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"Close Neighbors to the Unimaginable": Literary Projections of Terrorists' Perspectives (Martin Amis, John Updike, Don DeLillo)

Birgit Däwes
Amerikastudien / American Studies
Vol. 55, No. 3, Trauma's Continuum—September 11th Reconsidered (2010), pp. 495-517
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41158513
Page Count: 23
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
"Close Neighbors to the Unimaginable": Literary Projections of Terrorists' Perspectives (Martin Amis, John Updike, Don DeLillo)
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Abstract

In the years since two planes hit the World Trade Center, 9/11 has become firmly rooted in the American book market: literature is catching up with what Marianne Hirsch considered an "indescribable event." Over one hundred American novels deal more or less directly with the attacks—providing the fictional re-enactments necessary for cultural catharsis and healing, and negotiating the contact zones of individual and collective identity. Whereas most of these literary texts approach the event from the victims', survivors', and observers' points of view, a few novels have also attempted imaginative constructions of the terrorists' perspectives. This paper will investigate three such fictional transgressions and examine the larger psychological, political, and cultural issues they engage. What is most striking about these imaginative explorations of terrorists' minds is the way they avoid traditional literary models for dealing with the Other as a threat, such as those employed in Gothic fiction; in fact, they resist the dichotomous logic of Self and Other. Using Julia Kristeva's concept of the abject, and locating these texts in a larger tradition of writing about political violence, I hope to show how Martin Amis's "Last Days of Muhammad Atta" (2006), John Updike's Terrorist (2006), and Don DeLillo's Falling Man (2007) cater to our need for stabilizing narratives in very different ways. Especially in times of increasing unilateralism and Manichaean political thinking, such literary approaches—as diverse as they eventually are in method and effect—seek more differentiated explanations for violence's origins and thus significantly contribute to a reconfiguration of both the literary history of evil and the larger cultural imaginary of the post-9/11 world.

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