Paul Auster's Leviathan foregrounds the way a particular discourse is contingent upon a narrative construct. What a person sees in a situation depends upon the stories that she puts faith in, a perspective built upon communication. The viewpoints of the characters in the novel are each dependent upon who they trust and what story they believe. For example, the narrator, Peter Aaron, comes to understand the differing points of view of a relationship when his friend, Ben Sachs, describes his marital situation differently than his wife Fanny. Ben lies to her to keep her happy, fabricating stories of infidelity to maintain his wife's interest in him. "Words have power, after all." And Ben describes the way the stories "were all very real to her."
When Ben Sachs becomes a terrorist, bombing replicas of the Statue of Liberty, it is to confront the prevailing discourse of freedom in the U.S. "He simply wanted America to look into itself and mend its ways. In that sense, there was something almost Biblical about his exhortations, and after a while he began to sound less like a political revolutionary than some anguished, soft-spoken prophet." Ben aspires to reopen the discussion of what freedom means and not allow a statue to be a misguided icon that people hide behind. This use of bombs to send a message might be "[u]nlike the typical terrorist pronouncement," but it brings to the forefront the idea of terrorism as discourse, violence that attempts to hijack the discourse and put forth its own message. However, the text's critical awareness is always focused on particular perspectives. Terror, thus, amounts to one perceptive, and even though it dominates the headlines due to fear and horror, it must be dealt with through discursive means.
The question then becomes, what is literature's role in this mess? Can writers, in the novel's case both Ben Sachs and Peter Aaron, effectively shape discourse so that terrorism will not? Paul Auster does not answer these questions because Ben becomes the terrorist as a result of his inability to influence political dialogue, and Peter writes to challenge the inevitable opinions that will be formed when the government learns that Ben Sachs is the bomber called the "Phantom of Liberty."
Sketches for an Earth Computer
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