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Abstracts - Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United ...

  1. 1. ‘The still life and death of images: the ethical aesthetic in post 9/11 American fiction’ Dr. Catherine Gander (University of East Anglia)<br />In the nine years following the fall of the twin towers, the proliferation of images connected to the event and its implications has led us to re-question how pictures dispose their viewers to see and interpret the world. Studies in visual culture have flourished, exhibiting above all a persistent concern with the power and vitality of images; yet, as W. J .T Mitchell has commented, the ‘paradox of the image’ is that ‘it is alive but also dead; powerful, but also weak; meaningful, but also meaningless.’ Richard Drew’s now infamous ‘Falling Man’ photograph is a case in point – a captured moment of imminent death; an image of suspended animation, of still life. <br />Don DeLillo’s 2007 novel Falling Man, stemming from a short story entitled ‘Still Life’, utilises the image to explore the individual and communal responses to 9/11 in both ethical and aesthetic terms. His employment of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta series (‘Still Life’ – literally, ‘dead nature’), as well as his recurrent use of photographs throughout the novel reveal a deep engagement with the visual image as both locus and nexus of representation and meaning. This engagement is, I argue, indicative of a ‘pictorial turn’ in writing that has taken place in American fiction, post 9/11. More precisely – and importantly – it is a turn towards a reimagining of one of the most enduring forms of Western painting – still life. This paper will explore the historical, ethical and aesthetic implications of this turn, referring also to two other novels in which still life features prominently: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), and less obviously, Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark (2008). <br />In what ways and to what extent is this renewed attention to aesthetics a ‘depoliticisation’ of recent terrorist events? And how do American fiction writers utilise the conventions of an originally European art form to create, or undermine, a unique cultural solidarity? <br />‘Mourning Becomes Kashmira: Melancholia, and the Evacuation of Politics in Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown’ Dr. Peter Morey (University of East London)<br />Salman Rushdie’s first post-9/11 novel, Shalimar the Clown (2005), presents the story of the communalisation of the disputed Indian province of Kashmir since Partition, through the experiences of a set of characters from the fictional village of Pachigam, most notably Shalimar, the Muslim tightrope walker with the village’s entertainment troop, and Boonyi, the beautiful Hindu dancer. Their marriage, and its subsequent breakdown as a result of Boonyi’s infidelity with the American Ambassador Max Ophuls – a liaison which leads to the birth of a daughter - comes to symbolise the fading possibilities for intercommunal coexistence as the forces of religiously-fired extremism take hold. People become embodiments of those places with which they are closely identified and personal and national histories are run together, and international transhistorical connections sought as the novel sweeps back and forth across the political history of the last two thirds of the twentieth century, incorporating the rise of Nazism, the Second World War, Vietnam and the deteriorating state of Indo-Pakistan relations as the century closed. Yet, this paper will argue, whereas in novels such as Midnight’s Children and The Moor’s Last Sigh, central characters become allegorical participants in the fate of the nation, in Shalimar Rushdie tends rather to make his characters the local, symbolic equivalents for national and international tensions and dilemmas. The cost of this shift of emphasis is an evacuation of the political dimension where the national anxieties characters emblematise shrink to become purely the motor for personal stories of defeated idealism, lost love, betrayal and revenge.<br />Using Abraham and Torok’s revision of Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia, this paper argues that, in place of an engagement with the political causes of violence and fundamentalism, Shalimar offers repeated instances of the incorporation of lost love objects – mothers, lovers, even Kashmir itself – in the form of memory, spectres and dream visitors from the past. These lost loves are incorporated into the ego structures of characters, preventing them from understanding and working through the experiences of loss they undergo. Moreover, this process is replicated in the narrating voice, whose insistent pastoral nostalgia for Kashmir in the first half of the novel, results in a breakdown in the ability of language to articulate subsequent experiences of loss that are actually the product of competing ideologies. <br />‘“Call me, Love, Your Wife:” The 9/11 Pager Messages and Collective Remembering’ Dr. Lisa Lynch (Concordia University)<br /> On November 25, 2009, the document leaking site Wikileaks released 500,000 pager messages that had been intercepted and recording on September 11, 2001.  