Terrorism and Modern Literature, from Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson

Terrorism and Modern Literature, from Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson

Terrorism and Modern Literature, from Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson

Terrorism and Modern Literature, from Joseph Conrad to Ciaran Carson


Is the cultural impact of terrorism on the modern world shaped primarily through the media? Is terrorism's violence essentially symbolic? Looking at 100 years of terrorism in print - from Conrad on Anarchism in the 1880s to Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson on the 'Troubles' in the 1980s - Terrorism and Modern Literature offers a fresh perspective on terrorism's cultural aftermath. In this first extensive study of the phenomenon, Alex Houen explores the historical and political dimensions of writing terrorism in the modern world.


In the beginning was the word … terrorism. The various types
of fictionalization—representation by the media, political ma
nipulation, academic definitions, the imaginary archetype in
forming the thriller—find their genesis and nourishment in the
play with meaning and confusion of contexts inherent in the
word 'terrorism'.

Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, Terror and Taboo

Figuring 11 September 2001

Words, fictionalization, plays with meaning—these are the last things that most people associated with the impact of the terrorist attacks in America on 11 September 2001. It was a day in which terrorism exploded into a sheer viscerality of fact: four planes hijacked by Islamic extremists had crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania within a few hours of each other. Shortly after, both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. The total casualties were immediately in the thousands; the world was suddenly being confronted with the most devastating act of terrorism in history. Television footage of the aftermath made the devastation all too apparent; images of the Trade Center towers collapsing, and of shocked and bloodied casualties, said it all. It was as if the media itself had gone into shock. Struggling to comprehend what had happened, news programmes around the world reverted to replaying endlessly the images of the planes smashing into the towers. It was more real than real; too real to be real. As one television critic commented a few days after the events: 'at the early stages, the vividly cinematic image of a plane flying into a skyscraper was still entirely comprehensible—if only in the context of a big picture, blow-thebudget, widescreen special effect made somehow, obscenely real'.

Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of
Terrorism (London: Routledge, 1996), 16, Zulaika's and Douglass's emphasis. Hereafter
cited as TT.

Kathryn Flett, 'Images that Mocked all Powers of Description', The Observer (16 Sep
tember 2001): 19.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.