafkan is not restricted to either private or the public domain; it encompasses both. The public is the mirror of the private, the private reflects the public” (AN 112). 22. Frances L. Restuccia, “Homo Homini Lupus: Milan Kundera’s The Joke” in Milan Kundera and the Art of Fiction, ed. Aron Aji (Garland Publishing: New York, 1992), 154. 23. Banerjee, Terminal Paradox, 22. 24. Perhaps Kundera himself unwittingly anticipates here the evaluation of the Communist phenomenon by François Furet, who has focused on the ideological spell of totalitarianisms, particularly “the belief in salvation through history” (François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, trans. Deborah Furet [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999], ix). 25. Banerjee, Terminal Paradox, 40. 26. Irving Howe, “Red Rulers and Black Humor,” n.p. 27. Banerjee believes that conscience is “the unacknowledged ghost in the machine of Kundera’s absurd world” (Terminal Paradox 24). 28. Slavoj Žižek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion (London: Verso, 2002), 97. 29. Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, vol. 8, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. ed. and trans. James Strachey. 24 volumes. (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of PsychoAnalysis, 1964), 101. 30. Ibid., 143. 31. According to Lacan, the task of the seminar brings this literary text as example “to illustrate . . . the truth which may be drawn . . . from Freud’s thought under study— namely, that it is the symbolic order which is constitutive for the subject” (Jacques Lacan, “Seminar on The Purloined Letter” in The Purloined Poe. Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading, ed. John P. Muller, William J. Richardson [Baltimore, Md.:

230 / notes The John Hopkins University Press, 1988], 29). In fact, Lacan’s text goes back to Freud’s central category repetition-compulsion (Wiederholungszwang), now related to “the insistence on a signifying chain” (28), that is to say “the decisive orientation which the subject receives from the itinerary of the signifier” (29)—according to The Purloined Letter. 32. Derrida notes, in his reading of the story, and response to Lacan, “the letter’s meaning [is] the phallic law represented by the King and guarded by the Queen, the law that she should share with him according to the pact, and that she threatens to divide, dissociate, and to betray” (Derrida, “The Purveyor of Truth” in The Purloined Poe, 183). 33. Lacan, “The Seminar on the Purloined Letter,” 53. 34. This term is used by Jacques Lacan to describe a negative form of sexual enjoyment. Phallic jouissance is thus “the obstacle owing to which man does not come (n’arrive pas) to enjoy woman’s body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ” (Jacques Lacan, Encore. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book XX [New York: Norton, 1998], 7). 35. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera explicitly uses this term: “Sabina’s initial revolt against Communism was aesthetic rather than ethical in character. What repelled her was not nearly so much the ugliness of the Communist world (ruined castles transformed into cow sheds) as the mask of beauty it tried to wear—in other words, Communist kitsch. The model of Communist kitsch is the ceremony called May Day” (Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being [New York: Perennial Library, 1987], 248–49). 36. A comprehensive clinical presentation of the evolution of the theory of perversion from Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) to Lacan and J. A. Miller is to be found in Juan Pablo Lucchelli’s book, La perversion ou le compromis impossible (2005). My argument is also indebted to the excellent paper by Serge André, “The Structure of Perversion: A Lacanian Perspective,” in which he demonstrates that “what distinguishes the pervert from the neurotic is not the content of the fantasy, but the Subject’s position in regard to fantasy . . . the pervert pronounces this fantasy, claims the right to it, even forces the Other to listen to it when he does not succeed in convincing him through socalled perverse behavior alone” (Serge André, “The Structure of Perversion: A Lacanian Perspective” in Perversion: Psychoanalytic Perspectives/Perspectives on Psychoanalysis, ed. Dany Nobus, Lisa Downing [London: Karnak Books, 2006], 123–24). 37. Irving Howe, “Red Rulers and Black Humor,” n.p. 38. For a lucid analysis of the various connotations of the Lacanian obj. a, see Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject. For our argument, it is worth noting that in Seminar VIII, Lacan uses the Platonic term agalma, which reminds of Alcibiades “fascination with ‘a certain something’ in Socrates” (Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996], 59). 39. The last scene of Pasolini’s Salo exemplifies this idea in its complex Sadean reading of fascism. 40. Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994), 111. 41. Serge André, “The Structure of Perversion,” 124. 42. This interpretation elaborates on Banerjee’s analysis of a later scene in the novel, the comedy of Helena’s attempted suicide, caused by her mistakenly taking laxatives instead of analgesics. She is thus discovered “perched on the wooden seat of the

notes / 231 primitive toilet with her skirt pulled up. . . . In 1967, when The Joke first appeared, the Czechs laughed freely, because they saw the Party being humiliated through Helena. But if we heed Kundera’s counsel against a political interpretation of the novel, we are faced with the revolting spectacle of the woman’s body shamed through its ‘place of excrement’” (Terminal Paradox 48). 43. “Populism, whether conservative or radical (or, somehow, both at the same time) remained an attractive alternative in nineteenth-century England; in America, in one form or another, idyllic utopias have always remained a live force. Eastern Europe—in the wake of the Biedermeier—was hit with tremendous force by the model of the societal idyll. . . . What is even more puzzling is the present-day resurgence of populism in the thinking of a variety of political movements, from Soviet dissidents to California radicals, passing through different shades of Left and Right in industrial and developing countries. The dimensions of this phenomenon fully justify an ample analysis of the literary roots of populism” (Nemoianu, Micro-Harmony, 8). 44. Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity. Modernism, Avant-Garde. Decadence. Kitsch. Postmodernism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987), 229. 45. Schiller, quoted in Nemoianu, Micro-Harmony, 13. 46. Philip Roth, I Married a Communist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), 2. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation IMC. 47. Philip Roth, The Prague Orgy in Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue 1979–1985 (New York: Library of America, 2007), 492. 48. George Steiner, “The Archives of Eden,” Salmagundi 50/51 (Fall 1980/Winter 1981): 492. 49. Roth, Prague Orgy, 502. 50. Ibid., 492. 51. Lefort, “Logic,” 271. 52. While Foucault has extensively used the term dispositif—translated into English as apparatus—to designate any heterogeneous collection of social discourses in democratic societies, I am interested here in reading totalitarian practices as the result of a mythical dispositif that aims to create absolute political homogeneity. 53. Roth, Philip. “I Married a Communist Interview” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [March 19, 2009], http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/authors/roth/conversation. shtml). 54. Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 166. 55. My reflections on populism are indebted to Ernesto Laclau’s recent study on this topic. According to his post-Marxist approach, populism should not be dismissed as “mere rhetoric,” but considered as “a way of constructing the political” (Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, xi). 56. Laclau, On Populist Reason, 134. As Laclau explains, “until 1940 the notion of a conservative populism was an oxymoron. There was no connection between populism and the discourse of the traditional Right, which was centered on the defense of unregulated capitalism and the discouragement of any kind of grass-roots mobilization” (135). 57. Ibid., 135. 58. Ibid., 135. 59. Laclau’s notion of hegemony refers to the possibility to construct “a popular identity” (a people) out of a “plurality of demands.” (On Populist Reason 95). The sister concept of this political operation is the Althusserian “overdetermination.”

232 / notes 60. Derek Parker Royal, “Pastoral Dreams and National Identity in American Pastoral and I Married a Communist,” in Philip Roth: New Perspectives on An American Author, ed. Derek Parker Royal (New York: Praeger-Greenwood, 2005), 191. 61. Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso, 2002), 42–43. 62. Ibid., 53. 63. Kundera in Roth, Talk Shop, 97. 64. Myriam Revault d’Allones quoted in Alain Badiou, Metapolitics (New York: Verso, 2005), 18, Alain Badiou rejects an Arendtian-inspired definition of politics as the plurality of opinions. He suggests instead that politics is a rupture with the “political philosophy” of the democratic state. This is a radical position that is unconceivable, however, under Roth’s critique of modern politics, either understood as authentically liberal-democratic or simply as purely revolutionary. 65. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), 126. 66. Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken, 2005), 73. In Bethania Assy’s view, this form of pluralism is the foundation for a new humanism: “The exercise of imagining the other’s viewpoint, in friendship and the public sphere alike, allows us to experiment with the cultivation of humanity” (Bethania Assy. “Doxa: Dignifying the Public Space in Hannah Arendt,” Theory@Buffalo 9 [2004]: 27). 67. Raymond Boudon, The Analysis of Ideology (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989). For Boudon, “received ideas which make up ideologies can be regarded, and probably deserved to be analyzed, as meaningful ideas, provided one accepts that the irrational has a residual place in their creation and diffusion” (11). L’idéologie: ou l’origine des idées reçues (1986), the original French title of Boudon’s The Analysis of Ideology, emphasizes the importance of this concept. 68. Stendhal, quoted in Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (New York: Horizon Press, 1957), 15. 69. “Demagogy” needs to be read as a political logic opposed to populism. While populism is the rhetorical operation that allows individual groups to identify with the figure of the “people,” demagogy is a rhetorical operation which points towards the “dangerous” heterogeneity of “the people,” by calling attention to potential enemies (i.e., the Communists).

