Elements of Trauma Fiction in the 9/11 Novel

By Zindziuviene, Ingrida | British and American Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Elements of Trauma Fiction in the 9/11 Novel


Zindziuviene, Ingrida, British and American Studies


1. Introduction

The representation of trauma in fiction often faces the danger of falling into the "Fact versus Fiction" trap. The readers of this type of fiction may search for the exact representation of his/her traumatic experience, expecting to find the discussion of the similar emotions and consequences. Thus, authors who take up the topic of collective traumas, face many challenges: these novels examine transpersonal dimension of collective memory that spreads beyond the individual and across an entire culture. A trauma novel includes a definite realistic and historical dimension, and is often based on documents and testimonies. The reader of this work of fiction, Dori Laub (1992:57) argues, becomes "a participant and coowner of the traumatic event". Literary representation of massive trauma evokes "mutual recognition of a shared knowledge" (Laub 1992: 64). According to Anne Whitehead (2004:3), "the desire among various cultural groups to represent or make visible specific historical instances of trauma has given rise to numerous important works of contemporary fiction". In the trauma novel, the reconstruction of massive trauma becomes a process of restatement, during which the response to the work of fiction contains both, a personal and transpersonal dimension.

It is difficult to exactly predict the true scope of the ongoing and future effects of this traumatic experience or foresee the end of this so-called "transgenerational haunting" (Whitehead 2004:29). The "collective memory", including both flashbulb memories and fiction, can in itself become a valuable object of history (Nora 2011: 303). Dominick LaCapra (2001: 15) observes that trauma fiction can "offer significant insights [...], suggesting lines of inquiry for the work of historians". Reader-response criticism remains of significant value in the interpretation of trauma fiction. The "community of witnesses" includes several possible types of readers, when a present-day reader becomes "a learning witness" (Whitehead 2004: 8).

Grounded in the trauma theory of Cathy Caruth (1995, 1996), Dominick LaCapra (2001), Laurie Vickroy (2002), E. Ann Kaplan (2005), Anne Whitehead (2004, 2009), Pierre Nora (2011) and others, the article examines the representation of massive trauma in these 9/11 novels: Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World (2003/2004), John Updike's Terrorist (2006), Don DeLillo's Falling Man (2007), Laila Halaby's Once in a Promised Land (2007), Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), Edward Rutherfurd's New York (2009) and Amy Waldman's, The Submission (2011). The selection of the novels was based on the international aspect of the representation of 9/11 events; however, Windows on the World by Frédéric Beigbeder, a French author, one of the first major works on this theme, was chosen because of its highly influential character: many of the later works on 9/11 (in the English language) included similar narrative techniques. Laila Halaby's and Mohsin Hamid's novels demonstrate the attitude of the Muslim community, while the narrative of a British author, Edward Rutherfurd, demonstrates a typical realistic dimension of trauma narratives. The chosen novels, different in their narrative form and style, demonstrate diverse fields of fictional representation of September 11, 2001 events.

2. Features of the Trauma Novel

Trauma fiction is often based on the memories of experiencing a personal or collective traumatic event; thus, usually, the fictional narratives of collective traumas explore both personal and collective dimensions. A trauma narrative always includes both the reader, whose role may be that of a person in whom the victim/narrator confides or one with whom the victim/narrator shares the traumatic experience. Dori Laub (1992: 57) discusses the acknowledgement of the password, which signals the mutual recognition of shared knowledge. Often a direct reference to the setting (time and place) serves as a unifying password in the recognition of trauma. …

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