Literature and Culture After 9/11

Mark Athitakis at American Fiction Notes passes on the reading list for James Mulholland’s “Literature and Culture After 9/11” class at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Don DeLillo, Falling Man
Poetry after 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets
Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
Joseph O’Neill, Netherland
Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration

Also part of the class were Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising and John Adams‘ spooky On the Transmigration of Souls.

This is quite a reading list. DeLillo’s novel was a disappointment, but the O’Neill novel I liked a lot. Now my wife and President Obama are reading it. The only other major novel I can think of that could be on this list if Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, which, I’m guessing, Mulholland dropped in favor of Netherland, which was the superior novel. Deborah Eisenberg’s Twilight of the Superheroes is an excellent Zeitgeist collection, but the connection to 9/11 is too oblique.

If there’s been a great 9/11 novel, or any other great 9/11-related work of art, I haven’t heard about it. Are we still waiting for it?

Another issue is the lasting cultural impact of 9/11. Which event will prove to have caused the most profound cultural change: 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2009? My guess is the latter. 9/11 was a profound national trauma, but it didn’t change any cultural institutions or artistic practices. The terrorist attacks made architects wary of building skyscrapers, but the recession has dealt the body blow to the entire profession. Newspapers struggled to cover the attacks, but now newspapers are struggling for their lives. In publishing and the cinema the story is the same: 9/11 changed the content, but the recession may change the form.

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