3 / National Security in the Age of the Global Picture 1. Focusing on the contextual significance of the Cold War era, Marcel Cornis-Pope’s discussion of the poetic strategies featured by innovative fictional narratives mentions political impact, but mainly in the context of “cultural rewriting.” This emphasis on cultural politics is also present in Linda Hutcheon’s work: “Postmodernism teaches us that cultural practices have an ideological subtext which determines the very possibility of their production of meaning” (Marcel Cornis-Pope, Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After [New York: Palgrave, 2001], xiii). 2. Fradinger, “Violent Boundaries,” 103. 3. Robert Coover, “The Public Burning log 1966–1977,” Critique 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 84. 4. Ibid. 5. Larry McCaffery, “As Guilty As the Rest of Them: An Interview with Robert Coover,” Critique 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 116. 6. Ibid., 117.

notes / 233 7. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1999), 12. For readings of the novel inspired by these ideas, see the essays by Lance Olsen, “Stand By to Crash! Avant-Pop, Hypertextuality and Postmodern Comic Vision in Coover’s The Public Burning” (2000) and Geralyn Strecker, “Statecraft As Stagecraft: Disneyland and the Rosenberg Execution in The Public Burning” (2000). 8. Robert Coover, “The Public Burning log,” 86. 9. Marcel Cornis-Pope, “Rewriting the Encounter with the Other: Narrative and Cultural Transgression in The Public Burning,” Critique 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 42. 10. Robert Coover, “The Public Burning log,” 85. 11. See Rosanvallon’s chapter, “Revolutionary Democracy” in Democracy, 79–98. 12. Frank Cioffi, “Coover’s (Im)possible Worlds in the Public Burning,” Critique 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 37. 13. Pease, New American Exceptionalism, 22. 14. Samuel Baldwin Davies, Armageddon( . . . ) (Cincinnati: Applegate & Co. Publishers, 1863), 13. 15. Ibid., 18. 16. Ibid., 65. 17. Ibid., 165. 18. Pease, New American Exceptionalism, 24. 19. Washington, “Inaugural Address,” quoted in Robert Coover, The Public Burning (New York: Grove Press, 1977), 9. All subsequent citations appear in text with the abbreviation PB. 20. McCaffery “Interview with Robert Coover,” 116. 21. Robert Coover, The Origin of the Brunists (New York: Grove Press, 2000), 294. 22. Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96, no. 1 (Winter 1967): 1. 23. Ibid., 8. 24. Ibid., 4. 25. Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996), 78. 26. Virginia Carmichael, Framing History: The Rosenberg Story and the Cold War (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1993), 5. 27. René Girard, The Violence and the Sacred (New York: Continuum, 2005), 8. 28. Tom LeClair, The Art of Excess. Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 106–7. 29. Ibid., 109. 30. Ibid., 108. 31. Ibid., 109. 32. Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theater State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 13. 33. Samuel Weber, Theatricality as Medium (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 31. 34. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1963), 105. 35. Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1980), 118. 36. “Coover’s The Public Burning (1977) resembles Fuentes’s Terra Nostra in its (ab) use of the conventions of the historical novel for ontological purposes. Like Fuentes, Coover here systematically contradicts well-known historical facts (e.g., Vice President

234 / notes Richard Nixon is made to attempt the seduction of Ethel Rosenberg on the eve of the execution), and grafts historical characters onto a fantastic world, a mismatching of norms dramatized by Richard Nixon’s sodomization (!) by the mythological Uncle Sam” (Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction [New York: Methuen, 1987], 21). 37. Robert Coover, “A Myth of Creation, Spanning 20 Centuries and 778 Pages,” review of Carlos Fuentes, Terra Nostra, New York Times Book Review (November 7, 1976), 34. 38. Robert Coover, “The Public Burning log,” 91. 39. McHale, Postmodern, 19. 40. Ibid., 141. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid., 142. Even if this interpretation may appear unfair, given the lack of closure brought forward by most postwar experimental fiction, McHale’s development of this argument is worth considering, however, as he suggests that postmodernism presupposes a specific model of allegorical constructions, in which the tension or polarization of two terms is made visible: “Variations on the venerable mode of psychomachia, these allegories typically involve the confrontation of warring principles, semantic oppositions personified; Manichean allegories, we might call them. Where ancient psychomachias characteristically pitted personified Good against personified Evil, however, the postmodernist versions tend to prefer the Nietzschean opposition between the Apollonian and Dionysian principles, rational order vs. mindless pleasure. ‘Mindless pleasure,’ of course, was Pynchon’s original title for the novel finally published as Gravity’s Rainbow, undoubtedly the most highly visible specimen of Manichaean allegory—or, as Pynchon would perhaps call it, paranoid allegory, the allegory of conspiracy and counterconspiracy, force and counterforce” (Ibid., 142–43). 43. Ibid., 144–45. 44. For a more detailed argument about the state of exception emerging in the 1950s, see Pease, New American Exceptionalism. 45. As Jean-François Chassay noticed, there is an obvious irony involved in Coover’s intentional revisiting of historical literary genres and classical rhetoric in a time dominated by the hypnotic power of electronic media representations: “Dans le monde contemporaine de l’image télévisuelle et de l’ordinateur, investir les formes littéraires et discursives anciennes relève certes de l’ironie. L’épopée n’a de sens que dans un univers prétechnologique où la parole épique cimente culturellement des populations disperses, ce qui n’est plus le cas à l’époque du village global” (Jean-François Chassay, Robert Coover: l’écriture contre les mythes [Paris: Éditions Belin, c1996], 36). 46. Juliet Flower MacCannell, The Regime of the Brothers: After the Patriarchy (New York: Routledge, 1991), 2–13. 47. Ibid., 10. 48. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Perennial Classics, 2000), 432. 49. Lefort, Democracy, 17. 50. Laclau, On Populist Reason, 164. 51. McCaffery, Interview, 119. 52. Mazurek, quoted in Linda Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York: Routledge, 1988), 112. 53. Robert Coover, “The Public Burning log,” 90. 54. “Nixon—Frost Interview,” The New York Times, May 20, 1977, A16.

