Literature in Response to the September Essay - Critical Essays

Literature in Response to the September


Literature in Response to the September 11 Attacks

Books, poems, essays, plays, and articles in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

On September 11, 2001, the United States sustained the most intense terrorist attack in its history. Two jet airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed shortly thereafter with a third plane crashing into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane went down in a remote area of Pennsylvania—it is believed that it was headed for the White House. In all, over 4,000 people died in the attacks, including hundreds who were in the buildings and airliners themselves, as well as many of the firefighters, police officers, and other emergency personnel who tried to come to the aid of the victims. It is believed that the attacks were sponsored by al-Qaeda, an extremist Islamic terrorist organization led by a man named Osama bin Laden.

As the United States tried to recover from its losses, many journalists, writers, poets, artists, and survivors responded to the tragedy in their own words, with articles, books, columns, and more. The following criticism provides an overview of those responses, as well as a selection of essays addressing the importance and need for literature in times of tragedy and despair.

Representative Works

Tariq Ali
The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (nonfiction) 2002

Ulrich Baer, editor
110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11 (short stories and poetry) 2002

Jean Baudrillard
The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers (criticism) 2002

Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham
Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (biography) 2002

Richard Bernstein and the Staff of the New York Times
Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001 (journalism) 2002

Leslie Bramm
Lovers Leapt (play) 2002

Roger Burbach and Ben Clarke, editors
September 11 and the U.S. War: Beyond the Curtain of Smoke (essays) 2002

CBS News
What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001—In Words, Pictures, and Video (nonfiction, photography, and documentary film) 2002

Noam Chomsky
9-11 (criticism) 2001

David Cole and James X. Dempsey
Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security (criticism) 2002

Betty Jean Craige and Marjorie Agosín, editors
To Mend the World: Women Reflect on 9/11 (essays) 2002

Dayna Curry, Heather Mercer, and Stacy Mattingly
Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Criticism: Major Works On September 11, 2001

David Edwards (review date February 2002)

SOURCE: Edwards, David. Review of 9-11, by Noam Chomsky. Ecologist 32, no. 1 (February 2002): 69-70.

[In the following review, Edwards presents an overview of Noam Chomsky's central arguments in 9-11.]

‘Ha ha ha to the pacifists’, wrote Christopher Hitchens in November, as Kabul fell to the combined might of US bombers, the Northern Alliance, and the BBC's, ‘Simpson of Kabul’. Two months later, the victory celebrations continue tirelessly (almost maniacally), as the ‘first virtual war’ draws to a close. It was ‘an instant, foolproof, bloodless recipe, like Delia Smith for bombers’, crowed the Observer's Mary Riddell, demonstrating due...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)

Joe Lockard (review date spring 2002)

SOURCE: Lockard, Joe. “Chomsky on 9-11.” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought 51, no. 2 (spring 2002): 249-53.

[In the following review, Lockard discusses Noam Chomsky's 9-11, noting that the work serves more as a means for Chomsky to expostulate his long-standing political theories regarding U.S. foreign policy rather than a tribute to the tragedy of September 11, 2001.]

To give due credit, it's hard to think of another man who so robustly represents the failure of progressive thought in the United States as Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky lives in a Newtonian universe of leftism where political mass and gravitational effects are...

(The entire section is 1844 words.)

Michael Massing (essay date 4 May 2002)

SOURCE: Massing, Michael. “Surprise Best-seller Blames U.S.” New York Times (4 May 2002): B11.

[In the following essay, Massing describes the various popular responses to Noam Chomsky's book 9-11 and the political background behind the work.]

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Noam Chomsky, the M.I.T. linguist and political provocateur, was constantly on the telephone, giving interviews to news organizations. In late September, he received an e-mail message from Greg Ruggiero, a senior editor of Seven Stories Press, a New York publisher. The editor of a series of political pamphlets for Seven Stories, Mr. Ruggiero had published several Chomsky...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)

Derek Hook (review date June 2002)

SOURCE: Hook, Derek. Review of 9-11, by Noam Chomsky. Theoria (June 2002): 128-30.

[In the following review, Hook stresses that, despite his extreme stance on U.S. foreign policy, Noam Chomsky's arguments in 9-11 provide some useful correctives about recent political history.]

