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Literature, Art, and the Political after 9/11


Admission requirements

No extra admission requirements


Jean Baudrillard described the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as an “absolute event” that “defies … any form of interpretation.” The event was notably described through negative categories – as unimaginable, irreducible, unprecedented, inexpressible, irrational, non-narrativizable. However, despite the semiotic void that the collapse of the twin towers arguably left, “9/11” also generated a proliferation of words and images: political and public rhetoric, intellectual debates, and literary or artistic expressive forms tried to represent, process, appropriate, and frame the event in various ways.

In this course, we will gain insight into the political, cultural, and ethical impact of what has been nicknamed “9/11” by probing literary, artistic, and theoretical responses to it. We will explore 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 writers, theorists, and artists outside the U.S. also form a significant aspect of this course.

Revisiting the political and public rhetoric surrounding 9/11, we will focus on critical responses to this rhetoric from various theoretical perspectives, including liberal, humanist, marxist, relativist, and deconstructionist. Our discussions will be guided by texts by Chantal Mouffe, Giorgio Agamben, Wendy Brown, Slavoj Žižek, Judith Butler, Arjun Appadurai, Tzvetan Todorov, Terry Eagleton, David Simpson and others. We will read novels by Jonathan Safran Foer, Mohsin Hamid, Cormac McCarthy, and Ian McEwan; and we will explore the imagination of artists such as Art Spiegelman and Guillermo Gómez-Peña and filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu.

By bringing together literature, films, artworks, and theoretical texts, we will probe the performance of the political in literary and artistic forms. Among the questions we will address are the following:

How do literature and art negotiate the personal and collective trauma associated with 9/11? Do literary works, artworks, or films 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 these works develop alternative worldviews from those propagated by dominant public rhetoric?

Do European novels express solidarity with the U.S, or do they tell different stories that deviate from American narratives of 9/11?

Placing 9/11 in a broader context, the course will not only focus on direct responses to the event, but also on the indirect ways in which it haunts our imagination and discursive practices. We will thus relate literary, artistic, and theoretical concerns after 9/11 to shifts in the American and European political climate, typified by the sense of living in a state of crisis and the predominance of fear as a mobilizing force in politics. Probing the status 9/11 has received in the Western imaginary, we will also interrogate popular appropriations of 9/11 as a radical rupture in historical understanding or an all-defining event.

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 acquire an extensive theoretical vocabulary through an in-depth study of concepts central to critical debates around 9/11 (eg. the political, sovereignty, biopolitics, state of exception, consensus democracy, terrorism, tolerance, trauma etc.). They will gain insight in the discursive shifts in the European and American political, cultural, and intellectual climate after 9/11. Finally, students will be able to critically analyze the interrelation of literature, art, sovereignty, and the political in the post-9/11 era.


Tuesdays, 11:15-14:00

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 42 hours (3 hours a week)

  • Study of compulsory literature: 160 hours

  • Preparing papers and presentation: 78 hours

Assessment method

  • Mid-term paper: 30%

  • Final paper: 60%

  • Presentation and participation in group discussions on Blackboard: 10%

Student needs to obtain a sufficient grade for all parts (presentation and exams).



Reading list

Secondary literature:

  • Diverse articles on blackboard

Primary literature:

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

  • Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)

  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006)

  • Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005)

  • Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004)


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