notes / 235 55. Coover, “The Public Burning log,” 90. 56. Slavoj Žižek, “Berlusconi in Tehran,” London Review of Books 31, no. 14 (July 13, 2004): n.p. Nixon’s tragic dimension lends itself much too easily to the mega-satire of the Cold War and that American democracy could face even bleaker days. The satirists have found in Nixon their favorite subject—Philip Roth’s Our Gang should be mentioned here as well—but remained uninspired as the “Teflon” President, Ronald Reagan, appeared on the American scene as the popular image of conservatism. 57. Arendt, On Revolution, 252. 58. Cornis-Pope, Narrative Innovation, 57. 59. Ibid., 58. 60. The term “democracy’s spectacle” was recently coined by Jennifer Greiman in a book that studies the connection between spectacle and sovereign power in canonical texts of antebellum America, to describe “those articulations and enactments of sovereign power which are made in the name of a public that can never be more than a metonymy, both because such exceptional associations are themselves only ever partial, and because sovereignty itself is particularly metonymic” (Jennifer Greiman, Democracy’s Spectacle: Sovereignty and Public Life in the Antebellum American Writing [New York: Fordham University Press, 2010], 25). 61. Connolly, “The Complexities of Sovereignty,” 24. 62. I am following here a standard definition of magical realist fiction that pertains to the novels of the Latin-American boom as well as to The Royal Hunt: “The supernatural is not a simple or obvious matter, but it is an ordinary matter, an everyday occurrence—admitted, accepted, and integrated into the rationality and materiality of literary realism. Magic is no longer quixotic madness, but normative or normalizing. It is a simple matter of the most complicated sort” (Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, eds. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995], 3). 63. Hans Blumenberg, Legitimacy, 218. Blumenberg’s insightful analysis is worth taking into account. This statement cited here “not only defines for each individual his right to insist on the satisfaction of his needs and thus to integrate himself into the supposed teleology of nature, but it also designates the unlimitedness and unlimitability of his claim to everything al all that he finds within his reach. Natural ‘right’ is the absence of rights for those who do not possess the power to defend their claims or their possessions, so that anyone powerful enough to gain control of everything at all that he finds within his reach. . . . In man’s prepolitical state of nature, the theological ius in omnia [right to everything] becomes the ius omnium in omnia [right of everyone to everything] and thus perfect chaos; natural law gives rise to its antithesis, lawlessness” (218). 64. Blumenberg, quoted in Robert M Wallace, translator’s introduction to Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), xv. 65. Dumitru Micu, Istoria literaturii romane (Bucharest: Editura Saeculum, 2000), 558, my translation. 66. Preda, quoted in Micu, Istoria literaturii romane, 450, my translation. 67. Marcel Cornis-Pope, The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism before and after 1989 (Iasi, Romania: Polirom 1996), 109. In addition to D. R. Popescu’s novel, a referential work of the genre, Cornis-Pope also mentions Constantin Toiu’s Galeria cu vita salbatica (A gallery of wild vine, 1976) and Augustin Buzura’s Vocile noptii (The voices of night, 1980).

236 / notes 68. Ibid., 108. 69. Vladimir Tismaneanu, Stalinism for All Seasons. A Political History of Romanian Communism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 197. 70. Ibid., 199. 71. Ibid., 203. 72. Gabriel Fischer, “Romania” in The Communist States in Disarray, 1965–1971, ed. Adam Bromke, Teresa Rakowska-Harmstone (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1970), 167. 73. Ibid., 165. 74. D. R. Popescu, The Royal Hunt, trans. J. E. Cottrell and M. Bogdan (London: Quartet Encounters, 1985), 126. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation RH. 75. Bogdan and Cottrell, introduction to Popescu, Royal Hunt, ix. 76. Slavoj Žižek has provided one of the most insightful analyses of this phenomenon in “When the Party Commits Suicide,” Chapter 3 of his book Did Anybody Say Totalitarianism? 77. Terry Eagleton, “Estrangement and Irony,” Salmagundi 73 (Winter 1987): 24. 78. Ibid., 25. 79. In Žižek’s words, “what the accused revolutionary is asked at the show trial: show your ultimate fidelity to the Revolution by publicly confessing by admitting that you are worthless scum, the dregs of humanity” (Did Anyone Say Totalitarianism? 97). 80. J. Hillis Miller, “The Two Allegories” in Allegory, Myth, and Symbol, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 357. 81. Micu, Istoria, 440. 82. Bogdan and Cottrell, introduction, vii. 83. Apolzan, quoted in Nicolae Manolescu, Arca lui Noe: Eseu despre romanul romanesc (Noah’s arc: An essay about the Romanian novel) (Bucharest: Gramar Press, 2001), 634, my translation. 84. Ibid. 85. Blumenberg, Work on Myth, 3. 86. Ibid., 9. 87. Ibid. 88. Ibid. 8. 89. According to Gilles Deleuze, naturalism “is not opposed to realism, but on the contrary accentuates its features by extending them in an idiosyncratic surrealism” (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1. The Movement-Image. [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983], 123). 90. Bogdan and Cottrell, introduction, x. 91. Manolescu, Arca 637, my translation. 92. Manolescu, Arca, 639, my translation. 93. Ibid. 94. Deleuze, Cinema 1, 123. 95. Deleuze goes even further in his analysis of naturalism: “Impulses are not lacking in intelligence; they even have a diabolical intelligence which leads each to choose its part, await its moment, defer its gesture, and borrow the outlines of form which will best enable to perform its act” (Ibid., 124). 96. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. The Birth of Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 197.

notes / 237 97. Ibid. 98. Ibid., 195. 99. Ibid., 197. 100. Ibid., 201. 101. Gail Kligman, The Wedding of the Dead. Ritual, Poetics and Popular Culture in Transylvania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 10. 102. Ibid., 7–8. 103. Manolescu, Arca 653, my translation. 104. LeClair, Tom. The Art of Excess, 18. 105. Ibid. 106. György Konrád, Antipolitics: An Essay (New York: Harcourt, 1984), 12.

4 / All Power to the Networks! 1. Lefort, Complications, 185. 2. Ibid., 185. 3. Lefort, Political Forms, 304. 4. For a detailed account of this globalization narrative, see Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth. 5. Lefort, Complications, 185. 6. Ibid., 187. 7. Bruno Latour, “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist,” Keynote speech for the International Seminar on Network Theory: Network Multidimensionality in the Digital Age (February 19, 2010), Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Los Angeles, Ca., 8. 8. Ibid., 8. 9. This is perhaps the most inf luential thesis in the critics’ reception of the book: “In Kiš’s work the way the story of the Comintern’s self-destruction is told becomes the story itself, which raises A Tomb for Boris Davidovich out of the category of mere political fiction” (Jonathan Brent, “The Unimaginable Space of Danilo Kiš and Don DeLillo” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 1 [March 1994]: 180). Danilo Kiš. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (Urbana-Champaign, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 2001). All subsequent citations will appear in text with the abbreviation TBD. 10. “The Party Commits Suicide” is the title of Chapter 11 of J. Arch Getty, Oleg V. Naumov’s book The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939. 11. Boris Souvarine, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism (1939; Montana: Kessinger Publishing, LLC reprint, 2007), 597. In Kiš’s writings, the show trials, the purges, and the operations of the secret police do not rest, however, on the diagnosis of Stalinism as secularized religion, which we discovered in the Kostka section of Kundera’s novel, The Joke. For an understanding of Communism as secularized religion, consider the following paragraph from Kundera’s The Joke: “The revolutionary era . . . had little in common with skepticism and rationalism. It was an era of great collective faith. A man who kept in step with the era experienced feelings that were akin to religious ones: he renounced his ego, his person, his private life in favor of something higher, something suprapersonal. True, the Marxist teachings were purely secular in origin, but the significance assigned to them was similar to the significance of the Gospel and the biblical commandments. They have created a range of ideas that

238 / notes were untouchable and therefore, in our terminology, sacred. This was a cruel religion” (Kundera, Joke, 224–25). 12. Westad, Global Cold War, 49. 13. Žižek, Ticklish Subject, 193. 14. Arendt, Origins, 427. 15. According to Arendt, the success of this “forgery” in Nazi Germany lies into “the motif of a global conspiracy . . . which appealed most to the masses, for it corresponded so well to the new power situation,” the coming to power of Hitler. See Arendt, Origins, 359. 16. Danilo Kiš, The Encyclopedia of the Dead (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 197. 17. Ibid., 197. 18. Svetlana Boym, “Conspiracy Theories and Literary Ethics: Umberto Eco, Danilo Kiš and the Protocols of Zion,” Comparative Literature 51, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 99. 19. Hannah Arendt has thoroughly discussed this point in one of the central passages of Origins of Totalitarianism: “Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations” (353). 20. Brent, “Unimaginable Spaces,” 180. 21. See the mission statement of this project: “Annals of Communism presents selected documents concerning the history of Soviet and international Communism from Russian state and party archives. Virtually all the material contained in these archives has never before been available to Western or even Russian scholars. The series spans the 75-year history of the USSR. Individual volumes focus on various topics, from the reactions of ordinary citizens to forced-draft industrialization and collectivization to the history of the Communist International (Comintern), from the last days of the Romanovs to the Gulag system, from victory in the Second World War to the collapse of the Soviet bureaucracy in the Brezhnev period. Each book contains documents selected by teams of Western and Russian editors which are published with scholarly commentary, annotation, and interpretation in both an English-language edition for Western audiences and a Russian-language edition for distribution in Russia. Documents are selected not for their support of any single predetermined interpretation, but for their historical significance or their value in deepening understanding and facilitating discussion. We expect that the entire corpus of Annals of Communism materials will constitute a new, comprehensive and essential textbook for the further study of Soviet history and perhaps the most important political phenomenon of twentieth-century world history, the rise and fall of international Communism. The volumes are designed to be useful to students, scholars and interested general readers” (“Annals of Communism,” Yale University Press, http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/aoc/index.asp). 22. Branko Gorjup, “Textualizing the Past: The Function of Memory and History in Kiš’s Fiction,” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 1 (March 1994), 163. 23. Ibid., 163. In other words, “whether the document was authentic or made to seem so was irrelevant for Kiš because the ultimate aim of his writing strategy was to suggest the verification of the text’s fictional character” (163). 24. Ibid., 165. According to Kiš, this is “the story of Baruch David Neumann . . . a translation of the third chapter of the Registers of the Inquisition . . . in which Jacques

