Beyond '9/11'
: Counter-narratives of grief in post-9/11 literature

  • Kelsie Donnelly

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This project examines how Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004) have explored grief in response to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. It sets out to answer four key questions: is there anything to be gained — politically, socially, ethically, and aesthetically — from lived experiences of grief? How do the texts engage with the grief of abject and ungrievable bodies — from the censored falling body to the perceived Muslim ‘terrorist’ Other to brutalised black bodies — and what are the implications of this engagement? How do the texts depart from a now paradigmatic ‘trauma’ aesthetic to aestheticise loss in new ways? And, finally, to what extent do the texts examined move beyond ‘9/11’, countering the narrative of ‘9/11’ as a national ‘trauma’ to provide alternative portraits of grief? While there is a plethora of literary studies focusing on trauma in ‘9/11 fiction’, which often conflate or misdiagnose grief as trauma, there is not yet a critical study with a sustained focus on grief in post-9/11 literature. Although there is an emerging trend away from traditional trauma theory as a critical paradigm, few scholars have suggested or applied alternate interpretive frameworks. This study reads literary portraits of grief through a variety of analytical lenses provided by cultural theorists, such as Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Lauren Berlant, to create a critical counter-narrative to literary studies of 9/11 ‘trauma’ and the dominant ‘9/11’ narrative of national ‘trauma’ and resilience.

Building on a substantial body of scholarship in grief studies and 9/11 literary studies, “Beyond ‘9/11’: Counter-narratives of Grief in Post-9/11 Literature” makes an original contribution to both fields in several ways: it is the first detailed study of grief in post-9/11 literature and twenty-first-century American literature; it is the first to offer an in-depth analysis of what it considers as abject bodies (and the reclamation of these bodies as political agents) in post-9/11 literature; it includes Rankine’s American Lyric, which is rarely included in studies of 9/11 literature, and departs from established readings of ‘9/11 novels’ to provide new readings; it applies new methodologies to analyse post-9/11 literature, breaking the solidified ties of extant 9/11 literary scholarship to trauma theory, whether in favour of or against; it challenges the dominant medico-psychiatric model of grief to provide an alternate perspective of grief from a literary lens; and, finally, it argues that sustained reflection on the ordinary yet profound experience of grief is (re)productive and filled with the potential to bear various ethical, political, social and aesthetic fruits.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsUK AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorPhilip McGowan (Supervisor) & Steffi Lehner (Supervisor)


  • grief
  • 9/11
  • trauma
  • abject
  • twenty-first century literature
  • American literature
  • contemporary literature
  • resilience
  • Don DeLillo
  • Mohsin Hamid
  • Claudia Rankine

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