Foremost amongst Chomsky's gifts as a critical political analyst is an eye for the counter-intuitive. 9-11, a collection of interviews conducted in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, is a case in point. Chomsky's flair for political arguments that run against the grain of commonsense manifests in two particular ways here: a refutation of overly conventionalized modes...

(The entire section is 863 words.)

Matt Welch (review date 8 June 2002)

SOURCE: Welch, Matt. “Manufacturing Dissent: Noam Chomsky Calls the U.S. a Terrorist State.” National Post 4, no. 190 (8 June 2002): B1-B2.

[In the following review, Welch discusses two works stemming from the September 11 terrorist attacks—September 11 and the U.S. War: Beyond the Curtain of Smoke and Noam Chomsky's 9-11.]

Just before the kidnappers sawed through Daniel Pearl's neck, they forced the Wall Street Journal reporter to “confess” that his experiences in captivity had been equivalent to those of the prisoners being held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

“Uh, only now do I think about that some of the people in...

(The entire section is 2073 words.)

James Poniewozik (review date 5 August 2002)

SOURCE: Poniewozik, James. “The White-Collar Warrior: A Book about Flight 93 Introduces a New Kind of Hero for the Civilians' War.” Time 160, no. 6 (5 August 2002): 74.

[In the following review, Poniewozik presents a brief overview of Jere Longman's Among the Heroes, noting that the work serves as an inspiration for its readers.]

Before he caught United Airlines flight 93 from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco on Sept. 11, Todd Beamer was engaged in a kind of soul searching that we have come to think of as very post-9/11. In Among the Heroes, New York Times reporter Jere Longman writes that Beamer was tired of leaving his family for business. He...

(The entire section is 818 words.)

Walter Kirn (review date 8 September 2002)

SOURCE: Kirn, Walter. “Notes on the Darkest Day.” New York Times Book Review (8 September 2002): section 7, p. 7.

[In the following review, Kirn assesses various literary works about or inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks.]

The first question, and the toughest one to answer, about the great drifts of Sept. 11 books now blowing into stores and libraries, is why do we need even one book about what happened when we saw the whole awful thing happen for ourselves, again and again, in telephoto detail, and we saw it so recently, just 12 months ago? Can the books help us remember? We haven't forgotten—and for those who wish to relive things anyhow and achieve...

(The entire section is 2930 words.)

M. G. Lord (review date 8 September 2002)

SOURCE: Lord, M. G. “The Fourth Target.” New York Times Book Review (8 September 2002): section 7, p. 12.

[In the following review, Lord examines Jere Longman's Among the Heroes, praising the book's focus on individual people and their stories.]

The occupants of the hijacked airliner that crashed outside Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, were not passive victims, Jere Longman, a reporter for The New York Times, argues in Among the Heroes. Rather, they were defiant combatants.

In a powerful reconstruction of the flight's final moments—largely assembled from interviews with family members, co-workers and friends of the...

(The entire section is 1198 words.)

Frederick R. Lynch (review date 8 September 2002)

SOURCE: Lynch, Frederick R. “Charting Culture of Manhattan Firehouse Tested by September 11.” Washington Times (8 September 2002): B8.

[In the following review, Lynch lauds David Halberstam's Firehouse as a remarkable work that outlines the importance of close-knit relationships in the workplace.]

New York City firefighters became national heroes last September when 343 of them died trying to help others escape the doomed twin towers of the World Trade Center. However, behind all the adulation—FDNY hats and T-shirts have become popular badges of patriotism, for instance—is a compelling mystique. Who are these guys? Who takes up a profession premised upon...

(The entire section is 835 words.)

Dorothy Rabinowitz (review date 11 September 2002)

SOURCE: Rabinowitz, Dorothy. “His Last Battlefield.” Wall Street Journal (11 September 2002): D10.

[In the following review, Rabinowitz examines Heart of a Soldier, James B. Stewart's biography of Rick Rescorla, the chief of security at Morgan Stanley in New York City, who was responsible for securing the evacuation of 2,700 of his co-workers while losing his own life in the effort.]

The subject of a number of Sept. 11 pieces, Rick Rescorla is nonetheless a name unfamiliar to most Americans. That could soon change with the publication of Heart of a Soldier, James B. Stewart's stunningly detailed history of the British-born Rescorla, who became an...

(The entire section is 1017 words.)