notes / 239 Fournier, the future Pope Benedict XII, entered scrupulously and in detail the confessions and testimony given before his tribunal” (122). 25. Ibid., 165. 26. Ibid., 165. 27. Vasa D. Mihailovich, “Faction or Fiction in A Tomb for Boris Davidovich: The Literary Affair,” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 1 (March 1994): 171. 28. Kiš, Homo Poeticus, 43. 29. Jorge Luis Borges, A Universal History of Iniquity (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 3. 30. Danilo Kiš, Homo Poeticus, 43. 31. Ibid., 43. 32. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 29. 33. Ibid., 22. 34. According to Beatriz Sarlo, “the fantastic order of the planet Tlön is a utopia that criticizes the empirical and referential disorder that Borges tries to avoid through the perfect plotting of his fictions. The imaginary order amounts to a fictional response touched in aesthetic strategies that adopt some of the forms of this philosophical argument” (Beatriz Sarlo, “Borges, a Writer on the Edge” Borges Studies Online, J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. Internet [14/04/01], www. uiowa.edu/borges/bsol/bsi0.shtml). 35. Borges, Ficciones, 28. 36. Ibid., 29. 37. Sarlo, “Borges,” n.p. 38. Kiš, Homo Poeticus, 263. 39. Ibid., 264. 40. Borges, Universal History of Infamy 11–12. On the question of simulacra, see Sylvia Molloy, Signs of Borges (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994), 20–23. 41. Kiš, Homo Poeticus, 43. 42. Arendt, Origins, 434. 43. Ibid., 434, my italics. 44. William T. Vollmann, afterword, in Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, 145. 45. In Dragan Jeremić’s view, for instance, Kiš’s aim “can be reached only by someone, like Solzhenitsyn, . . . [who] has lived through such ordeals and experienced them in person. Kiš is unable to achieve that goal . . . because he is ‘geographically and temporally removed’ from this experience” (Jeremić, quoted in Dubravka Juraga and M. Keith Booker, “Literature, Power, and Oppression in Stalinist Russia and Catholic Ireland: Danilo Kiš’s Use of Joyce in A Tomb for Boris Davidovich,” South Atlantic Review 58, no. 4 [November 1993]: 42). 46. Danilo Kiš, Homo Poeticus, 194. 47. Ibid., 188. 48. Ibid., 188. 49. Brendan Lemon, “An Interview with Danilo Kiš,” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no.1 (March 1994), 113. 50. Ibid., 113. 51. Slavoj Žižek, Did Anyone Say Totalitarianism?, 92. 52. Few of Agamben’s readers have raised this issue: “Especially because Agamben himself invokes Arendt’s insistence on Stalinism’s affinity with National Socialism, the enabling role he assigns to an Enlightenment discourse of rights in the emergence

240 / notes of the totalitarian camp begs the question of the Soviet gulag” (Nancy Ruttenburg, Dostoevsky’s Democracy [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009], 7). 53. Molloy, Signs of Borges, 20. 54. Ibid., 24. 55. Brent, “Unimaginable Space,” 181. 56. Gorjup, “Textualizing the Past,” 163. 57. Ibid., 163. 58. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996), 1. 59. Ibid., 2–3. 60. This constitutes a potentially polemical reflection on Heidegger’s conception of death as that which gives one’s singularity—this paragraph is analyzed by Derrida in detail in the second chapter of The Gift of Death and in two of the essays published under the title Aporias: “No one can take the other’s dying away from him. Someone can go ‘to death for an other,’ However, that always means to sacrifice oneself for the other ‘in a definite manner.’ Such dying for . . . can never, however, mean that the other has thus had his death in the least taken away. Every Da-sein must itself actually take dying upon itself. Insofar as it ‘is,’ death is always essentially my own” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by Joan Stambaugh [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996], 223, italics in original). 61. This conception of radical contingency is a reason not to conceive of Kiš’s literary ethics, solely in a Levinasian key, as “a way out” of history or of the “conspiratorial labyrinth” (Boym, “Conspiracy Theories,” 100). 62. Lefort, Complications, 94. 63. Brent, “Unimaginable Spaces,” 185. 64. This last claim relies on Fredric Jameson’s analysis to Hollywood’s anti-conspiracy films from 1970s. Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetics. Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press and London: BFI Publishing), 1992. 65. Orwell, 1984, 297. 66. Žižek, Totalitarianism?, 89. 67. Arendt, Origins, 434. 68. If in Libra, DeLillo comes close to what Giorgio Agamben has recently designated as “the fiction that governs this arcanum imperii [secret of power]”—that is, the very idea that at the “center of the democratic state lies the state of exception,” his novel offers a fascinating image of this secret of power, which preemptively questions the very foundations of Agamben’s argument: “[The state of exception] as an essentially empty space, in which a human action with no relation to the law stands before a norm with no relation to life” (Giorgio Agamben. The State of Exception [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005], 86). 69. Libra attests to DeLillo’s familiarity with the legal and political complications (or even contradictions) entailed by making secret intelligence operations central to the Cold War doctrine of security. In this sense, the novel proposes a speculative narrative inquiry into the secret universe of intelligence, which parallels the official government investigation into this matters, such as The Evolution and Organization of The Federal Intelligence Function: A Brief Overview (1776–1975), known as The Church Committee Reports. The plan to assassinate Castro, “Operation Mongoose involved propaganda and sabotage operations aimed toward spurring a revolt of the

notes / 241 Cuban people against Castro. Measures, which were considered by top policy makers, included incapacitating sugar workers during harvest season by the use of chemicals; blowing up bridges and production plants. . . . Consideration and approval of such measures may understandably have led the CIA to conclude that violent actions were an acceptable means of accomplishing important objectives” (Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. An Interim Report [Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1975], 274). This texts documents the assassinations attempts against “Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, and General Rene Schneider of Chile.” 70. Carl Schmitt, “The Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political,” trans. G. L. Ulmen, Telos 127 (2004); 25. 71. John Arquilla and David Ronfeld, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (Washington, D.C.: Rand Corporation, 2001), 6. 72. Ibid., 6–7. 73. Don DeLillo, Running Dog (New York: Picador, 1978), 111. 74. Don DeLillo, “The American Absurd,” Harper’s Magazine, February 2004, 34. 75. Don DeLillo, Libra (New York: Penguin, 1988), 336. All subsequent citations will appear in the text with the abbreviation L. 76. “The true paranoid does not believe in chance or accident. DeLillo, however, does not tell us that his conspirators arranged for Oswald’s job at the Texas School Book Depository. Nor does he tell us that the conspirators had the power and contacts to arrange for the motorcade to pass under Oswald’s elevated view. . . . Nor does he permit, absurdly, that the conspirators could arrange for good weather so that the bubble top from the president’s limousine could be removed” (Frank Lentricchia, “Libra as Postmodern Critique,” Introducing Don DeLillo [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991], 203). 77. Van Ghent, quoted in Hilary P. Dannenberg, “A Poetic of Coincidence in Narrative Fiction.” Poetics Today 25, no. 3 (2004), 401. 78. DeLillo, “The American Absurd,” 32. 79. Ibid., 34. 80. Ibid., 34. 81. Peter Knight, Conspiracy Culture. From Kennedy to the X Files (London: Routledge, 2000), 112. 82. Samuel Weber, Targets of Opportunity (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 2. 83. Weber, Targets, 94. 84. DeLillo explores the difference between character and individual, between fictional typology and subjective singularity. As the French word for character (i.e., personage) indicates, the character is based on a limited number of features (physical appearance, moral virtues, biographical details), brought together by the composition of a literary persona (etymologically, a mask). In contrast, the individual is always more than the sum of his predicates. As singularity, the subject needs to be considered as the surplus or the irreducible excess over his attributes. This argument allows a notion of subjectivity founded on the impossibility of creating a unifying whole, relying instead on the constitutive gap or secret. 85. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 292.