The messages, originally transmitted through the networks of Arch Wireless, Metrocall, Skytel, and Weblink Wireless, included exchanges from FEMA, the FBI, the NYPD, and the Pentagon, computer messages reporting failures at investment banks inside the World Trade Center, and messages from 9/11 victims and survivors and their family and friends.   Wikileaks chose to release these messages in ‘real time,’ posting them on November 25 during the same point in the day in which they were originally issued. <br />This paper explores the media and popular response to the release of these pager messages from 9/11.  The reaction among various groups to the publication of these exchanges between officials and individuals during the collapse of the World Trade Center offers an excellent object lesson on how the release of primary source evidence from a traumatic event can be interpreted quite differently.  Looking at media coverage, blog entries, forum conversations, news article commentary, and over 1,000 Twitter posts from the period during and immediately after the release of the messages, I unpack how these responses reveal the dynamic between the content of information, its method of presentation, and the experiential frames of intended audiences.  In keeping with the theme of the conference, I focus in particular on the fact that while these messages were seen by some as having political content, the vast majority of those who followed the release of the pager messages discussed them in the languge of trauma and loss, foregoing contextual conversations for experiential ones.  Since Wikileaks as an organization focuses on releasing leaks of political significant, the depoliticized reception to the messages may have surprised the group, pushing them towards a stronger editorial framing of subsequent leaks.<br />‘Bombs and Mullahs are More Interesting Than Not-Bombs and Not-Mullahs’: Negotiating Landmines in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Mohammed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes.’ Madeline Clements (University of East London)<br />Contemporary Pakistani-English writing produced for a foreign market faces its own particular problems when it comes to representing Pakistan and its people (K. Shamsie 2007). Today’s composers of ‘the new Pakistani fiction’ come from an Islamic Republic of strategic interest to Western countries engaged in the war on terror. This is also a place which, due to its proximity to Afghanistan and the porous nature of its borders, has become a site of extreme concern. <br />As Saeed Shah (2009) has noted, Pakistani authors today must contend with first world readers’ desire for political writing that offers ‘an explanation of the country’s turmoil’. Simultaneously, they must negotiate ‘the landmines that exist around the particular stories from Pakistan that most interest the world (bombs and mullahs are more interesting than not-bombs and not-mullahs)’ (K. Shamsie 2007). <br />Where transnational Pakistani Muslim authors like Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif are concerned, writing post-9/11, they are perceived as ‘others’; looked to as native informants. They are also to some extent complicit in the global marketplace. Considering their recent novels, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), as works of an emerging ‘world literature’ Pakistani in inflection, this paper asks how Hamid and Hanif playfully and provocatively negotiate the political landmines identified by Kamila Shamsie as they open new windows onto this particular part of the world.<br />‘Invading Ideologies and the Politics of Terror’ Kristy Butler (University of Limerick)<br />Before September 11, 2001, few Americans would have been interested in the life of a small boy in Afghanistan. After the towers fell, a consciousness rose in America that turned the eyes of a nation eastward. In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, the life of an Afghani immigrant in America is held in juxtaposition to the life he led as a boy in his native Afghanistan. Images, especially of the brutality of the Taliban, contribute to Western constructs of Middle Eastern culture as one permeated with violence. The characterization of a ‘lawless’ Middle East, in turn, fueled justification of the War on Terror, even though the events of the novel are fictional. This paper will focus on how texts continue to shape and respond to threats of invasion, whether in acts of war or simply by an invasion of a culture, exposing certain elements of it and using those images to create an ideology of fear and division. Invasion of political spaces and physical borders, has been replaced by the invasion of invisible boundaries between individuals and identities. In a post-colonial world, the mind is the new Dark Continent and its battleground the prize of prevailing ideology.