Beyond the inferno : literary representations of New York City before and after 9/11

Master Thesis

2010

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University of Cape Town

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From its founding, New York City has served as the gateway to the New World and, as such, has been the impetus behind the American Dream. As the city grew in size and importance, though, so the levels of antagonism rose among its inhabitants, for, like any large-scale urban environment, it was filled with what Georg Simmel labels 'overwhelming social forces' (1950:410). These forces became even more relevant within the context of what Fredric Jameson calls the 'postmodern hyperspace' (1984:83) of urban society which emerged during the latter half of the twentieth century. Thus, by focusing on the real-world example of New York, this dissertation examines how the dialectical negotiation between a postmodern city's form and its function has a profound impact on the identities of that city's inhabitants, producing alienating and antagonistic experiences of city life which, in turn, places increasing pressure on both the conception and perception of an individual's status within the boundaries of that cityscape. The terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001 functioned as yet another overwhelming force that greatly affected New York's inhabitants. The dedicated media coverage of the event effectively burned the image of a 'wounded' New York into people minds. This emotional imprinting occurred not only because of the horrifying destruction wrought upon the city, leading to the loss of the spectacle that was the World Trade Centre, but also because of the change that this destruction brought about in the mindset of everyone who watched those buildings fall, leading to the establishment of a 'before' and 'after' dialectic. Two literary texts that highlight this dialectic were chosen to provide the basis of this dissertation's analysis. These are Salman Rushdie's Fury (2001) and Don DeLillo's Falling Man (2007). Written and set in 2000, Fury provides an insightful and provocative account of life in New York at the turn of the twenty-first century and, through a retrospective reading of this novel, one can identify its prescience in depicting a New York in which the escalating antagonism, both within and without the city, seems to herald impending disaster. Indeed, that disaster was the 9/11 attacks, which Falling Man takes as its subject, providing individualised, albeit 3 fictional, accounts of the trauma that was experienced by those who were in the towers and their families, as well as those who witnessed it. By offering an analysis of Rushdie and DeLillo's narrative strategies in these novels, specifically in light of Michel Foucault's theory of the heterotopia, Italo Calvino's conception of the 'infernal city' in his Invisible Cities (1974), and the work of key 9/11 theorists this dissertation will plot the trajectory of the 'before' and 'after' dialectic in order to ascertain how effectively these novels function as (re)presentations of the real-world city of New York.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 75-82).

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