The Modernist Affair with Terrorism: The Curious Case of Willem Frederik Hermans

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Terrorism and literary modernism have an uncanny liaison. How should we understand and judge this eerie relationship? This article examines the case of the novelist and polemicist Willem Frederik Hermans from a psychoanalytical perspective. It argues that it is too naïve to say that literary writers do not commit terrorism, simply because their acts of violence involve words only. Terrorists are not just those who threaten to inflict physical violence on others to acquire attention for their ideological cause. This does not mean, however, that we should not try to differentiate philosophically between the terrorism of terrorists and the terrorism of literary modernists. We can catch sight of a more tenable, structural difference between the two forms of terrorism if we take into account the psychoanalytical notions of the symbolic and imaginary with respect to terrorism, as well as the related concepts of perversion and sublimation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-36
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Dutch Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2020


  • Willem Frederik Hermans
  • terrorism
  • literary terrorism
  • modernism


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