chapter  2
The Ethics of Form: Trauma Literature After 9/11 From the Frame to Critique: Discursive Power in a Context
Pages 31

Fraught with challenges as the relation between trauma and mediation is, it is precisely such experiences of terrorism, of shock and unsettlement that rekindle debates about the work of the arts within the larger, cultural-socialpolitical nexus. And this, indeed, very much applies to the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In the wake of the planes, reections about the role of the writer in the face of global terrorism largely evoked the hallmarks of trauma literature, yet there is a certain deance to this debate. When William Heyen thus recalls Adorno’s argument for a literature of negativity, this is only to insert a vital but, when he contends that “[w]hoever invokes genocide, starvation, or the physical suffering of our fellow men in order to attack poems or paintings practices demagoguery” (2002, xi). Trauma literature responding to terrorism, it can be argued, is written from a position of resistance to the terrorist message, yet this resistance is marked by a critical self-awareness of the authoritative claims involved in any representation. This emanates from poetry by Toni Morrison or Suheir Hammad as well, where the aesthetics of silence is consciously evoked as a self-reexive marker of the difculty of response. In her poem, “The Dead of September 11,” Morrison expresses the paradox of language and guration after the violence of the attacks, “no words ǀ stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself.” I will contend that such a suspension of contextualization and judgment, even if just a momentary gesture here, is an ethical move in its refusal to succumb to the prevalent rhetoric of the time, be it patriotic or redemptive. Suheir Hammad’s poem “First Writing Since” expresses this more directly when it develops from a feeling of emotional numbing into an eloquent critique of the impulses of scapegoating or revenge triggered by the attacks.