Creative Sanctions: Imaginative Limits and the Post-9/11 Novel

Shaun Clarkson, Purdue University


Creative Sanctions: Imaginative Limits and the Post-9/11 Novel breaks with dominant critical assumptions that American writers have failed to address the challenges of an increasingly globalized world after 9/11 and have instead retreated to the domestic spheres of marriage, divorce, and parenting plots. I argue that what many of these writers engage with is the hyperpartisan, highly fraught present moment in American culture, one deeply conflicted about what art can and should do when dealing with a tragedy like September 11. Although many authors may focus on family and community, to call their works merely domestic is to ignore the significant interventions they make into a discourse shaped by fear and uncertainty. These works also dramatize the debates about the appropriate representation of national trauma in the wider social and political discourse. Because of the highly fraught cultural landscape after 9/11, artists navigated imprecise, often unstated rules voiced by reviewers, academics, and the reading public or risked stigma and censure, a practice of cultural policing I have termed creative sanctioning. Rather than silence dissent, though, these creative sanctions prompted a more oblique method of addressing emotionally loaded topics to productively bridge the gap between an anxious present-tense readership and one that will look back with a radically altered context for the attacks and, therefore, a different set of evaluative criteria to judge subsequent cultural depictions.




Duvall, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature|American literature

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