<br />‘"All Sand Niggers Are Wired With Explosives!": Arab-American Poets Resist Stereotyping After 9/11’ Dr. Jehan Farouk Fouad (Ain Shams University)<br />In many countries of the world, people of Arab descent have faced exceptional psychosocial stressors due to the socio-political repercussions following the September 11th attacks. Such attacks have caused Arab-Americans to experience what might be considered the fiercest wave of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence; they have ever faced through their long history in the United States which dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Since then, Arab-Americans have contributed to the country through their achievements in arts, science and economy. However, Anti-Arab discrimination and hate crimes have fluctuated over the past 20 years, parallel to America's involvement in Middle East conflicts, and ranging from categorizing Arabs as "camel jockeys", "towelheads", and "sand niggers" − not to mention "terrorists" − to marginalizing them in the political and economic arenas. Yet, a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of such events after the 9/11 attacks is undeniable. <br /> In attempting to resist the stereotype of the "terrorist" that Arab, and particularly Muslim, Americans, have been subject to, Arab-American poets have written poems aiming at narrating their part of the story, bridging the gap, and re-establishing a pre-9/11 equilibrium. Such poems prove an understanding of Janice J. Terry's definition of a stereotype as "a mental package", a package that possibly needs to be re-packed! To mention few examples, there is Samuel Hazo's September 11, 2001, D.H. Melhem's September 11, 2001, World Trade Center, Aftermath, Hayan Charara's Thinking Americans and Hass H. Mroue's   Arabs Despatriados. <br /> This study aims at adding more insight into the cultural dilemmas generated in the post 9/11 American society, a society in which the Arabs' side of the story is still a not-yet-explored field of study. It also aims at highlighting the role of poetry as a transformational outlet where such dilemmas are resolved. The paper will attempt a close analysis of the poems under study tracing the role the poets play in revising defamatory stereotypes of Arabs through showing sympathy towards victims, refusing blind vengeance and inviting attackers to re-conceptualize their preconceptions. This will go side by side with an exploration of the political, economic and social forces at work in the cultural scene.<br />‘The Post 9/11 Chick-Flick? : Loss and Maternal Recuperation in Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously’ Dr Roberta Garrett (University of East London)<br />Not surprisingly, contemporary drama which engages with 9/11 and its aftermath has been largely structured through the familiar generic codes of the thriller, disaster movie or war film. The contemporary chick-flick, with its characteristically feminine focus and its preoccupation with the career and personal lives of affluent, single women – not to mention its blend of comedy and romance - seems singularly unsuited to addressing weightier cultural issues. However, as Diane Negra has observed, the climate of US conservatism that followed the attacks was manifested in the gender revisionism and remasculinisation apparent in the themes of chick-flicks such as How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (2003) or Maid in Manhattan (2002). In recent months, the controversy over the blatant islamaphobia of Sex and the City Two overshadowed interest in one of the more direct but depoliticised treatments of 9/11 outside of the thriller/disaster/documentary format: Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. <br /> <br />This paper will consider the interplay between the film’s parallel narratives: the central narrative, based in 2002, deals with Julie Powell’s life as an over-stressed, underpaid worker at the government agency responsible for providing financial support for the victims of 9/11 and developing the public memorial. The other recounts the experiences of bestselling chef, Julia Childs, as the wife of a cultured, liberal American diplomat in post-war Paris (based on her autobiography, My Life in France). The narrative tracks the way in which Powell’s obsession with Julia, her fantasies of Julia’s life in post-war Paris, and her subsequent introduction to French cooking, prevents her from collapsing under the mental strain of her job. This is constantly reinforced by the use of mise-en-scene in the two sections of the narrative. The post-9/11 section of the film depicts Julie trapped in her claustrophobic office cubby hole, overwhelmed by the onslaught of loss, anger and disbelief she confronts daily, whereas the Parisian counter-narrative is upbeat and colourful. Julia confidently explores the city’s bars, restaurants and street markets, mixing with Parisians of all social classes and mastering the art of French cooking (the title of her subsequent bestselling cookbook). The paper will consider the film in the context of the many 9/11 narratives which use the image of the angry and/or protective father as justification for global retribution. In contrast, the empowering maternal and protective presence of Childs in Julie and Julia allows the chick-flick mode to assuage loss and recoup national identity through feminine ‘charm’ and domestic craftsmanship. Drawing on memory theory and Freud’s work on trauma, repetition and working through, the paper will consider the way in which the film eschews paternal rage and violence in favour of feminine creativity and connectivity. However, this is articulated through a nostalgic reworking of Hollywood’s long-term preoccupation with Paris (as cultural short-handed for European high culture and sophistication) and an easily assimilated notion of the foreign and the exotic in the context of the Marshall plan and the America’s post-war cultural and economic dominance of Europe.