Parenting in America   /   Fall 2013   /    Essays

Terror and Art: A Meditation

Geoffrey Hartman

We have entered an age in which terror is an increasingly familiar experience. By terror I do not mean primarily what may result from the usual mayhem of criminal acts, but something driven by larger and often ideological ambitions. We now confront a deliberate “terrorism,” state- or group- sponsored, targeted or purposefully random, involving single atrocities or massacres. Warfare, whether conventional or asymmetric, is not its only breeding ground. Whereas war, in the past, was not necessarily total but intended to resolve a conflict that could not be settled by other means (see Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens), terror suggests a sempiternal enemy (not unlike the devil in theology) who must be eradicated, not just deterred, to assure the community’s survival or presumed destined greatness.

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