Art after 9/11

By Bleiker, Roland | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, January-March 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Art after 9/11

Bleiker, Roland, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

This article examines ways in which art can help broaden understandings of contemporary security challenges, especially in view of the limits of conventional forms of strategic and policy analysis. The article focuses especially on responses to 9/11 in literature, the visual arts, architecture, and music, and considers some epistemological questions about the status of art as a way of knowing political events, like those of 9/11, that escape state-based forms of security analysis. KEYWORDS: security, art, emotion, representation, understanding


The aim of this article is to show how art can shed new and revealing light on contemporary security problems. In doing so, the article addresses a fundamental paradox that became apparent with 9/11--the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon of September 11, 2001. While security threats are becoming increasingly complex and transnational, our means of understanding and responding to them have remained largely unchanged. They are still based primarily on strategic expertise and corresponding militaristic and statecentric ways of articulating defense policy.

Military defense will undoubtedly remain a crucial element of security policy, but the problem of terrorism is far too complex and far too serious not to employ the full register of human intelligence and creativity to understand and deal with it. This is particularly the case because the potential use of weapons of mass destruction amplifies the dangers of terrorist threats. (1) One of the key intellectual and political challenges today thus consists of legitimizing a greater variety of approaches to and insights into the phenomenon of terrorism.

Art has the potential to contribute to this broadening process. It can help us deal with dimensions of security challenges that cannot easily be understood through conventional forms of policy analysis. The article draws attention to this potential by examining some of the artistic reactions to 9/11. The ensuing endeavor lays no claim to comprehensiveness, for surveying the astonishing outpouring of artistic creativity that followed those tragic events would be doomed from the start. The objective, then, is limited to two specific tasks:

1. To draw upon a few selected examples, stemming from literature, visual art, architecture, and music, in order to demonstrate the relevance of art to the process of coming to terms with 9/11

2. To engage some of the more fundamental epistemological puzzles that are entailed in understanding the links between art and politics. Can fiction, for instance, express certain aspects of terrorism better than a straightforward factual account? Can we see things through visual art that we cannot express through textual analyses? Can music make us hear something that we cannot see? If aesthetic engagements are indeed qualitatively different from others, what is the exact political content and significance of this difference? How can the respective insights be translated back into language-based expressions without loosing the essence of what they capture?

The article begins by stressing that 9/11 did not constitute simply a breach of security, as it is generally understood: a violation of national sovereignty, a failure of the state's intelligence apparatus, and a shattering of a deep-seated sense of domestic security in the United States. The terrorist attack also, and perhaps more importantly, precipitated a breach of understanding. Prevalent faculties, including reason, were simply incapable of grasping the event in its totality. Policy analyses in particular were unable to capture and deal with the emotional side of the events--a shortcoming that explains the astonishing outpouring of artistic creativity in the months following the attacks.

Artistic engagements, the article argues, have the potential to capture and communicate a range of crucial but often neglected emotional issues.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Art after 9/11


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?