“The first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected. In fact, disasters, I found while living through a medium-sized one (the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area) and later writing about major ones (including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan), are crash courses in those connections. At moments of immense change, we see with new clarity the systems – political, economic, social, ecological – in which we are immersed as they change around us. We see what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t.”

Rebecca Solnit, ‘The impossible has already happened’, in The Guardian, 7 April 2020.

Catherine Morley on editing a new collection of essays that explores the legacy of September 11 on modern and contemporary literature
Catherine Morley (ed.), 9/11 (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Catherine Morley (ed.), 9/11 (Bloomsbury, 2016)

We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. What led you to put together this new essay collection?

I have been interested in way in which we have come to narrativise and conceptualise the September 11th terrorist attacks for some time now. They occurred shortly after I moved to the UK to start my doctoral studies. I remember, very vividly, standing before the window of a shop selling televisions and the image of the plane hitting the second tower. It seemed unreal, and indeed at the time many commentators noted that it seemed a moment designed for mass televisual consumption. I thought then that my watching this terrible image unfold across multiple screens seemed like something from a Don DeLillo novel. I remember writing a short diary piece about it at the time, how it reminded me of the Airborne Toxic Event in DeLillo’s White Noise. Since then, I have always been keen to see how novelists, dramatist and poets might approach representing something that seemed to defy representation by its vast scale. So, when offered the opportunity by Bloomsbury to put this volume together I jumped at the chance.

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Aimee Pozorski discusses the complex ways we engage with art and writing in the wake of the September 11th attacks

We are conducting this interview fifteen years after the September 11th terrorist attacks took place. What motivated you to write Falling After 9/11? How did the project begin?

Aime Pozorski, Falling After 9/11: Crisis in American Art and Literature (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Aimee Pozorski, Falling After 9/11: Crisis in American Art and Literature (Bloomsbury, 2016)

The project began with the installation of Graydon Parrish’s 9/11 mural, Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, which was commissioned in 2002 by the New Britain Museum of American Art in my hometown of New Britain, CT. It took Parrish four years to complete the work, and when it was finally revealed, some critics savaged it for its commitments to Classical Realism. After being outraged that reviewers could be so callous, my training in trauma theory kicked in. As a trauma theorist who studies literature, I frequently consider ways in which a text’s moments of so-called failure can actually succeed in telling us something not only about the nature of representation but also about traumatic history itself. What does it mean that so many representations of 9/11 seemed inadequate? I asked myself. And does that have more do to with the nature of trauma and our reception of art and literature than it does with the singular talents or contributions of individual artists themselves?  (more…)

Ann Basu discusses how Philip Roth reveals the contradictions at the heart of American identity
Ann Basu, States of Trial: Manhood in Philip Roth's Post-War America (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Ann Basu, States of Trial: Manhood in Philip Roth’s Post-War America (Bloomsbury, 2016)

What motivated you to write States of Trial?

My imagination was lit, in particular, by the historical perspectives of Roth’s American Trilogy: American Pastoral, (1997) I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000) as well as its forerunner, Operation Shylock (1993) and a slightly later novel, The Plot Against America (2004). I became fascinated by how Roth tests narratives about both national and male identity to the point of destruction, uncovering the contradictions within concepts of American identity. Roth displays a powerful sense of conflicting historical forces impacting on personal identity, combining this with portraits of individuals tormented by contradictions in their own lives; contradictions that may both stretch and limit them. I found these major late-career novels compelling and wanted to write about them. The trial, a resonant concept in terms of American history and personal identity with its connotations of testing, suffering and also experimentation, was a good lens, I thought. It was productive for me, anyway. (more…)

Will Brooker reflects on our continuing fascination with Gotham City’s caped crusader
Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon
Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon

What inspired you to write Batman Unmasked?

Batman Unmasked was originally my PhD thesis, One Life, Many Faces, and I began it over 20 years ago, so you can understand it is a fairly distant memory. My PhD plans began around 1994 as a study of masculinity in the mainstream cinema of the 1990s, and Batman was a small aspect of one proposed chapter, about the Gothic Masculine (Tim Burton’s films). I realised gradually that the idea of writing about Batman was what I was really looking forward to – at the time, the very concept was audacious in academic work – and the project evolved until that small part of one chapter expanded into the entire PhD. Of course, Batman is an interesting topic per se, but I felt personally invested in the character, and wanted to write about something I was really enthusiastic about, as a fan. That enthusiasm was important, as by the end of the three years full time of my doctorate, I hated Batman, PhDs and academia in general. (Those feelings passed). (more…)

Terence McSweeney discusses a new collection of essays that explore the legacy of September 11th in recent film

We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The legacy of those events has had an inestimable effect on the cultural, historical, and ideological landscape. What do you think it means to say that we are living ‘in the shadow of 9/11’?

terence-mcsweeney-american-cinema-shadow-911-edinburgh-university-press
American Cinema in the Shadow of 9/11, edited by Terence McSweeney (EUP, 2016)

The title of the book is derived from this often repeated phrase “in the shadow of 9/11” which was one we heard very frequently during the turbulent first decade of the new millennium. Even though fifteen years have passed since September 11th 2001 we can clearly see how impactful the events of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ still are on contemporary geo-politics. This is not to endorse that simplistic aphorism that “9/11 changed everything”, because it certainly did not, but what it and events after did was to provoke what we might describe as the shifting of ideological co-ordinates in a variety of ways: whether in terms of American foreign policy decisions or the considerable impact of what Jason Burke called “the 9/11 wars” on the body of films which have been produced by the American film industry since. It seems hard to deny that the ‘War on Terror’ is one of the most profoundly impactful cultural events of the last two decades and just as fears and anxieties concerning the Second World War and the cold war became materialised in novels, films and TV shows in their respective eras, so 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ can often be found within the frames of contemporary American film. (more…)

NPR offers a brief profile of the “minimalist” composer’s life and career

American composer Steve Reich
American composer Steve Reich
To celebrate his 80th birthday, Anastasia Tsioulcas (NPR) offers an overview of the life and career of Steve Reich, enriched by conversations with the composer himself. She begins by acknowledging the profound influence Reich has held on fellow musicians and composers, from Brian Eno to David Bowie to Radiohead, and as a result the contemporary musical landscape. The legacy of his work can be traced through pop, ambient, and avant-garde music.

In 2011, Tsioulcas talked to Reich about his experimental work “WTC 9/11”, a commemorative piece that “intersperse[s] emergency calls from first responders and air traffic controllers with the recollections of his friends and neighbors”. “WTC 9/11” also records and documents “the recollections of Jewish women who sat with victims’ remains and chanted psalms and other Biblical texts”. Tsioulcas draws attention to Reich’s use of recorded voice in other projects, such as Different Trains, and the complex role that religious faith, specifically Judaism, plays in Reich’s life and work. (more…)

A celebration of veteran cinematographer Frederick Elmes
the-night-of-riz-ahmed-john-turturro-1-678x381
John Turturro and Riz Ahmed star in HBO’s The Night Of
For the last eight weeks, Sundays have been the night of The Night Of, a dark HBO crime story set in New York. The show blended police procedural, courtroom drama, and character study to produce mystery, suspense, and black humour. Based on a five-part UK drama produced by the BBC in 2008-9, the mini-series centres on a man accused of murder after a night of drugs and heavy drinking. Riz Ahmed is excellent as the young Muslim defendant, inspiring sympathy and suspicion in equal measure. And John Turturro steals the show as an opportunistic lawyer who leads the defence (a role originally intended for late Sopranos star James Gandolfini).

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