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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Explaining Terroism Via Dostoevsky

Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp: Why do you return to the work of Dostoevsky to explain the terrorism of the 20th and 21st centuries?

André Glucksmann: In Dostoïevski à Manhattan I pose a philosophical question: what is the ‘idea’, the characteristic form of modern terrorism? And my answer is: nihilism.

Socrates asked: what do a beautiful woman, a beautiful vase and a beautiful bed have in common? His answer: the idea of beauty. My question is: what do extremist ideologies like the communism or Nazism of yesteryear and the Islamism of today have in common? After all, they support ostensibly very different ideals – the superior race, mankind united in socialism, the community of Muslim believers (the Umma). Tomorrow, it could be altogether different ideals: some theological, some scientific, others racist. But the common characteristic is nihilism.

The root element is the attitude that anything goes, particularly when with regard to ordinary people: I can do whatever I want, without scruples. Goehring put it like this: my consciousness is Adolf Hitler. Bolsheviks said: man is made of iron. And the Islamists whom I visited in Algeria said that you have the right to kill little Muslim children, in order to save them.

Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp: And this took you back to Dostoevsky?

André Glucksmann: It is the highest achievement of Russian literature in particular that it has revealed this kernel of human experience in which ‘everything is allowed’. In Dostoevsky’s The Possessed there are atheists and believers (a figure like Shatov for example) who have very different outlooks on the future. But they share one thing in common: the right to kill, to burn, to overturn, in order to achieve tabula rasa.

Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp: When Dostoevsky talks about the devils, or the possessed, he still seems to be guided by the idea that evil is something which captures man from outside. The main protagonist Stavrogin, for example, even talks about the devil’s appearances.

André Glucksmann: Actually, the beautiful thing about Stavrogin is that you don’t really know him. You don’t know if he believes in God or not. In the end, what surprised me was to find that he is a little like bin Laden; he might be very cynical, or fanatical, nobody really knows.

The inner nature of this nihilistic terrorism is that everything is permissible, whether because God exists and I am his representative, or because God does not exist and I take his place. That is what I find so impressive about Dostoevsky: he is a secret, a riddle.

Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp: The group of conspirators at the centre of The Possessed seems, from the outside, to have both a coherent programme and a great deal of charisma. From the inside, on the other hand, all that remains is a fascination with destruction. And this fascination develops its own dynamic, pulling everyone under its spell. Destruction takes over as the group’s raison d’etre, while some of those involved still believe it is about the content and messages it offers.

André Glucksmann: Yes, there are several different layers of nihilists. There are the ‘outer’ nihilists who follow and believe, and then there are the nihilists at the centre of the action, the activists who pursue the logic of destruction. Dostoevsky has shown this very well indeed, as has Turgenev, in the persona of Bazarov. Or take Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse figure. These destructive personalities have coherence precisely because they are not idealists. Their coherence derives from the logic of destruction. In a linguistic sense it is performative, and therefore self-endorsing.
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