Joshua Sina (review date 29 September 2002)

SOURCE: Sina, Joshua. “Eyes Wide Shut: Missed Signals of September 11.” Washington Times (29 September 2002): B8.

[In the following review, Sina asserts that Breakdown is one of the most “insightful and penetrating” books about the intelligence failures that are believed to have led to up to the attacks on September 11.]

Breakdown is the inside story of the intelligence community's failure to anticipate, preempt, and prevent the horrific simultaneous suicide aircraft bombings of September 11. According to Bill Gertz, the book's author, and others, al Qaeda's success in carrying out these attacks represented a Pearl Harbor failure of catastrophic...

(The entire section is 1339 words.)

Christopher E. Baldwin (review date 30 September 2002)

SOURCE: Baldwin, Christopher E. “A Proud Day.” National Review 54, no. 18 (30 September 2002): 47.

[In the following review, Baldwin notes that James B. Stewart's biography Heart of a Soldier serves to highlight the many acts of heroism and personal sacrifice that marked the backdrop of violence unleashed by the attacks on September 11.]

Consider the last 18 months. It looks like The Great American Crack-up: A decade-long orgy of moneyed excess and Clintonian evasion comes to a climax in roiling capital markets and collapsing portfolios, domestic terrorism and foreign war, disgraced clerics and discovered corporate thievery. Even baseball threatened to let...

(The entire section is 1243 words.)

Criticism: Critical, Artistic, And Journalistic Responses

Rem Rieder (essay date October 2001)

SOURCE: Rieder, Rem. “Rising to the Occasion.” American Journalism Review 23, no. 8 (October 2001): 6.

[In the following essay, Rieder reviews the American news coverage of the September 11 attacks, noting that the day brought the importance of journalism into focus in a time of tragedy.]

It was a moment that put everything in perspective.

All of the day-to-day concerns that can seem so large, so overwhelming, were diminished in a nanosecond.

The harrowing enormity of September 11, sheer horror on an unimaginable scale, concentrated the mind instantly on the things that really matter.

I was in my office that...

(The entire section is 768 words.)

Marc Fisher (essay date October 2001)

SOURCE: Fisher, Marc. “Meeting the Challenge.” American Journalism Review 23, no. 8 (October 2001): 18.

[In the following essay, Fisher praises the American news media coverage of the September 11 attacks, calling the coverage efforts valiant and impressive.]

Under wrenching circumstances, the American news media covered the horrific events of September 11 impressively and valiantly.

The video of a jumbo jet slipping into the skyscraper, silently, smoothly, as if this were a normal bit of physics. The photos of human beings, New Yorkers, covered in ash, holding briefcases, wearing work clothes, as if this were how they went to the office that day....

(The entire section is 1683 words.)

Carole Chabries (essay date 5 October 2001)

SOURCE: Chabries, Carole. “Fiction in a World that Exists after Terror.” Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 6 (5 October 2001): B7-B9.

[In the following essay, Chabries discusses the significance of writers and fiction in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.]

Last month I faced the task, as did countless teachers across the country, of teaching in the wake of September 11's terrorist attacks. I would have preferred to cancel class, to relieve both myself and my students of the burdens of coping: coping with the terrors and losses left in the wake of Tuesday's events, and coping with a discussion of those events in a public space with people who...

(The entire section is 1554 words.)

Sarah Milroy (essay date December 2001)

SOURCE: Milroy, Sarah. “We Need Artists to Soldier On.” World Press Review 48, no. 12 (December 2001): 30-2.

[In the following essay, Milroy stresses the significant role that artists play in bearing witness to such events as the September 11 attacks.]

Several weeks ago, I was interviewing the American artist Elaine Reichek, who was visiting Toronto to prepare for an exhibition here. In those early days after Sept. 11, we were talking about the sense of profanity one felt in working, and the sickening sense one had in the pit of one's stomach about picking up and carrying on with the business of life after others have endured so much suffering. More particularly,...

(The entire section is 1604 words.)

Jason Cowley (essay date 17 December-7 January 2001)

SOURCE: Cowley, Jason. “The Sense of an Ending.” New Statesman 14, no. 687 (17 December-7 January 2001): 108-09.

[In the following essay, Cowley evaluates the impact of the September 11 attacks in the creation of recent works of literature and fiction.]

