Aesthetics of Terror: Reflections on Post-911 Literature and Visual Culture

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Vanderwees, John




This dissertation investigates cultural responses to visual representations of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I examine the aesthetics, contexts, and politics of post-9/11 visual culture across a range of media with a primary focus on photography and fiction. Recent scholarly articles and book length surveys on post-9/11 culture overwhelmingly charge popular literary and visual texts with participating in the reproduction of hegemonic norms and supporting a regressive climate of anti-feminism, hyper-masculinity, and reactionary politics. I contend that many scholars actually
foreclose alternative interpretations and the production of new knowledge regarding post-9/11 literature and visual culture in the pursuit to reveal dominant ideologies at work. This project unfolds in three main sections, each of which develops “reparative readings” of visual and literary texts in an attempt to redeem valuable political, ethical, and affective aspects of post-9/11 visual culture. The first section outlines post-9/11 victory culture and American exceptionalism through corporate media suppression of Richard Drew’s photograph, “The Falling Man.” I examine how dominant national
narratives repress Drew’s photograph in an analysis of New York nostalgia and the cultural resurgence of tightrope walker Philippe Petit. Following Judith Butler’s more recent work, I argue that images of falling bodies might be redeemed, citing Jonathan Safran Foer’s employment of images in his fiction as an example, through an ethics of vulnerability. The second section examines William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition as a narrative that runs contrary to academic perceptions that figure post-9/11 fiction as narcissistically preoccupied with national trauma. Drawing from Jodi Dean, I argue that
Gibson’s portrayal of “the footage,” a series of viral online images, reflects a harsh critique of online technologies and formulates terrorism as symptomatic of American imperialism and globalization. The final section examines the Bush Administration’s use of Joel Meyerowitz’s Ground Zero photographs as part of an international foreign policy tour to gain support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drawing from Jill Bennett’s extension of Deleuze’s philosophy of the event, I work beyond critiques that only posit these photographs as propaganda, exploring the uncanny and ethical dimensions
of Meyerowitz’s work, which has since been published as Aftermath.


September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001 -- in art
September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001 -- in literature




Carleton University

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