242 / notes 86. DeLillo, “American Absurd,” 34. 87. Christopher M. Mott, “Libra and the Subject of History,” Critique 35, no. 3 (1994): 151. 88. Once “the State acquired a monopoly in war,” according to Foucault, “the immediate effect of this State monopoly was that what might be called day-to-day warfare, and what was actually called ‘private warfare,’ was eradicated from the social body, and from relations among men and relations among groups” (Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France (1975-1976) [New York: Picador, 2003], 48). 89. Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New York: Penguin Classics, 1982), 402. 90. Rodolphe Gasché, “The Partisan and the Philosopher,” CR: The New Centennial Review 4, no. 3 (2004): 30. 91. Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 16. 92. Ibid., 15. 93. Leerom Medovoi, “Global Society Must Be Defended: Biopolitics without Boundaries,” Social Text 91.25, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 57. 94. Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000): 120. 95. Ibid., 117. 96. Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems, 30. 97. See Friedrich Kittler, “Media Wars: Trenches, Lightning, Stars” in Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems. 98. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 521. 99. Samuel Weber, Targets of Opportunity (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 18. 100. Ibid., 27. 101. Samuel Weber, “Rogue Democracy and the Hidden God,” in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Postsecular World, ed. Hent de Vries and Lawrence Sullivan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 395. 102. The plan to assassinate Castro, “Operation Mongoose involved propaganda and sabotage operations aimed toward spurring a revolt of the Cuban people against Castro. Measures, which were considered by top policy makers, included incapacitating sugar workers during harvest season by the use of chemicals; blowing up bridges and production plants. . . . Consideration and approval of such measures may understandably have led the CIA to conclude that violent actions were an acceptable means of accomplishing important objectives” (Interim Report 274). 103. Skip Willman “Traversing the Fantasies of the JFK Assassination: Conspiracy and Contingency in Don DeLillo’s Libra,” Contemporary Literature 39, no. 3 (Autumn 1998): 410. 104. Weber, “Rogue Democracy,” 5. 105. Ward Thomas, “The New Age of Assassination.” SAIS Review 25 (Winter– Spring 2005): 30. 106. For a historical overview of this issue, see also Stephen F. Kott. Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). President Ford signs an order against assassination plots in February 1976, after the Church Committee released its report. 107. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September 2002), 15.

notes / 243 108. I am following Jean-Luc Nancy’s rhetorical question here: “How [is one] to think without end, without finishing, without sovereignty?” (Being Singular Plural 133). 109. Don DeLillo, White Noise (New York: Viking, 1985), 26. 110. Nancy, quoted in Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 5. 111. Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 6. 112. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Observations of the Long Take,” October 13 (Summer 1980): 3. 113. Ibid., 3–4. 114. Kevin Connolly, “An Interview with Don DeLillo,” in The Brick Reader, ed. Linda Spalding and Michael Ondaatje (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1991), 266. 115. Knight, Conspiracy, 110. 116. In this sense, Lacan’s notion of the gaze corresponds to “the white burst” seen by Oswald at the center of the frame: “The gaze is presented to us only in the form of a strange contingency, symbolic of what we find on the horizon, as the thrust of our experience, namely, the lack that constitutes castration anxiety” (Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis [New York, London: Norton, 1998], 86). 117. Pasolini, “Observations on the Long Take,” 4. 118. The topic of secrecy has been extensively discussed in DeLillo’s scholarship: Mark Osteen, “The Theology of Secrets” in American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000) and José Liste Noya, “Naming the Secret: Don DeLillo’s Libra,” Contemporary Literature 45, no. 2 (Summer, 2004). As both critics discover the ambivalent nature of secrecy in DeLillo’s novels, that is to critique the “secrecy system and to embody it in their economy of reading” (Osteen, “Theology of Secrets” 144), Noya’s more theoretical approach risks transforming Libra into a confrontation set between Lacanian and Derridean conceptions on “the status of the name” (241), and—while showing a sophisticated understanding of the literary-philosophical topic—fails to address the political or cultural relevance of these analyses which is a crucial part of the novel’s world. Libra cannot be considered just another fictional text that plays on the idea of the unreadability of the literary secret in the tradition of Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpet.” 119. The original Hegelian text may be relevant for our reading of Libra as well: “Egypt is the country of symbols, the country which sets itself the spiritual task of the self-deciphering of the spirit, without actually attaining to the deciphering. The problems remain unsolved, and the solution which we can provide consists therefore only in interpreting the riddles of Egyptian art and its symbolic works as a problem remaining undeciphered by the Egyptians themselves” (G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, vol. 1, trans. T. M. Knox [Oxford: Oxford University Press/ Clarendon, 1975], 345). In this Hegelian sense, we may argue that DeLillo conceives of the CIA as a culture that produces its own mystery, an idea that is further developed in the conception of the theology of the secret. In other words, the truth about the Kennedy assassination escapes us, as it is no longer a matter of knowledge but of belief. 120. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 73. The criticism of the “culture of secrecy” developed by the CIA since its creation in 1947 has been dominated by another idea: “A central lesson of the Cold War era is that secrecy can endanger a democratic system by denying the people information about the functioning of their own government”

244 / notes (James X. Dempsey, “The CIA and Secrecy,” A Culture of Secrecy. The Government Versus the People’s Right to Know, ed. Athan C. Theoharis [Lawrence: Kansas University Press, 1998], 37). The point rehashes the core principle of liberalist thinking: The central mythical component of democratic regimes is the open character of the public sphere: “Every democracy holds publicity to be an intrinsically desirable situation on the premise that everybody should know the events and circumstances that concern him, since this is the condition without which he cannot contribute to decisions about them” (Georg Simmel, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. Kurt H. Wolff [New York: Free Press, 1950], 337). The political and legal challenges of World War I as well as the emergence of twentieth-century totalitarianisms lead to the current definition of secrecy as the government’s right to intentional concealment of information granted by exceptional circumstances concerning national security. Georg Simmel’s analysis of secrecy is the sociological background to these political (and juridical) matters. Historically, secrecy continues to be the norm for European states as late as the eighteenth century and only in the nineteenth century, the rise of publicity “invaded the affairs of the state” (336), and as “general affairs became ever more public, individual affairs ever more secret” (336). One should not forget that the emergence of the public sphere is intricately related to the practice of secrecy. Jürgen Habermas considers secrecy as “the internal public.” His analysis of seventeenth-century French publicity points towards a complex rapport between the public sphere and the secret societies of the time: “Social equality was possible at first only as an equality outside the state. The coming together of private people into a public was therefore anticipated in secret, as a public sphere still existing largely behind close doors” (Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989], 35). To emphasize this point, Habermas goes on to quote Lessing’s statement about Freemasonry, “bourgeois society is merely the offspring of Freemasonry” (35). 121. Interim Report, 258. 122. Willman, “Traversing the Fantasies,” 410. 123. According to Sissela Bok, “secretum carries the meaning of something hidden, set apart, [deriving] from secernere, which originally meant to sift apart, to separate as with as sieve” and arcanum conveys “the sacred, the uncanny, the mysterious” (Sissela Bok, Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation [New York: Vintage Books, 1989], 4). 124. In fact, the creation of a body of knowledge, of an immense confidential archive that CIA childishly builds to consolidate its identity resembles a process of “unquestioned attribution of mystery to the sacred text” (Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996]). Kermode’s main task in The Genesis of Secrecy is to relate any practice of reading to biblical hermeneutics, the reading of sacred texts. On the one hand, the universality of the Christian message was the central element of the new faith, on the other, “people have found secrecy there, though in different forms, from the very beginning” (Kermode, Genesis, 144). The function of the secret (as the etymological meaning proved, see the Latin secretum) was to separate the initiate readers from the rest. As it was believed, “the writers of scriptures had themselves practiced what Clement called ‘a prophetic and venerable system of concealment’” (144). Surprisingly, hermeneutics becomes an art of concealment and not of revelation of meaning, once sacred texts are approached. Kermode draws attention to the fact that “sacred simply refers to texts credited with

