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Title: 9/11 Gothic : trauma, mourning, and spectrality in novels from Don DeLillo, Jonathan Safran Foer, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and Jess Walter
Author: Olson, Danel
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 3885
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2016
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Al Qaeda killings, posttraumatic stress, and the Gothic together triangulate a sizable space in recent American fiction that is still largely uncharted by critics. This thesis maps that shared territory in four novels written between 2005 and 2007 by writers who were born in America, and whose protagonists are the survivors in New York City after the World Trade Center falls. Published in the city of their tragedy and reviewed in its media, the novels surveyed here include Don DeLillo’s _Falling Man_ (2007), Jonathan Safran Foer’s _Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close_ (2005), Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s _The Writing on the Wall_ (2005), and Jess Walter’s _The Zero_ (2006). The thesis issues a challenge to the large number of negative and dismissive reviews of the novels under consideration, making a case that under different criteria, shaped by trauma theory and psychoanalysis, the novels succeed after all in making readers feel what it was to be alive in September 2001, enduring the posttraumatic stress for months and years later. The thesis asserts that 9/11 fiction is too commonly presented in popular journals and scholarly studies as an undifferentiated mass. In the same critical piece a journalist or an academic may evaluate narratives in which unfold a terrorist's point of view, a surviving or a dying New York City victim's perspective, and an outsider's reaction set thousands of miles away from Ground Zero. What this thesis argues for is a separation in study of the fictive strands that meditate on the burning towers, treating the New York City survivor story as a discrete body. Despite their being set in one of the most known cities of the Western world, and the terrorist attack that they depict being the most- watched catastrophe ever experienced in real-time before, these fictions have not yet been critically ordered. Charting the salient reappearing conflicts, unsettling descriptions, protagonist decay, and potent techniques for registering horror that resurface in this New York City 9/11 fiction, this thesis proposes and demonstrates how the peculiar and affecting Gothic tensions in the works can be further understood by trauma theory, a term coined by Cathy Caruth in Unclaimed Experience (1996: 72). Though the thesis concentrates on developments in trauma theory from the mid 1990s to 2015, it also addresses its theoretical antecedents: from the earliest voices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that linked mental illness to a trauma (Charcot, Janet, Breuer, Freud), to researchers from mid-twentieth century (Adler, Lindemann) who studied how catastrophe affects civilian minds not previously trained to either fight war or withstand cataclysm. Always keeping at the fore the ancient Greek double-meaning of trauma as both unhealing “wound” and “defeat,” the thesis surveys tenets of the trauma theorists from the very first of those who studied the effects on civilian survivors of disaster (of what is still the largest nightclub fire in U.S. history, which replaced front page coverage of World War II for a few days: the Cocoanut Grove blaze in Boston, 1942) up to those theorists writing in 2015. The concepts evolving behind trauma theory, this thesis demonstrates, provide a useful mechanism to discuss the surprising yearnings hiding behind the appearance of doppelgängers, possession ghosts, terrorists as monsters, empty coffins, and visitants that appear to feed on characters’ sorrow, guilt, and loneliness within the novels under discussion. This thesis reappraises the dominant idea in trauma studies of the mid-1990s, namely that trauma victims often cannot fully remember and articulate their physical and psychic wounds. The argument here is that, true to the theories of the Caruthian school, the victims in these novels may not remember and express their trauma completely and in a linear fashion. However, the victims figured in these novels do relate the horrors of their memory to a degree by letting their narration erupt with the unexpectedly Gothic images, tropes, visions, language, and typical contradictions, aporias, lacunae, and paradoxes. The Gothic, one might say, becomes the language in which trauma speaks and articulates itself, albeit not always in the most cogent of signs. One might easily dismiss these fleeting Gothic presences that characters conjure in the fictions under consideration as anomalous apparitions signalling nothing. However, this thesis interrogates these ghostly traces of Gothicism to find what secrets they hold. Working from the insights of psychoanalysis and its post-Freudian re-inventers and challengers, it aims to puzzle out the dimensions of characters’ mourning in its “traumagothic” reading of the texts. Characters’ use of the Gothic becomes their way of remembering, a coded language to the curious. This thesis holds that unexpressed grief and guilt are the large constant in this grouping of novels. Characters’ grief articulation and guilt release, or the desire for symbolic amnesia, take paths that the figures often were suspicious of before 9/11: a return to organized religion, a belief in spirits, a call for vengeance, psychotherapy, substance abuse, splitting with a partner, rampant sex with nearby strangers, torture of suspects, and killing. All the earnest attempts through the above means by the characters to express grief, vent rage, and alleviate survivor guilt do so without noticeable success. True closure towards their trauma is largely a myth. No reliable evidence surfaces from the close reading of the texts that those affected by trauma ever fully recover. However, as this thesis demonstrates, other forms of recompense come from these searches for elusive peace and the nostalgic longing for the America that has been lost to them.
Supervisor: Townshend, Dale ; Hunter, Adrian Sponsor: University of Stirling
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Gothic ; Al Qaeda ; Trauma ; Terrorism ; War ; Torture ; Ghosts ; Possession ; America ; Psychoanalysis ; PTSD ; War on Terror ; World Trade Center ; New York City ; Cathy Caruth ; 9/11 ; Sigmund Freud ; Don DeLillo ; Lynne Sharon Schwartz ; Jonathan Safron Foer ; Jess Walter ; The Zero ; Victims ; The Writing on the Wall ; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ; Falling Man ; Mohammad Atta ; September 11 Terrorist Attacks ; 2001--Influence ; Terrorism in literature ; Psychic trauma in literature