ABSTRACT

This chapter analyzes the contemporary global novel through the poetic urban voice. Tracing that voice back to earlier works by Walt Whitman and John Dos Passos, it focuses on three 9/11 novels—Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (2008), and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (2009)—whose amplified lyrical voices explore what McCann terms “a whole new language of trauma.” Concerned with global processes—specifically, the inequities of economic, social, and material exchange—these novels voice the tensions between home and homeland: they express lyrical language as a m/other tongue and, like Whitman’s own interpenetrating poetry, lyrically redress expressions of belonging amid displacement in a post-9/11 world. At the same time, their foregrounding of poetic recursion and subversion also offers a way to read the global city. Collectively, these novels of New York recognize the city itself as a totalizing character, and by glancing back at Whitman’s all-inclusive and otherworldly city, the voices of the novel reveal the habitual expressions of not only the nation but also of the world. As such, the overwhelming and unreadable inequities associated with globalization become readable on a novel scale through the voices of New York’s metropolis.