notes / 245 high authority” (144) (from the Gospels to Shakespeare), as the main element that fosters the creation of secrecy. 125. This idea may be derived from the analyses of the Church Committee regarding “what level were the plots known about or authorized within the CIA or outside” (see Interim Report 91–261). The conclusion in this regard is the following: “The system of Executive command and control was so inherently ambiguous that it is difficult to be certain at what level the assassination activity was known and authorized” (261). 126. We intentionally formulated this question based on a series of examples given by Hans Blumenberg in his critique of secularization: “The modern work ethic is secularized monastic asceticism; the world revolution is the secularized expectation of the end of the world; the president of the Federal Republic is a secularized monarch” (Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, 4). 127. Ibid., 5. 128. “A commitment to secrecy is regarded as a necessary feature of state power is abundantly clear from the texts on the doctrine [reason of state].” Furthermore, since “reason of state came to play a crucial ideological role in legitimating the exercise of state power,” a similar rationale can be found at the core of political emergency. See Marc Neocleous, “Secrecy, Privacy, Idiocy,” Social Research 69, no. 1 (2002): 85–100. 129. Peter Donaldson, Machiavelli and the Mystery of the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). 130. Osteen, American Magic, 159. In a close reading of Jan Patočka’s essay “Is Technological Civilization Decadent, and Why?,” Derrida explicitly uses the Czech philosopher’s attempt to distinguish between religion (as responsibility) and the orgiastic experience of the sacred (the state of rapture) to distinguish between two heterogeneous types of secrecy: “The secret of orgiastic mystery that the history of responsibility needs to break with” and mysterium tremendum “the terrifying mystery, the dread, fear and trembling of the Christian in the experience of the sacrificial gift” (Derrida, The Gift of Death [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995], 6). DeLillo’s novel refers to this particular theology of the secret (of the mysterium tremendum), but focuses on the secular form of a purely religious concept, to a political-theology of the secret that retains very little from the religious meanings of the Christian event. At a closer look, the fictional situation described by DeLillo is no longer based on the distinction made by Patočka, as the sacred veil of secrecy is for Cold War democratic states the central political strategy to break with political responsibility. 131. Blumenberg, Legitimacy, 93. This is Blumenberg’s strongest argument against Schmitt’s famous formula: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development, but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts.” On the one hand, Schmitt draws attention to concepts that were “transferred from theology to the state,” on the other, to the scientific examination based on “conceptually clear and systematic analogy, and not merely playing with ideas, whether mystical, natural-philosophical, or even romantic.” The first formula is illustrated by the “omnipotent God [becoming] the omnipotent lawgiver,” while the other by the analogical correspondence between the exception (as juridical notion) and the theological concept of the miracle (Blumenberg, Legitimacy, 36–37). 132. It is true that DeLillo’s novels “examine the place of the sacred—or more accurately, its absence, its replacement by simulacra—in postmodern culture,” but, at

246 / notes the same time, they get involved, willingly or not, in the problems of secularization and of presence of myth in the modern (i.e., technological) world (Osteen, American Magic, 143). DeLillo thus enters in dialogue not only with Blumenberg but also with Heidegger. In Underworld, for instance, we read about “faith in suspicion and unreality. The faith that replaces God with radioactivity, the power of alpha particles and the all-knowing systems that shape them, the endless fitted links” (251). 133. Ibid., 40. 134. Ibid., 40. 135. Ibid., 94. 136. Clinton Rossiter quoted in Agamben, The State of Exception, 9. 137. There are numerous moments in recent history when the idea of justifying political action on the basis of emergency powers was publicly condemned: “We reject absolutely any notion that the United States should justify its actions by the standards of totalitarianism. Of course, we must defend democracy. But in defending it, we must resist undermining the very virtues we are defending” (Interim Report 258). 138. Georg Simmel, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 333. 139. Joan Copjec, “What Zapruder Saw” in Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), 230. 140. I am using Agamben’s concept loosely here, without implying that the homo sacer doctrine coined by Roman law is still active in our legal system. 141. Don DeLillo, Underworld (New York: Scribner, 1995), 495.

Concluding Remarks 1. We formulate this question in regards to Donald E. Pease’s introduction to Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies, ed. Winfried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth University Press, 2012). As Donald E. Pease notes, “from 1968 to 1979, countercultural American studies scholars associated themselves with transnational social movements to oppose the Cold War state of exception” (12). For other approaches on this topic see the essays in Wai Chee Dimock and Lawrence Buell, ed. American Literature as World Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007). 2. Ibid., 17. 3. Ibid., 22. 4. Ibid., 22. 5. Schmitt, Nomos, 351. 6. Ibid., 353. 7. Even though he does not specifically discuss the Cold War doctrine, Brian Massumi touches on this point as he argues: “Mutually assured destruction is equilibrium-seeking. It tends toward the creation of a ‘balance of terror.’ MAD is certainly squared: To the certainty that there is objectively a threat is added the certainty that it is balanced out. The second certainty is dynamic, and requires maintenance. The assurance must maintained by continuing to producing [sic] the conditions that bring the cause so vividly into the present. You have to keep moving into the dangerous future. You have to race forward even faster. You have to build more weapons, faster and better, to be sure that your systems match the lethality of your opponent’s, give or take a few lives. The process becomes self-driving. The logic of mutually assured destruction becomes its own motor. It becomes self-propelling” (Brian Massumi, “Potential Politics and the Primacy of Preemption,” Theory and Event 10, no. 2 [2007]: n.p.).

notes / 247 8. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “emergency.” 9. Schmitt, Political Theology, 46. 10. Laclau, Hegemony, 155. 11. The theology of secrets corresponds to an institutional structure whose authority fully relies on the management of confidential information. Daniel Patrick Moynihan empirical study of government secrecy in the United States focuses on the “bureaucracy’s tendency to amass official secrets, a tendency long noticed by Max Weber” (142): “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of secret sessions” (Weber, quoted in Moynihan’s Secrecy, 143). As important institutional assets, secrets establish internal frontiers between various intelligence agencies or branches of the government. The Church Committee reports explicitly address these boundaries through the use of phrases such as “the level . . . the plots [were] known or authorized within/outside the CIA” (91, 108).

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Index

Acker, Kathy, 117 Adams, Henry, 16 aesthetics: and absurd 8; and “aesthetic fallacy” 30; and comedy 63; of communism 76, 97, 112; excess 118; as field 24, 41, 144; and modernism 50, 116, 166; and naturalism 149 Agamben, Giorgio, 6, 9, 11, 26, 40, 41, 55–57, 62, 168, 203, 204, 214, 216 allegory: and allotria 227n64; in Cold War American culture 14, 16; de Man’s concept 213n1; existential 144; and indeterminacy 119; of Nazism 146, 150; and police state 165; in postmodernism 127, 154, 234n42; and psychoanalysis 88; of Romanian communism 138. See also metaphysics archive, 9, 158, 162, 182, 199, 203; Derrida’s analysis of 172; imagined 63, 171–74; of the Soviet regime 161, 166, 171, 238n21 Arendt, Hannah, 4, 11, 15, 16, 21, 23, 31, 38, 40, 41, 58–60, 108, 110, 135, 160, 215n8, 218n56, 223n123, 223n129, 238n19 atomic bomb, 14, 15, 17, 18, 37, 101, 132; and nuclear security state 37; and nuclear war 18, 25, 145; and the Rosenbergs 117, 154 Auerbach, Eric, 4, 185, 214n18 Auster, Paul, 42 authority: Arendt’s definition of 60; crisis of 150; and invisible master 52–56, 61,

194; paternalistic 42, 97, 103; and the state 23, 24, 122, 180 Badiou, Alain, 107, 213, 232n64 balance of power: as geopolitical concept 208–10; and terror 246n7; in US constitutional democracy 37 Balibar, Etienne, 30 bare life, 26, 62, 205; and Kennedy assassination footage 206 Bellah, Robert, 122, 233n22 Bellow, Saul, 99 Benjamin, Walter, 41, 51, 57, 223n129, 225n19 biopolitics, 6, 40, 71, 155, 168, 219n73; Esposito’s conception of 214n19; Foucault’s conception of 191; and Project MkUltra 35 Blanchot, Maurice, 33, 35, 40, 221n99 Blumenberg, Hans, 139, 146, 202, 203, 219, 235, 236, 246n132 body politic, 3, 17, 32, 58, 65, 219n71; and administration 61, 62; and embodiment 14, 20, 21, 29, 73, 117, 131, 209; and the human body 65, 67, 70, 92, 94, 137; and social body 139, 145, 242n88; in totalitarianism 4, 5, 81, 89, 157 Botero, 202 Brenkman, John, 207, 222n118 Broch, Herman, 76, 226n6

