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  • The Forgotten Victims of 9/11:Cultural Othering in Laila Halaby's Once in a Promised Land and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Elena Ortells Montón (bio)

"For when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind."

—Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (98)


Sigmund Freud's words about how World War I had "robbed the world of its beauties,… shattered pride in the achievements of our civilization,… and our hopes of a final triumph over the differences between nations and races" can well be applied to the 9/11 attacks (178). In a world shocked by the horror of death, the cataclysmic events of that terrible day became then a story in search of a voice. However, most artistic attempts to represent the horror of that day encountered hostile public reactions, especially in the field of the visual arts. Eric Fischl conceived a bronze sculpture of a nude woman in free fall titled "Tumbling Woman." The statue was accompanied by Fischl's poem:

We watched,disbelieving and helpless,on that savage day.People we lovebegan falling,helpless and in disbelief.

In September 2002, this statue was to be displayed at the Rockefeller Center for two weeks, but general uproar led to its abrupt withdrawal. Sharon Paz also shaped a work that consisted of cutout silhouettes all in free fall that were placed in the windows of the Jamaica Center for the Arts. This exhibition was also removed earlier than scheduled. Kerry [End Page 17] Skarbakka decided to honor the victims of 9/11 who chose to jump from the Twin Towers by photographing himself falling from Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. His performance brought anger and condemnation from most American audiences. Graydon Parrish's huge oil painting "The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy: September 11, 2001" was also bitterly criticized by the artistic establishment, primarily for its failure to connect with the subject matter (Duvall and Marzek 382–83).

In the literary domain, in December 2001, three months after the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Don DeLillo wrote "In the Ruins of the Future," an article in which he vindicated the role of writers to understand "what this day has done to us" and to articulate a counternarrative (39). However, for sixteen years now, American novelists have unsuccessfully striven to create a narrative that could be used to explore the main tenets and conundrums of the tragic events of September 11. As Richard Gray affirmed, "if there was one thing writers agreed upon in response to 9/11, it was the failure of language; the terrorist attacks made the tools of their trade seem absurd" (After 1). Similar to what happened in the United States during the 1960s,1 novelists felt that the strikes against the core of America outshone their faculties to create inspiring narratives. Thus, Hamilton Carroll affirms that for writers such as DeLillo, the terrorist attacks of September 11 "produced both a rupture in the teleological progression of modernity and a crisis of representation in which the standard tools of the writer's trade were no longer sufficient" (108). According to Catherine Morley, the September 11 terrorist attacks "engendered a new form of narrative realism, a form of realism born of a frustration with the limits of language as an affective and representative tool" ("Plotting" 295). Instead of pondering over the dangers of moral binarisms and globalized structures of power, most 9/11 fiction2 has circumscribed itself to interpreting these horrendous occurrences in terms of particular traumas, attempting to transform the painful events into "narrative memories" of individual suffering (Caruth 153).

By retreating into domesticity and dwelling too much upon the healing processes of their protagonists (mainly white Americans), works such as Lynne Sharon Schwartz's The Writing on the Wall, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, Jay McInerney's The Good Life, or, to a certain extent, DeLillo's Falling Man exemplified their authors' inability to reflect upon the social and political consequences of ignoring the cultural other (Morley, "How" 718). Cultural difference, "so long a vaunted property of peoples claiming their...


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