Writing the 9/11 Decade

Charlie Lee-Potter

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Novelists have struggled to find forms of expression that would allow them to register the post-9/11 landscape. This thesis examines their tentative and sometimes faltering attempts to establish a critical distance from and create a convincing narrative and metaphorical lexicon for the historical, political and psychological realities of the terrorist attacks. I suggest that they have, at times, been distracted by the populist rhetoric of journalistic expression, by a retreat to American exceptionalism and by the demand for an immediate response.

The Bush administration’s statement that the state and politicians ‘create our own reality’ served to reinforce the difficulties that novelists faced in creating their own. Against the background of public commentary post-9/11, and the politics of the subsequent ‘War on Terror’, the thesis considers the work of Richard Ford, Paul Auster, Kamila Shamsie, Nadeem Aslam, Don DeLillo, Mohsin Hamid and Amy Waldman. Using my own extended interviews with Ford, Waldman and Shamsie, the artist Eric Fischl, the journalist Kevin Marsh, and with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams (who is also a 9/11 survivor), I consider the aims and praxis of novelists working within a variety of traditions, from Ford’s realism and Auster’s metafiction to the post-colonial perspectives of Hamid and Aslam, and, finally, the end-of-decade reflections of Waldman.

My conclusion is that novelists are, finally, edging closer to methodologies adequate to the challenges of the post-9/11 world. Ford’s admission that writers do not ‘have an exact human vocabulary for the loss of a city’ has given way to a new surety that the narrative and visual arts can define the unimaginable in important and expressive ways.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Armstrong, Tim, Supervisor
  • Eaglestone, Robert, Advisor
Award date1 Nov 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • 9/11
  • twin towers
  • post-9/11 novel
  • terrorism
  • September 11
  • 9/11 fiction
  • Richard Ford
  • Don DeLillo
  • Paul Auster
  • Mohsin Hamid
  • Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Kamila Shamsie
  • Amy Waldman
  • Kevin Marsh
  • Dr Rowan Williams
  • Eric Fischl
  • war on terror
  • exceptionalism
  • Nadeem Aslam

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