12 Pages

Introduction: Postmodernism and 9/11

Among the many reactions to the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, one of the most unexpected and striking was a public discussion of postmodernism. In his 22 September The New York Times column, for example, Edward Rothstein interpreted the World Trade Center attacks as a ‘challenge’ to postmodernists, arguing that: ‘This destruction seems to cry out for a transcendent ethical perspective’.1 On 24 September, Time magazine proclaimed, ‘the end of the age of irony’, with Roger Rosenblatt asking combatively: ‘Are you looking for something to take seriously? Begin with evil’. Despite the devastation, Rosenblatt suggested, ‘one good thing’ would come out of 9/11: postmodernists would no longer be able to say that ‘nothing was real’.2 Similar views were expressed in academia. Conservative academic Andrew Busch argued that ‘postmodernism has run smack dab into original sin, and original sin has won’; while Kenneth Westhues recalled telling his sociology undergraduates after 9/11: ‘Hey, students, there is a real world. It’s not all social construction …. It’s not a matter of point of view. It’s a fact’.3 Finally, said these commentators, here was an event so undeniably real and shockingly immoral that it would make a disengaged, ironic attitude untenable, and would instead prompt people to reaffirm traditional notions of right and wrong.