nl en

Literature, Art and the Political after 9/11


Admission requirements

No extra admission requirements.


Jean Baudrillard described the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as an “absolute event” that “defies … any form of interpretation.” The event was notably described through negative categories – as unimaginable, irreducible, inexpressible, irrational, non-narrativizable. However, despite the semiotic void left by the collapse of the twin towers, 9/11 also generated a proliferation of words in the form of political speeches, intellectual debates, and literary or artistic negotiations.
In this course we will gain insight into the political, cultural, and ethical impact of the events on 9/11 and their attempted representations, and explore how literature, art, and theory have responded critically to 9/11 and its uses in politics. We will probe the extent to which 9/11 has infiltrated not only the American but also the European psyche, constituting a European event. Responses to 9/11 by non-American and migrant writers or artists also form a significant aspect of this course.
Revisiting the political rhetoric surrounding 9/11, especially of the U.S. administration, we will focus on critical responses to this rhetoric from various theoretical perspectives, including conservative, liberal, humanist, left-wing, relativist, and deconstructionist. Our discussions will be guided by texts by Chantal Mouffe, Wendy Brown, Slavoj Žižek, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Fredric Jameson, Arjun Appadurai, Terry Eagleton, and others. We will probe the features of the so-called “genre” of the 9/11 novel though novelists such as Ian McEwan, Frédéric Beigbeder, John Updike, and Mohsin Hamid. And we will explore the traces of 9/11 in the imagination of artists such as Gordon Bennett, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Kendell Geers, and filmmakers such as Elmar Fischer, Chris Marker, and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Among the questions this course will address are the following: How do literature and art negotiate the personal and collective trauma associated with 9/11? Do the novels, artworks or films discussed in this course reinscribe or disrupt dominant discourses that promote flag-waving patriotism, the fear of others, or the universal applicability of Western liberal values after 9/11? Do European novels express solidarity with the U.S., forming a coherent transatlantic discursive community, or do they tell stories that deviate from American narratives of 9/11?
The course will not only focus on explicit responses to 9/11, but also on indirect ways in which this event haunts our imagination and discursive practices. We will thus relate literary and artistic “theorizations” of 9/11 to shifts in the American and European political climate, typified by the sense of living in a perpetual state of emergency and the predominance of fear as a mobilizing force. Finally, this course will interrogate uses (and abuses) of 9/11 as an all-powerful and emblematic signifier, and will cast a critical eye on the defining position that has been ascribed to it in the Western imaginary.

Course objectives

Students will be trained in the critical reading of literary works, films and artworks that respond to the events on 9/11. They will gain insight into the discursive shifts in the European and American political, cultural, and intellectual landscape after 9/11, through an in-depth study of theoretical texts that chart, and respond to, these discursive shifts. Finally, throughout the course students will explore the interrelation of literature, art, sovereignty, and the political in the post-9/11 era.



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Mid-term assignment (30%); Paper (60%); Participation in group discussions and Blackboard (10%)


Blackboard in use.

Reading list

Our readings include:

  • Frédéric Beigbeder, Windows on the World (2003)

  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)

  • Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005)

  • John Updike, Terrorist (2006)

  • Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)


Students have to apply for this course with the registration system of the university uSis.
General information about registration with uSis you can find here in Dutch and in English

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

With the lecturer dr. M.Boletsi.