While Timothy McVeigh—the Oklahoma City Bomber—made no verbal statement before being executed in 2001, he did offer as his ‘final written statement’ a poem (without attribution): W.E. Henley’s ‘Invictus’. This paper offers a reading of this text as ‘Timothy McVeigh’s “Invictus”’, a limit case for our understanding of poetry, quotation, and the relationship between literary and non-literary discourses. The paper will demonstrate how McVeigh’s enigmatic act of appropriation produces a poetry of the uncanny, so that categories such as ‘poet’ and ‘terrorist’ become disquietingly porous. It will also demonstrate how ‘Timothy McVeigh’s “Invictus”’ offers unexpected insights into some basic concerns of contemporary literary theory, especially with regard to quotation, obscurity, and poetic address. Lastly, it will show how ‘Timothy McVeigh’s “Invictus”’ illustrates the unpredictable ways that a supposedly marginal cultural practice—poetry—can act in times of crisis.
Field of Research
200506 North American Literature 200525 Literary Theory