250 / index Castro, Fidel, 187–90, 194–96, 201, 240n69, 242n102 Ceaușescu, Nicolae, 9, 138–41 De Certeau, Michel, 66, 67 Clausewitz, Carl von, 13, 181, 191–93 communism, 22, 45, 81,89, 90, 98, 105, 108, 113, 118, 132, 146, 155, 156, 167, 171, 172, 177, 190; and the Bolshevik revolution 5, 106, 113, 159, 161; and Christianity 85; containment of and opposition to 19, 20, 26, 111, 128, 183; in Eastern Europe 8, 83, 99, 140, 141; and globalization 144, 156–60, 181, 194, 217n34; 218n52; in North Korea 140; self-destruction of 76, 77, 159–61; and totalitarianism 4, 5, 74, 99 Cohn, Norman, 160 Connolly, William, 219 contemporariness: Agamben’s theory of 6, 9, 11, 214n16; and contemporary history 4–7, 9, 15, 185, 206, 212, 221n105; desire to be contemporary 11, 160, 206; and literary criticism 27, 116; as timeliness 44, 48, 50, 123, 192, 234n45 contingency: as accident 45, 80, 139, 181, 197, 241n76; and chance or randomness 143, 173, 186; in democracy 15, 117; and Lacanian psychoanalysis 243n116 Coover, Robert, 9, 42–44, 116–44, 154, 155, 206, 209, 211, 212 Copjec, Joan, 94, 204 Corngold, Stanley, 63, 64, 67, 227n64 Crnković, Gordana, 17 Deleuze, Gilles, 56, 57, 63, 77, 149, 236n89 DeLillo, Don, 9, 11, 12, 14–16, 26, 30, 44, 53, 159, 181–206, 209, 211, 212 democracy: and the empty place of power 3, 130, 133; and equality 3, 129; and indeterminacy 7, 77; and the novel 15–17; popular 38, 76, 158; temporalities of 8, 107; in United States 15, 42, 46, 100, 107, 113, 119, 124, 125, 135, 144, 190, 194, 209–12; and universality 3, 129 Democracy (Joan Didion), 16, 17 Derrida, Jacques, 17, 171, 172, 193, 230n32, 240n60, 245n130 dialectics: and complementarity 89; and ideology 21, 22; and Hegelian-Marxist schema 24, 27; and history 27, 28; in literary narrative 9; as negation 188; and temporality 100; and totality 18 Didion, Joan, 16, 17, 30, 43

discourse: of the (global) Cold War 6, 17–22, 34, 45, 47, 113, 125, 136, 158, 167, 190, 200, 207–10; Laclau and Mouffe’s theory 18, 214n24; and literary narrative 9, 28, 31, 35, 38, 39, 182, 183, 189; of national security 37 Dubček, Alexander, 92 Eagleton, Terry, 143 emergency: and Cold War 37, 44, 119, 124, 210, 211; global 7, 26, 125; powers 36, 37, 56, 134, 204, 245n128, 246n137; states or situations of 58, 63, 124, 131, 137, 138, 152, 212 encyclopedic narrative, 35, 37, 126, 154, 160, 164–68, 172, 209 L’envers de l’histoire contemporaine (Balzac), 52 Esposito, Roberto, 4, 5, 214n19 excess: in literary art 35, 37, 42, 117–19, 125, 139, 147, 154; of enjoyment (in a psychoanalytical sense) 51, 53 exception: Agamben’s theory of 26, 40, 203, 204, 226n29, 240n68; and exceptionalism 26, 27, 97, 119, 121, 207–10; state of 17, 23, 24, 40, 55–58, 63, 117, 129, 203, 204 exemplarity, 7, 21, 34, 182, 206; and Kafka 41, 56, 63, 71, 73; model 85, 125, 166; moments of democratic experience 16 fantasy, 27, 49, 63, 147, 165, 193; of global order 209–11; as ideology 109, 182; and interpretive literature 8, 117, 145; paranoid 51, 53, 154, 177; in perversion 92–95, 230n36; psychotic 59; of revenge 91; and state 208, 219n69; traversal of 50, 167, 194, 210; and the unity of the people 5, 157 Fiedler, Leslie, 100 fog of war: Clausewitz’s idea, 13, 193, 216n10; as fog of the Cold War 14, 26–28, 39, 125, 128, 183, 218n54 The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Morris) 13 Forster, E. M., 33 Freud, Sigmund, 5, 12, 87–89, 94, 130 Fuentes, Carlos, 125, 126, 154 Furet, François, 229n24 Gasché, Rodolphe, 57, 191, 225n18 Geertz, Clifford, 123, 124 The Genesis of Secrecy (Kermode) 243n124

index / 251 geopolitics: as academic field 21, 26; and aesthetics 217n41; and Cold War polarization 43, 118, 125, 190; and global order 6, 19, 128, 208–11; and iron curtain 13; and strategy 129, 188; and the Vietnam War 16 Girard, René, 123 globalization: Hardt and Negri’s theory of 20; and literature 7, 39, 144, 220n83; and military strategy 13, 16, 127, 191; and politics 7, 20, 156; and terrorism 195; and United States 17, 26, 42, 49, 113, 200; and universalism 22, 43; and worldspace 22, 156 Gombrowicz, Witold, 84 Hardt, Michael, 20 Hassan, Ihab, 116 Havel, Vaclav, 21, 22, 168, 218n46 Held, David, 18 Hobsbawm, Eric, 13 Honig, Bonnie, 219n73 Hoover, J. Edgar, 14, 15, 124 Howe, Irving, 30, 75, 85, 95 Hussein, Saddam, 187, 193 Hutcheon, Linda, 116, 232n1 hyperbole, 37, 38, 42, 53, 73, 77, 87, 129, 164 imagination: of apocalypse 34; and Kafka 42, 43, 73; and literature 7, 11, 15, 29, 63, 186, 206, 211; of political power 39, 117, 159, 216n14; and utopia 111 “The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism” (Lefort), 156 imperialism: European 19, 157, 218n56; as “Great Game” 215n8; and United States 19, 20, 22, 128, 209, 210 instrumentality, 43, 63–69, 71 Ionescu, Eugen 7 irony, 99, 156, 162, 169, 177, 181 Jameson, Fredric, 27 Jünger, Ernst, 146 Kadare, Ismaïl, 7 Kafkaesque: DeLillo’s reflection on 186; Kundera’s definition of the Kafkan 79–80; and the modern law 57; and paranoid fantasy 49–53; and Pynchon 38 Kant, Immanuel, 24, 40, 55, 57, 61 Kantorowicz, Ernst H., 223n127 Kazin, Michael, 102, 103

Kelsen, Hans 57, 225n21 Kennan, George, 216n12, 217n37 Kennedy assassination: and CIA 204; on film 197; historical event 44, 182, 185; and postmodernism 184, 186, 211; and Zapruder film 183, 196–98, 204, 205, 211 Kiš, Danilo, 7, 9, 43, 62, 156–81, 206 kitsch 107, 143; Herman Broch’s definition 228n6; in East European communism 76, 93, 96; and the idyllic 82; and lying 97 Kittler, Friedrich, 36, 192, 222n112 Klima, Ivan, 8, 9 Konrád, György, 8, 98, 154 Kundera, Milan, 7–9, 12, 37–44, 62, 74–101, 107, 113, 114, 141, 143, 206, 228n6, 237n11 Laclau, Ernesto, 18, 57, 58, 103, 104, 215n24, 216n26, 231n55–59 LeClair, Tom, 123, 124, 154 Lefort, Claude, 1–6, 15, 22, 23, 26, 28, 31, 32, 38, 39, 44, 63, 81, 130, 143, 156, 157, 213n7, 218n52 leftist politics: in 1950s America 101–3; and political thought 23; in the West 3, 5, 29, 30, 170 legitimacy: and authority 60; crisis of 42, 209, 212; and Kafka 52, 54, 61; and legality 211; of political modernity 15, 124, 200 Lévinas, Emanuel, 240n61 Lezra, Jacques, 73 MacCannell, Juliet Flower, 129, 130 Machiavelli, Niccolo, 3, 28, 39 Manolescu, Nicolae, 148, 152 Marchart, Oliver, 213n2, 226n36 Marxism: and bureaucracy 61; and ideology 5, 21, 28, 82, 104; and literary criticism 27, 28, 116; and philosophy of history 61; as secular religion 84, 85, 237 n11 McHale, Brian, 116, 125–27, 234n42 media 17, 191; Kittler’s theory of 192; and the process of mediation 4, 11, 17, 26, 39, 65, 89, 140, 177, 186, 205; and technology 37, 55, 123, 124, 182, 183, 193 Mendelson, Edward, 221n104 metaphysics: and allegory 150; and figures of foundation 3; of history 4, 38, 186; and literary writing 164–66, 186; of reflection 162 Miller, J. A., 199

