Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"


Wed Aug 23




9/11 Novelists Need To Move On

How many post-9/11 novels about American fears, genuine attempts to map the psychology of a nation under Cheney and terror, and colloquial moments of self-congratulatory introspection and assessment of our own fallen status do we need? We have all these authors who have put out at least one post-9/11 novel, some multiple post-9/11 novels, and each review seems to contain within it at least one assertion that the author has tapped into a well of fear, knowingly mining the ferocious isolationist within all of us, hiding just under the surface and emerging, Morlock-like, into the black day of Osama-mania. Every review insists that not only is the author creating some new, articulate picture of our unique fears and hopes after seeing two towers crash to ground on live TV, but they somehow do so in a way that never really mentions 9/11 at all.

Clearly some writers hit upon these themes more explicitly than others. Stephen King's Under the Dome, which I haven't read yet, was recently described in Esquire as a novel perfectly positioned as the personal and somehow unique vision of an author who is the ultimate harbiter of "post-9/11 fearfulness." I love King to morbid death, but is he really the guy we need to go to for another booze-swilling look inward? King doesn't lack for vocabulary, but he's not exactly Faulkner, and his philosophic musings are the least interesting facet of his books.

Philip Roth's The Plot Against America was described as casting post-September 11 era in a chilling new light, notably through a Jewish lens, and though I suppose a novel with a titular plot against America might include some post 9/11 inferences, I question the need for all our literature to be stained in some way, explicit or no, with the ash of that day.

It's not that I'm a denier, a relativist, or obstructionist. I understand 9/11 has deep national consequences and I also understand that when the twins fell down, our deep Western liberal guilt rose up like Poseidon from the sea. I'm not saying our novelists who have tapped into and utilized September 11 and after as subtext, thematic forces, or verbose recreations of the day in full are full of crap. But really, can't we finally leave behind the punditry and pedantic soulful corrections via the verbose pens of Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, and Jonathan Safran Foer?

American authors in particular seem incapable of moving past what essayist Richard Gray called "the preliminary stages of trauma" resulting from the 9/11 attacks. I agree wholeheartedly. The patient was admitted and has since been released, but like Page Six our post-9/11 novels seem to proliferate in tabloidian fashion, as if we as a nation are incapable of registering anything other than shock at the realization that something bad happened to us, and by setting it into bone china of the author's mother's growing up in New Jersey, has somehow made a salient point about how our culture now can't afford to look backward except to see the flames and falling bodies, and the deep psychic impact those flames and bodies had upon the American landscape.

I guess I'm just tired of viewing the world in its every facet with the unstated but ever-present reminder of terror's toll, of jingoistic effusions in misguided attempts to thwart the flow of extremism, and how to get from teenage sexual anxiety, to planes hitting buildings, to waterboarding terror suspects in just 600 pages.

We may be Americans, but we're not dumb. It's time to move on, time to say something new worth saying. If you reference 9/11, it had better be to make an Islamic fart joke or to talk about how it reflects God's love of the color fuschia or describe the fractal nature of terror and how it fits into the mathematics of fear--a treatise on the numbers of nihilism.

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