THE WEST AND ITS OTHER: LITERARY
RESPONSES TO 9/11
MOHAN G. RAMANAN
University of Hyderabad
Terror is now a part of our lives. Whether it is the bombing of defenceless villages in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the slaying of Daniel Pearl, terror is perpetrated by different people for different purposes. Terror is the employment of strategies to instill fear and insecurity in the victim. This can be achieved by the deliberate targeting of women and children as happened in Bosnia, in Bali and in Khandamal. It can happen when a victim is transported to Gautanamo Bay or Al Ghraib and water-boarding and other forms of torture are practiced on him. The world is still reeling at the picture of American soldiers laughing at prisoners who are on the point of being attacked by a dog. So terror is terror whether one’s purpose is to defeat the axis of evil or jihad. This paper, therefore, deals with the impact of terror on people and the way in which literature on the subject has represented it. It begins with a consideration of the aftermath of 9/11 in America and the numbness which overtook American and British writers, explores the way those representations often demonize Islam when tackling Jihadi terror, the manner in which the representations underscore the Huntington thesis of the clash of civilizations and offer pseudo Islamic scholarship as a justification, or simply turn away from the large issues involved and concentrate on domesticity and the business of living as in Ian McEwan’s novel. The paper goes on to consider the impact of 9/11 on a Pakistani-American writer —Mohsin Hamid— who is torn between his admiration for things American and his fascination with the terror
miscelánea: a journal of english and american studies 42 (2010): pp. 125-136 ISSN: 1137-6368
Mohan G. Ramanan
attack on 9/11 and its impact on his Pakistani identity. The paper next considers texts from Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are not direct representations of 9/11 but the discourse around 9/11 which throws up questions of civilizational identity, the nature of Islam, the nature of Islamic fundamentalism are all apropos. This event shook the whole of humanity and what happened afterwards was only the natural response of people faced with death, loss and suffering. The paper also asks fundamentally if the trauma of 9/11 can be represented, who can represent it, and the ethics of representing it.
If the world changed after 9/11, literature also changed. Anyone writing after that event was shaped and informed by the event. American writers like Don de Lillo, John Updike, and British writers like Ian McEwan faced up to terror in their own ways. De Lillo’s novel Falling Man (2007) as the author himself put it could not ignore the event because it had been deeply ensconced in the “narcissistic heart of the West” (quoted in Mishra 2007: 4). This is because before the event the West had experienced a surge of capital markets and this had captured global consciousness. “The dramatic climb of the Dow and the speed of the internet summoned us all to live permanently in the future in the utopian glow of cyber-capital” (quoted in Mishra 2007: 4). Ken Kalfus in A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2004) a work written in the aftermath of 9/11 recalls the time before the event when “dissent required a kind of neurotic, life-denying pessimism” (quoted in Mishra 2007: 4). It was a time when everyone thought that New York slums would become gentrified and free markets would establish a future of prosperity. But 9/11 changed all that.
A brief consideration of an almost inexhaustible stock of writing on 9/11, constituting a discourse, is appropriate at this stage and will serve to contextualize the literary texts. The final report of the 9/11 Commission came out on December 5, 2005 generating considerable anxiety in American society. Would the terrorists strike again, and if so, when? There were recommendations on...
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