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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.2, 217 ~ 232, 2020
War after War: State Allegory in an Age of Security
Timothy Melley
What is the nature and cultural function of literature in a “War on Terror”? Some commentators have struggled to answer this question because they expect such a literature to emphasize combat or they fail to appreciate the allegorical nature of the most incisive fictions of the War on Terror. “State allegory” played an essential role in underwriting the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” In the years after September 11, 2001, it also played an increasingly important role in the critique of US policy. Before 9/11, a popular form of melodrama laid the ground for the rise of the US Homeland Security State by dramatizing the purported efficacy of emergency measures and allegorizing citizens as wards of a massive and clandestine security state. After the intelligence failures of the US War in Iraq, however, this type of melodrama expressed growing skepticism about US policy by allegorizing a growing American public discomfort with the work of the security state. Literary fiction also developed sophisticated critiques of American policy through fabulous, psychologically rich, and sometimes surreal allegories. This paper surveys this history of state allegory before turning to an extended example: Colson Whitehead’s 2011 novel Zone One. Whitehead’s novel powerfully illustrates the role of speculative allegory in critiquing the new US paradigm for state security.
Key Words
State allegory, Security, “War on Terror, ” Radicalization, War Literature
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