Deconstructing Frames: Difference in Global Anglophone Fiction after 9/11

Daniel O'Gorman

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Many works of ‘9/11 fiction’ have attempted to counteract the ‘us and them’ identity binaries propounded by both the Bush administration and Islamist extremists after 9/11. Often these works proclaim a kind of empathy of the sort Ian McEwan described shortly after the event. As he put it: ‘Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and the beginning of morality’. However, novels about 9/11 have often tended to perpetuate ‘us and them’ identity binaries themselves.

In contrast to McEwan, this thesis argues that there are a number of contemporary texts that do not straightforwardly generate empathy, but have begun to question the discursive frameworks within which difference is conceptualised. I argue that they do this by blurring the boundaries between the self and the other, drawing attention to the element of the other within the self, as well as of the self within the other. In this deconstruction of difference, categories of East and West, American and non-American, and Muslim and non-Muslim are productively challenged. My thesis finds this deconstruction at work in an eclectic range of novels, including What Is the What by Dave Eggers (2006), Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (2009), Point Omega by Don DeLillo (2010), and Open City by Teju Cole (2011). It is also evident in texts by other authors, including Nadeem Aslam, Mohsin Hamid, Hari Kunzru, Jonathan Lethem, Kevin Powers and Salman Rushdie.

The thesis is divided into five chapters, organised in a way that begins in the
United States but gradually becomes more transnational, slowly ‘unanchoring’ itself from the time and place of the 9/11 attacks. In employing such a structure, I hope to show how my chosen novels infuse the event with a strong sense of historicity by, in Kamila Shamsie’s words, ‘entwining it with other stories’.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cesarani, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • 9/11
  • 9/11 fiction
  • deconstruction
  • Judith Butler
  • Transnational fiction
  • Frames

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