Fantasies of Oblivion: Post-9/11 Literature and the Passion for the Real

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Fantasies of Oblivion proposes that a series of post-9/11 literary texts – including David Foster Wallace’s The Suffering Channel, Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, Martin Amis’ “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta,” Teju Cole’s Open City and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge – reveal contradictions inherent to the dominant historical narratives of 11 September 2001. In their fiction, these authors stage a set of cultural, social and historical fantasies that obscured the material and symbolic implications of the terrorist attacks, but show those fantasies to be misleading and incomplete descriptions of American history and identity. My project converses with two dominant strands within studies of post-9/11 literature: one strand claims that the current archive of texts reproduces the ideological myopia already evident so soon after the attacks; the other contends that the texts participate in a necessary and therapeutic project of personal, urban and national healing. In contrast, my dissertation argues that Wallace, Moore, Amis, Cole and Pynchon take oblique approaches to 11 September 2001 in order to displace the dominant temporal genres of traumatic shock, nostalgic return and melancholic futurity that circulate around the tragic events. I claim these temporal genres are fantasies of “oblivion” not just because they are fantasies fixated on erasing the traumatic spectacle of real death at the hands of foreign powers, but also because they facilitate disavowal of symbolic death, preventing the realization that America is non-identical with its self-image and in fact, this non-identity is built into its self-image. If the nation retreated into its founding myths of altruism, innocence and exceptionalism, and thus missed an opportunity on 11 September 2001 to better understand itself and its role in the world, then the post-9/11 literary archive reveals the limitations of this retreat and in doing so generates an opportunity to traverse the fantasies of the nation and re-open the void the nation too quickly closed, the abyssal “Ground-Zero” of the psyche.
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Thesis advisor: Derksen, Jeff
Thesis advisor: Smith, Jon
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