In the Shadow of the Plot: Representations of Muslim Terrorists in 9/11 Literature Open Access

Arnsperger, Levin (2013)

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In my dissertation, I examine terrorist literature: contemporary American and British writings that incorporate representations of Muslim terrorists and that evoke the events of September 11, 2001. In these texts, the fictional Muslim t errorist arguably occupies a place of belonging and non-belonging, located outside and within Western society. In an attendant process, the terrorist is at once demonized and humanized, as the texts create a tense bond of hospitality/hostility in configuring the terrorist's encounter with the West. T errorist literature accesses the terrorist's mindset, displaying his ordinariness, but it also perpetuates a rhetoric of difference and of a clash of cultures, othering the Islamic perpetrator, pitting guest against host.

The selected primary texts include novels by Sherman Alexie, Andre Dubus, Don DeLillo, Jarett Kobek, and John Updike, short stories by Alexie and Martin Amis, and a play by Allan Havis. Aside from studying intersections and differences between these texts as well as investigating strategies of explicating the violent act, I focus on renderings of the Muslim perpetrator's consciousness, employing narratological theories by Alan Palmer and Dorrit Cohn. These reproductions of imaginary emotions and beliefs often impose on the characters the authors' Orientalist perceptions of Islam. Much of terrorist literature indeed attributes violence to the perpetrator's internal struggle generated by an apparently restrictive religious and socio-cultural environment.

The reader of terrorist literature is asked to draw a vector from individual beliefs and pathologies to a perpetrator's actions. The violent act is usually prefigured as the culmination of the texts, and it is the task of the reader to trace the thread that binds together the protagonist's experiences, emotions, and actions. For readers, the apprehension of the fictional perpetrator's movements and motivations - the reconstruction of his trajectory - encompasses the integration of contemporary discourses on Islam and terrorism with the narrative's perspectives, but it also includes the braiding of specific plot elements with the terrorist act. Drawing on Paul Ricoeur, I demonstrate the retrospective and yet anticipatory process of sense-making or emplotment, a process that configures, from narration and dialogues, the imaginary Muslim terrorist's path.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Configuring the Muslim Terrorist 1

Chapter 1

The Terrorist, the Text, and the Critic 33

Chapter 2

The Inhuman Face?

Versions of Mohamed Atta by Allan Havis, Jarett Kobek, and Martin Amis 93

Chapter 3

Narrative Plots and Terrorist Plots

Don DeLillo, Andre Dubus III, and the Anticipation of Violence 192

Chapter 4

American Terrorists

The Ethics of Hospitality and the Endgame of Tribalism 262


Portraits of Grief 346

Bibliography 363

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