252 / index monarchy, 129, 130 Moretti, Franco, 29 Mouffe, Chantal, 2, 18 Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 199, 243n120, 247n11 Mrożek, Sławomir, 8 Nadas, Peter, 145 Nancy, Jean-Luc, 3, 196, 213n1, 243n108 naturalism, 149, 150, 236n89. See also aesthetics Negri, Antonio, 20 Neher, André, 33, 40 Nemoianu, Virgil, 82, 231n43 networks: in Cold War America 158; and the Comintern 44, 159; and conspiracy 182, 184, 194; as form of power 157, 182, 211, 212; and the global system 11, 53, 182, 195; in the information age 182, 208; and netwar 183, 193; and secrecy 186; as textual composition 166; and totalitarianism 163, 165, 177; and universality 158 Neumann, John von, 209 New American Exceptionalism (Pease), 27 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 67, 234n42 Nixon, Richard (US president), 118, 126, 132–35, 141; and satire 235n56; as Tricky Dick (fictional portrayal in The Public Burning) 42, 118, 122, 126, 133; and Watergate 134, 211 order: global order 6, 7, 18, 19, 20, 22, 73, 121, 128, 208–12; legal or normative order 24, 26, 56, 65, 71, 134, 202; as ontological principle 172; symbolic order (in Lacanian sense) 59, 61, 65; of writing 37, 47, 63, 64, 196. See also geopolitics Orwell, George, 16, 29–36, 39, 41, 84, 179 Paine, Thomas, 103, 112 Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 197, 198, 204 Patočka, Jan, 245n130 Pease, Donald E., 26, 27, 207, 209, 219n69, 246n1 “To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (Kant), 61 Piette, Adam, 224n134 Pietz, William, 19, 216n12, 217n37 the political (as distinct from politics), 1–10, 15, 21, 22, 35, 213n2; and Cold War 9, 13, 16, 20, 22, 25, 30, 39, 56, 63, 89,

116, 182; interpretation of the 31, 45, 62; and liberalism 2; and the literary 6, 15, 16, 29, 31, 37, 75, 77,82, 96, 117, 195; and Marxism 28; and military war 191; and ontology 40, 45215n24; 216n15; retreat or vanishing of 23, 36, 39, 197; Schmitt’s theory of 23–25; and technology 68, 72; and temporality 9, 10, 89, 96, 100; tests or trials of the 1, 2, 14, 28, 34, 42, 206; and theater 123, 143; and totality 20 political-theology, 23, 45, 60, 73, 85, 245n131; and democracy 25, 154, 184, 211; disentanglement or dissolution of 23, 45; and the King’s Two Bodies doctrine 156; of the secret 44, 183, 200–205, 212, 243n119, 245n130 Pol Pot, 167 Popescu, D. R. 7, 9, 43, 44, 117, 138–55, 206 populism: and demagogy 232n69; and literature 97, 106; theories of 231n43, 231n55; in United States 102–4, 190 postfoundationalism, 3–5, 28, 58, 60, 213n2, 226n36 postmodernism: and culture 15, 55, 186, 203, 205; and literary writing 30, 37, 38, 44–47, 57, 100, 116–18, 125, 127, 132, 140, 144, 154, 172, 176, 184–86, 192, 195, 220n83, 234n42 “The Power of History” (DeLillo), 12 “The Power of the Powerless” (Havel), 21 Preda, Marin, 139, 145 prophetic rhetoric: and archaic prophecy 34; and literature 30–33; and realism 30; and post-humanism 38; as speech act 33–39. See also secularization public realm: appearance 111; and ceremony 43, 70, 72, 74, 117, 132; and liberal values 55; and the novel 12–14 Pynchon, Thomas 29–43, 53, 127, 167, 189, 192, 206, 212, 222n112 “The Question of Democracy” (Lefort), 130 Rancière, Jacques, 104, 214n23, 226n29, 227n51 Reed, Ishmael, 127 Reinhard, Kenneth, 25 Restuccia, Francis L., 83 Robert, Marthe, 62 Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 19, 45, 46, 101, 224n137 Rorty, Richard, 30, 228n7 Rosanvallon, Pierre, 1, 2, 23, 214n24

index / 253 Rossiter, Clinton, 134, 203, 218n54 Roth, Philip 9, 42, 44, 98–115 Santner, Eric, 58, 59 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 12, 168 Schmitt, Carl, 23–25, 56, 182, 191, 202, 204, 208, 211, 245n131 Schreber, 58, 59 Schulz, Bruno, 92 secrecy: and arcanum imperii 202; in Cold War America 14, 39, 182–84, 186, 195, 199–204, 243n120; in detective fiction 88; and “reason of state” 202, 245n128; religious origins of 244n124, 245n130; and state sovereignty 9, 43, 201, 202, 206 secularization: 24, 45 156, 201, 202; critique of secularization 202, 203, 245n126; and prophetic rhetoric 34, 38, 120; Schmitt’s theory of 24, 25; as separation of church and state 122 security: and the Cold War discourse in US 14, 20, 61, 124; mechanism of 151; national 15, 17, 20, 36, 37, 134, 193, 201, 202, 206, 209, 240n69; and National Security State 15, 17, 26, 117, 128; and National Security Strategy (2002) 195; as preemption 166; as protection from danger 143, 146 Shannon, Claude, 192 singularity, 62, 107, 111, 172, 241n84; and finitude 181, 240n60 Solzhenitsyn, 81, 84, 167, 239n45 Sontag, Susan, 99 Southeast Asia, 16 sovereignty: and globalization 27, 45; paradoxical manifestation of 40–42, 137; popular 9, 75, 76, 104, 107, 113, 117; Schmitt’s concept of 23–27 spectacle, 12, 44, 108, 124, 125, 127, 137, 148, 154, 193, 212; and “In the Penal Colony” 70–72

Stendhal, 112 targeting: of foreign leaders during the Cold War 184, 195; and the Iraq War 193; and skopos (goal, end) 195; and strategic thinking 183, 192, 195; and the war against terrorism 195 terror, 15, 38, 39, 55, 63, 71, 73, 129, 146, 150, 153; legitimate 70; Lezra’s theory of 73; and myth 139, 145; in Stalinist purges 8, 17, 33, 49, 107, 158, 160–64, 166, 171, 181, 207; “war on terror” 26, 184, 195; and writing 64. See also balance of power theology: and literature 41, 79; and messianism 56, 121, 129, 217n34; negative 52, 194; and self-sacrifice 160 Tocqueville, Alexis de 60, 116, 122, 130, 214 transnational: American Studies 207; Cold War narratives 17, 207, 220n83; and power 38, 113, 183; and Soviet Union 159, 217n34; and terrorism 12, 182, 193, 195 Uncle Sam, 42, 43, 117, 119, 121–55, 211, 212 universality, 2, 3, 5, 17, 20, 22, 34, 39, 43, 82, 96, 97, 101, 112, 119, 155, 156, 158, 159, 162, 166, 206 utopia, 22, 27, 91; erotic 90; and literature 206; negative 165, 166; as social emancipation 63, 91, 105, 111; Vaculík, Ludvík, 8 Vègsö, Roland, 217n41, 221n105 Weber, Max, 38, 201, 222n118, 247n11 Weber, Samuel, 70, 124, 187, 192, 193 Welles, Orson, 47–53 Westad, Odd Arne, 18, 217n41, 219n75 Žižek, Slavoj, 50, 51, 55, 61, 109, 160, 168, 199, 217n36, 225n12