A condition of thinking about the future, Frank Kermode once wrote, is that we assume one's own time stands in an extraordinary relation to it. “We think of our crisis as pre-eminent, more worrying, more interesting than other crises.” Everyone who is anyone in the world of letters certainly scrambled to offer their interpretation of the apparently world-changing events of 11 September, a crisis more eminent,...

(The entire section is 1616 words.)

Margaret Scanlan (essay date 21 December 2001)

SOURCE: Scanlan, Margaret. “Literature Can Look Terror in the Eye and Measure its Human Consequences.” Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 17 (21 December 2001): B11-B13.

[In the following essay, Scanlan remarks on the convergence of literature and reality in numerous works of terrorist fiction, noting that such novels not only offer solace in times of grief, but also serve as a mirror that reflects modern society.]

In the wake of September 11, college professors struggling with their own shock and horror found themselves trying to explain the terrorist attacks to students—some of whom were in grade school when the last President Bush sent U.S. troops to the...

(The entire section is 3497 words.)

Michael Lind (essay date winter 2002)

SOURCE: Lind, Michael. “Comment: Our Country and Our Culture.” Hudson Review 54, no. 4 (winter 2002): 534-41.

[In the following essay, Lind explores the role of poetry, particularly American patriotic poetry, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.]

In “A Poem Sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton,” James Thomson (1700-1748) imagines the apotheosis of the scientist amid the worlds whose motion he has learned to understand.

All-piercing sage! Who sat not down and dreamed
Romantic schemes, defended by the din
Of specious words, and tyranny of names
… … … … … … … … … … …
What were his raptures then! How pure! How strong!...

(The entire section is 3640 words.)

W. J. T. Mitchell (essay date winter 2002)

SOURCE: Mitchell, W. J. T. “9-11: Criticism and Crisis.” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 2 (winter 2002): 576-81.

[In the following essay, Mitchell expounds on the role of criticism and review in the context of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.]

The stately pace of the quarterly journal makes it almost impossible to reflect on current events in a timely fashion. By the time one's words appear in print, they will already have been overtaken by events. The horizon of recent history and imminent possibility, the context of choice and decision making will have changed in unforeseeable ways. What point, then, could there be in producing a timely utterance that will...

(The entire section is 2731 words.)

Joanna Shaw-Eagle (essay date 23 February 2002)

SOURCE: Shaw-Eagle, Joanna. “Healing with Creative Works: Artists Try to ‘Make Sense’ of What They Have Witnessed.” Washington Times (23 February 2002): D5.

[In the following essay, Shaw-Eagle combines several brief personal vignettes by contemporary artists that reflect the impact of the September 11 attacks on their lives and works.]

New Yorker Carmen Einfinger breathed dust and smelled odors from ground zero long after September 11. Her neighborhood was sealed off for a week. “During the disaster, I created works like ‘Explosion’ from memory and photographs. I tried to make sense of what I personally witnessed,” she says.

The artist...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Simi Horowitz (essay date 7 June 2002)

SOURCE: Horowitz, Simi. “Theaters Begin to Respond to September 11: Drama, Comedy, and Even a Musical Grace the Boards.” Back Stage 43, no. 23 (7 June 2002): 24-6.

[In the following essay, Horowitz presents an overview of the theatrical responses to the events of September 11, 2001.]

Presumption, pretension, and plain old bad taste (not to mention trivialization) are the potential—pitfalls, it would seem, in attempting to dramatize an apocalyptic event like Sept. 11, or, more precisely, responses to it. Nonetheless, the surfacing of plays and performances inspired by the catastrophe were inevitable. Indeed, there have been at least five NYC theatrical...

(The entire section is 2992 words.)

Further Reading


Abramsky, Sasha. “Fiction for Fearful Times.” Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 2 (6 September 2001): B6-B8.

Abramsky presents reflections on the affect of September 11 on fiction.

Berger, Warren. “Clear and Present Danger: Touring Ground Zero with Tom Clancy.” Book (January-February 2002): 54-7.

Berger provides an account of author Tom Clancy's visit to ground zero in New York City, following the September 11 attacks, drawing parallels between Clancy's works and the events of that day.

Brady, Diane. “Superman Treatment for a Real-Life Hero.” Business Week, no....

(The entire section is 498 words.)