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Title: Terrorism, Security, Precarity: 9/11 Revisited
Issue Date: 2017
Citation: Frame: Journal of Literary Studies, 2018, 30 (2)
Abstract: This essay revisits 9/11 with the aid of two conceptual lenses, security, and precarity, which have not often been superimposed. As Judith Butler writes in Precarious Life, “Americans … experienced something like the loss of their First Worldism as a result of the events of September 11 and its aftermath.” Prime among the nation’s responses under President George W. Bush, was a profound reconfiguration of the security paradigm, aided by a wave of anti-intellectualism in the media which included a de facto censorship of dissent. For Butler, in such times, there was an urgent need for new narrative forms that might “compensate for the enormous narcissistic wound opened by the public display of our physical vulnerability” (7) while at the same time “decenter[ing] us from our supremacy, both in its right- and left-wing forms” (18). In this essay, I examine one of the least understood literary responses to 9/11, Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), as a response to that call. What is striking about this novel, I suggest, is the boldness with which it breaks from the hegemonic security discourse associated with the Bush administration. Centred on the idea of bare life – encapsulated by the image of a body in free fall – the novel strips back the dominant affects of national affront and retributive violence, in which as Giorgio Agamben has argued, terrorism and security reinforce each other in an escalating cycle, showing how a different mode of survival and a different way of mourning might begin in the rubble of the towers. For Butler, the urgent and difficult task underscored by 9/11 is that of imagining a new basis for community on the ground of our shared vulnerability. Falling Man begins that work, the essay will argue, showing us 9/11 afresh, as a revelation of collective precarity.
Appears in Collections:Dept of Politics, History and Law Research Papers

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