It is not at first apparent that any relationship exists between literature and political assassination, which cloaks itself with such labels as armed conflict, a people's struggle for liberation, and so forth. On the one hand, we are confronted with an action that in three out of four cases spills the blood of innocent people; on the other, we are dealing with the writings of intellectuals well out of the range of violence, intellectuals who have been termed the whiskierda in Latin America—a word formed by the contraction of whiskey and izquierda, which means the left. In other words, whiskierda signifies intellectuals “from capitalist countries for whom revolution consists of letting one's hair grow a little longer than others' and discussing world equilibrium over a bottle of whiskey.” 1
This discussion will deal exclusively with revolutionary terrorism, excluding entirely any mention of terrorism on the part of the state. This is terrorism of those not in power, with crimes committed to create a state of permanent threat by striking anyone at any time. This kind of terrorism includes an extremely complex etiology, combining the politics, economy, racial struggles, propaganda, and anger—“the ultima ratio” of the scorned and the desperate—as well as fanaticism and Utopian visions.
What is particularly interesting in the relationship between this kind of terrorism and literature is the fact that one finds it frequently accepted by many intellectuals, especially in France, where the intelligentsia is most often of the left, indeed, since 1968, of the extreme left. This acceptance may be explained by the need for prestige and for an audience—both of which have become very restricted since the advent of mass media. Our society is a “society of spectacle, ” as situationalist Guy Debord has called it, and, in order to be regarded, the French intellectual must provoke and challenge. The greatest challenge in the contemporary world is the act of terrorism. The intellectual who turns to it is thus easily able to garner not necessarily sympathy but at least the attention of the masses. The prestige which the writer formerly enjoyed due to his talent and his knowledge, he now finds through his easy acceptance of crimes which stir the entire world.
To be sure, the literary history of terrorism is a very long one, dating to ancient Greece, if one includes the false myth of Electra. It was Rousseau who furnished, in the eighteenth century, the essence of the formulas favorable to terrorism that are used by literature today: “unhappy peoples, groan-
Note: This article was translated from the French by Muriel Onni, associate professor of foreign languages, Glassboro State College, Glassboro, N.J.