Academic journal article ARIEL

Insurgent Metaphors: Decentering 9/11 in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist and Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows (1)

Academic journal article ARIEL

Insurgent Metaphors: Decentering 9/11 in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist and Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows (1)

Article excerpt

  "What's going on out in the world?"    "The last fire has almost burnt out." Kim pointed   in the direction of the looming emptiness outside   before coming to sit down on the sofa.    "That's not the world, it's just the neighborhood,"   Hiroko said sharply. (Burnt Shadows 250) 

This conversation between the Japanese-Pakistani woman Hiroko Tanaka and her American friend Kim Burton, set in New York just a few days after September 11, 2001, exemplifies a state of postcolonial exasperation. Hiroko's antagonism is targeted at American isolationist policies that craft the "war on terror" within the jurisdiction of justice, retribution, and deterrence while ignoring the global reverberation of the violence unleashed in its name. As Richard Gray has argued, this inward-looking American response is endemic to many novels written in the United States after 9/11. As such, these novels remain mired in the personal, where "cataclysmic public events are measured purely and simply in terms of their impact on the emotional entanglements of their protagonists" (Gray 135). Preoccupied with the perceived psychological and political changes in the country after 9/11, these novels fail to acknowledge that American life has continued at an unabated pace--whereas life in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan has been radically destabilized. In their steadfast reflection upon the changing contours of the American self, these novels effectively sidestep any attempt to imagine those who fall outside that literary and political citizenship. 2 If, as Gray notes, "Sex, love, the public and the private, art and economics everything has changed ... from the material fabric of our lives to our terms of consciousness" (131), then this restructuring of sentiment must account for the lives of those for whom September 11, 2001 functions not as a universal signifier but as just one marker of the continuous violence with which they live. (131).

Many scholars have weighed in on the question of an appropriate novelistic response to 9/11. According to some, prose reinvigorated by the multiple underpinnings of the immigrant novel, bearing witness to the changing demographics of American society with its "strategy of deterritorialisation," is better suited than its American-born counterpart to navigate the aftermath of 9/11 (Gray 141). Michael Rothberg avers that this faith in the immigrant novel to "open up and hybridize American culture" needs to be supplemented by a "fiction of international relations and extraterritorial citizenship," which not only imagines the American citizen from varied points of origin but also questions the multiple modalities of cultural and national citizenship (154). Thus, both scholars place their faith in literary narratives that arrive at American life from a slant--immigrant, racial, and international. However, not everyone shares this resounding confidence in immigrant literature. For Ali Behdad, the relationship of the immigrant to the United States remains too fraught with marginalization to serve as the site of renewal, and he advocates an interrogation of historical narratives of the "alien" in the United States. 3 And Susan Koshy asks instead: "What alternative histories could we write if we substituted 9/11 with other events[?] . . . Can a historicism that focuses on national contexts address the far-reaching meanings of the events?" (301). Thus, scholars chart the cultural and literary resonance of the 9/11 signifier along bifurcating modes--one that identifies it as a catalyst for the reinvigoration of the novel form, and the other that debates it as a point of origin for the unfolding of the new millennium.

If, in between this avowal of multiplicity in literature and the purported disavowal of history in politics and culture, novelists are "to insert themselves into the space between conflicting interests and practices and then dramatize the contradictions that conflict engenders," then the postcolonial world, especially Pakistan as it lies at the center of the present conflict, provides an ocularity without which the literary quest of 9/11 is only partially visible (Gray 147). …

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

Oops!

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.