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.

(more…)

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).

(more…)

A press release from Penguin Books

noam-chomsky-who-rules-the-world-penguin.pngInternationally renowned political commentator Noam Chomsky examines America’s pursuit and exercise of power in a post 9/11 world

Noam Chomsky is the world’s foremost intellectual activist. Over the last half century, no one has done more to question the great global powers who govern our lives, forensically scrutinizing policies and actions, calling our politicians, institutions and media to account.

The culmination of years of work, Who Rules the World? is Chomsky’s definitive intellectual investigation into the major issues of our times. From the dark history of the US and Cuba to China’s global rise, from torture memos to sanctions on Iran, Chomsky explores how America’s talk of freedom and human rights is often at odds with its actions. Delving deep into the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine, he provides nuanced, surprising insights into the workings of modern-day imperial power. (more…)

From Matthew Feldman (Fair Observer)
352c3-josephconrad
Joseph Conrad

The modernist author Joseph Conrad “can be read,” British philosopher John Gray provocatively argued, “as the first great political novelist of the twenty-first century.”

The case set out for this agonistic view in his 2002 “Joseph Conrad: Our Contemporary” departs from Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, which is based upon an “actual terrorist attempt on the Royal Observatory in 1894, when a French anarchist accidentally blew himself up in Greenwich Park before reaching his target.” This is given a “darkly ironic vision” by Conrad, “whereby the symbols of trade and new technology have come under terrorist attack.” (more…)

Some interesting parallels between the prophetic American writer and the AMC period drama

Anticipating the release of his 2010 novel, Point Omega, The Sunday Times interviewed Don DeLillo about his life and work, exploring some the American author’s ‘writing tics’, and making note of his contemporary relevance.

Mad-Men-image-AMC-cast.jpg

The article mentions AMC’s period drama Mad Men (which aired from 2007 to 2015), and it’s easy to see why it shares key thematic links with DeLillo’s work. Set in a New York advertising firm in the early 1960s, the show explores the consumerist manufacture of American aspirations with a sharp and ironic detachment. It has skillfully addressed the Kennedy assassination in a media climate of Cold War anxiety, and includes a cast of characters struggling with personal neuroses and societal repression. (more…)

Adrian Searle talks to the German visual artist about his work
gerhard-richter
Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter and I circle the seven big of sheets of glass that lean together in the middle of the ground floor of Marian Goodman’s elegant new London gallery. Richter’s House of Cards is all edges and transparent planes, reaching towards the ceiling and held together by small steel clamps. It looks precarious and dangerous. Reflections of the strip lights overhead skitter across the clear surfaces. We meet our own reflections there, too.

(more…)

Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch
Jennifer Glaser (LARB) praises Yuknavitch’s new novel, The Small Backs of Children, as a fine example of experimental women’s writing
The terrain of contemporary experimental fiction has been largely claimed by male writers. This is nothing new. As Andreas Huyssen pointed out years ago, despite Gustave Flaubert’s assertion that Madame Bovary “c’est moi,” he spent most of his career carefully distinguishing his high modernist literary sensibilities from the popular tastes of the feminized masses. The contest between high and low, difficulty and ease, in fiction continues to travel along these gendered lines — particularly in conversations about American literature. Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus’s 2002 row over the value of experimental fiction and the fate of the novel in the pages of The New Yorker and Harper’s marked not only a new, meta-ethical turn in fiction after 9/11, but also a continuation of age-old male anxieties about the feminization (or “Oprah-fication”) of the reading public and what this meant for male novelists concerned about the size of their … impact. Later, Franzen tangled with a new foe, so-called chick lit author Jennifer Weiner, about a related topic: the perils of self-promotion for writers of literary fiction. This conflict, in turn, developed into a larger battle about the absence of women writers in the contemporary American canon — with Weiner and Franzen as its unlikely antipodes.

(more…)

Calling for Submissions to a conference at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin
the-road-cormac-mccarthy-movie
Promotion still for The Road (dir. John Hillcoat, 2009), based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Throughout his rich literary career, Cormac McCarthy has consistently explored the intersections of different modes of thinking and creative practices. Reflecting his stated view that the novel can “encompass all the various disciplines and interests of humanity” (Woodward 1992), McCarthy’s work navigates between artistic and scientific discourses as readily as it interweaves various fields of knowledge and genres from chaos theory and legal history to English poetry and the Western. His fiction mediates between different worlds insofar as the stylistic and thematic trajectories of his fiction can be considered a narrative negotiation of opposed discourses and perspectives on the world, such as cognitive science and religious experience, realism and romanticism, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. While much has been said about spatial border crossings in McCarthy’s work, this conference invites readers and scholars to consider McCarthy’s other crossings, from the intersections of literature and science to his stylistic and generic crossovers.

(more…)

A notable precursor to the contemporary zombie movie
IMG_6848
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
Recently, I picked up a copy of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend at a second-hand bookstore. Matheson—whose high-concept man vs. truck short story Duel was to launch the career of Steven Spielberg—made a name for himself in the genres of science-fiction, horror and fantasy. His writing spans novels and short stories, alongside work in television and film. I Am Legend, itself no stranger to the silver screen, has been adapted no less than three times, and is, in some ways, a reflective document of post-war American culture. First published in 1954, it laid an early foundation for zombie movies such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) series, and critiques many of the same social and cultural concerns associated with these later films.

“a reflective document of post-war American culture”

The plot revolves around Robert Neville, the ‘last living man on earth’. He navigates a post-apocalyptic landscape where every other man, woman, and child has been converted into zombie-like nocturnal vampires. It is a cautionary tale, negotiating the long-term impact of violence and exploitation in the atomic age.   (more…)

Former REM frontman reflects on the images that haunt America
52a31-at-first-glance-couplands-012
Image: Douglas Coupland

With a small, powerful set of images, Douglas Coupland actually manages to playfully (how did he pull that off?) remind us of our collective 9/11 moment – the act that unzippered the 21st century in most of the world, and changed my notion of home and safety forever. Coupland’s at first seemingly Op Art paintings are just black dots – abstract, weirdly familiar. But then you look at them on your iPhone (because you’re going to take a pic and post it … this is 2014, after all) and you have the ahhhhhhh moment when a chill runs down your spine and you realise that it’s them: the jumpers. It’s him: the boogeyman. Doug offers us the choice to either see or not see these deeply internalised images. Having that choice is what enables us to survive from day to day without going nuts. (more…)