<br />‘Reel Memories and Celluloid Regenerations: 9/11 and Pearl Harbor’ Marcel Hartwig (TU Chemnitz, Germany)<br />December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 each connote what Neil J. Smelser (2004) calls a “cultural trauma”. In his essay on “Psychological Trauma and Cultural Trauma”, he further notes that “the idea of trauma is not to be conceived so muchas a discrete casual event as a part of a process-in-system” (ibid: 34). This paperaccordingly claims that both 9/11 and ‘Pearl Harbor’ exhibit their processive character in the form of national traumatic experiences in American Cinema.Being a narrative starting point for the American Century and the according reformulation of a national identity, the Pearl-Harbor-attack holds a prominent position in the emotional realm of today’s American culture. Thus, there is a need to repeat and serialize the Pearl-Harbor-Memory in order to both stabilize and confirm the existence of a shared national identity whenever a new state of emergency occurs. While being refered to as “the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century”, the<br />September 11 attacks’ narrative treatment heavily draws upon the imageries of what<br />President F. D. Roosevelt once coined as a “day of infamy”. This paper traces the repetitions and adaptations of the cinematic Pearl-Harbor-Memory in the film United 93 (2006). In its central thesis the film is considered a<br />remake of John Ford’s and Gregg Toland’s December 7th (1943). Through a close reading of selected film scenes, this paper investigates the political and social functions behind the cinematic recycling of the trauma narrative.<br /> ‘Rendition and The Stuff of Life: Towards a Political Cinema of Torture’ Alex Adams (Newcastle University)<br />Following 9/11, the use of torture conspicuously returned to mainstream political agendas. Shocking as they were, for some commentators the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay failed to conclusively demonstrate the counterproductive political impact of legalised prisoner abuse. Many could be heard arguing that what took place in these prisons did not constitute torture. The practice of waterboarding became a nucleus around which arguments about the morality and necessity of torture began to cluster, with anti-torture campaigners meeting claims that clean tortures were not serious or unpleasant enough to constitute torture.<br />Gavin Hood’s 2007 anti-torture film Rendition, which addresses extraordinary rendition, attempted to challenge this apolitical vision of torture. Part of its value lay in its representation of waterboarding, and its insistence and demonstration that it did in fact constitute torture. Although it is in many ways a problematic text, it was a useful first step forward from the less political popular cinema of the War on Terrorism such as The Hurt Locker, as it begins to gesture towards a mainstream political cinema. This paper will address representations of waterboarding in Rendition and Amnesty International’s 2007 short film Stuff of Life, which through similar representational tropes challenged the depoliticised, perceived harmlessness of clean torture in the post-9/11 War on Terrorism.<br />‘“Not such a big deal”: 9/11 Fiction and Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland’ Arin Keeble (Newcastle University)<br />This paper argues that Joseph O’Neil’s novel Netherland (2008) is the first literary representation of 9/11 that self-consciously addresses some of the problematic aspects of the emerging canon of ‘9/11 fiction’. While Beigbeder’s Windows on the World (2003) or Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) deploy some conventional meta-fictional aesthetic conceits, Netherland seems to pointedly interrogate some of the dominant tropes and trends of 9/11 fiction. Firstly Netherland subverts one of the dominant narrative rubrics of the canon, marriage and relationships, by politicising this area which has led Richard Gray to state that in many prominent examples of 9/11 fiction, ‘the crisis is in every sense of the word, domesticated’. Secondly, it moves beyond the Manhattan elite which dominates 9/11 fictions and grants significant space and voice to a subterranean, hitherto marginalised New York, in exploring its post 9/11 landscape. Thirdly it overtly explores the problematic fault line between personal and public trauma and lastly, it explicitly asks the question that is only obliquely engaged with in other 9/11 fictions: what is the lasting impact of the attacks? In working through some