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Working Through 9/11: Literature, Film, and Memorial Culture


Admission requirements

Relevant bachelor’s degree.


The 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11 in 2011 refueled the critical debates about the literary and cultural response to what (controversially) is called “9/11”. Aiming both to study and to contribute to this debate, this interdisciplinary course will explore the ways in which recent novels and films reflect on the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and to what extent they succeed in challenging ethnic stereotypes and the “us versus them” political discourse of the aftermath. Drawing on theories of trauma and memory, we’ll study the often innovative and intermedial literary strategies and cinematographic techniques writers like Jonathan Safran Foer, Don DeLillo, Art Spiegelman, and Joseph O’Neill and film makers like Michael Moore, Spike Lee and others use to represent life “in the shadow of no towers” and address post-9/11 political developments. Among the films we’ll discuss are the Naudet brothers’ 9/11, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Alain Brigand’s 11/09/01, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, John Hillcoat’s The Road, Chris Morris’s Four Lions, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. We’ll also read novels by two Muslim writers, Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam, that critically interrogate the re-emergence of exceptionalist political discourse in the wake of 9/11 and put the attacks and their impact in a transnational perspective. Finally, we’ll take a critical look at the contentious history of the memorialization of 9/11 at “Ground Zero,” a history that is satirized in Waldman’s novel The Submission, which is one the post-9/11 novels that we’ll read. Throughout the course we’ll address the politics, aesthetics, and ethics of trauma in relation to 9/11.

Course objectives

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the cultural response to the 9/11 attacks in literature, film, and memorialization practices and aims to:

  • develop students’ analytical and critical skills through in-depth reading of literary text and films, which will be studied in their historical and cultural context;

  • give insight into the central issues in the ongoing critical and theoretical debate about the cultural response to 9/11, particularly the notion of U.S. exceptionalism, (national and ethnic) identity, migration, and multiculturalism;

  • introduce students to basic theoretical concepts in trauma theory and memory studies;

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research;

  • develop students’ oral and written presentation skills through in-class discussion and (group) presentation and an essay proposal and a research essay, respectively.


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course load

Total course load for the course (10 ec x 28 hours): 280 hours.

  • hours spent on attending seminars and film screening (40 hours);

  • time for studying the required literature (120 hours);

  • time to prepare presentation and write a short assignment and research paper (including reading/research) (120 hours).

Assessment method

  • oral presentation and participation (30%);

  • short writing assignment (10%);

  • essay proposal and research essay (c. 4000-4500 words; 60%).

If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten.


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Penguin);

  • Don DeLillo, Falling Man (Scribner);

  • Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon);

  • Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (Harper Perennial);

  • Amy Waldman, The Submission (Windmill or Picador);

  • Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Harvest);

  • Nadeem Aslam, The Blind Man’s Garden (Vintage International);

  • Recommended: The Great Gatsby (Penguin).


Via uSis.


Since several post-9/11 novels revisit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, students are recommended to read The Great Gatsby during the summer in preparation for the course.


Mw. Dr. J.C. (Joke) Kardux