of these trends and tropes it is able to illuminate certain aspects of the conflictedness of the wider public response to 9/11 and look toward certain points of reconciliation in the ‘continuity’ and ‘discontinuity’ frames of interpretation or response to the attacks. <br />‘Literature vs. Fundamentalism: Politics and Morality in the Post-9/11 Novel’ <br />Dr. Robert Spencer (Manchester University)<br />‘Nobody can suppose for a moment that it is possible to write a good novel in praise of anti-Semitism’, wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. Nor could anybody write a good novel in praise of the attacks on the twin towers or of the ‘war on terror’. I intend to argue that there is a conflict between fundamentalism and the best novels that take 9/11 and its aftermath as their main theme. The various religious, political and economic dogmas that have agitated for our endorsement since 9/11 can be subverted by literary texts’ capacity to stage a dialogue between voices and by their manifest susceptibility to creative interpretation. Fundamentalism is a textual affair because it sees God as the final guarantor of meaning. It adheres strictly to the script and prohibits interpretation, innovation and divergence. But ‘sacred text’ is an oxymoron; every text is tainted by a proliferation of meanings and by its vulnerability to creative and unfaithful readings. ‘To speak of authority in narrative prose fiction’, as Edward Said put it, ‘is also inevitably to speak of the molestations that accompany it’. My aim is to explore the antagonism between fundamentalism and literature. Some, but by no means all, of the novels that take 9/11 as their subject, have revealed a capacity to complicate and point beyond what Tariq Ali calls ‘the clash of fundamentalisms’. <br />‘Post-9/11 Revisions of the Superhero: Political Subtexts in the Comics’ Series Civil War and Black Summer By Christophe Dony (University de Leige)<br />Superheroes have been supportive of the state’s ideologies for a long time. From WW II to the Cold War era, they have defended the status quo and fought countless enemies of the establishment while showing strong nationalist ideology. Yet, in their long existence, these characters and the narratives they feature in, have been subject to many redefinitions, usually during periods of ideological conflicts such as the Vietnam War or the overtly pro-masculine and pro-war politics of the Reagan era. Following this logic, it seems interesting to raise the question whether or not the superhero genre changed after the events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’. This question becomes even more important when one draws a parallel between the Bush administration’s political rhetoric of the early aftermath, and the classical superhero Manichean formula whereby good usually prevails over evil. <br />Whereas early superhero comics engaging with 9/11 presented cases of topical suffering, victimization, and sometimes revenge, later superhero texts have confronted readers with moral and political ambiguities. Indirectly or metaphorically referring to the traumatic events of September 11th and its aftermath, many post-9/11 superhero narratives have called into question the binary dialectic, long sustained by the medium itself, and rearticulated by the Bush administration; they have suggested that America was to some extent responsible for, or at least, implicated in the attacks. In doing so, these texts function as powerful political allegories which challenge America’s sense of moral exceptionalism, the state’s implementation of (inter)national security policies, and by extension, the very sociological role of the superheroic figure.<br />In this paper, I aim to demonstrate how two recent superhero comics’ series - Marvel’s multi-authored cross-over Civil War (2006), and Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp Black Summer (2008) – have allegorized the events of 9/11 to critique the above issues in different but related ways. More specifically, I argue that these narratives constitute revisions of traditional superhero texts which problematize the morality of superhero figures, comment on the pervasive effects of the mass media, and ultimately challenge the state’s intervention policies in the face of adversity. <br />Keynote: ‘Cultural Politics after 9/11’ by Dr. David Holloway (University of Derby)<br />This talk will address some of the broader patterns and intellectual contexts at work in the “depoliticizing” and “re-politicizing” of 9/11, focusing both on cultural production and on the analytical modes brought to bear upon culture in the post-9/11 era. Pivoting on the figure of 9/11 as an expansive historical and cultural intertext, it will call for a reworked model of American Studies grounded in categories that have been more or less marginal in the discourse of western intellectual elites since the Cold War. The talk will conclude with a discussion of cultural forms and practices whose “rational” understanding of what culture is, and what culture can do, have contributed to a progressive re-politicizing of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermaths. <br />