The art of 9/11

Since the drama of 9/11 overtook even the wildest of fictions, writers and artists have struggled to interpret what happened on that day and in its aftermath,

Immediately after the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers some survivors reported an unexpected effect. So dense was the cloud of dust that it not only blocked out the light but most of the sound too. Suddenly everything went strangely quiet as the debris muffled the screams and the sirens. And if you were looking for an image of the impact of 9/11 on the arts, that surreal lull – a temporary vacancy in what you could see and hear – would do as well as anything. The story of the arts and 9/ll has largely been a story told in negatives – of inhibitions and avoidance and empty spaces. As the novelist Frédéric Beigbeder wrote: “Since September 11 2001, reality has not only outstripped fiction, it’s destroying it. It’s impossible to write about this subject, and yet impossible to write about anything else.” He had a go anyway and the resulting novel, Windows on the World, won this newspaper’s Foreign Fiction Prize in 2005. But in imagining his way into the interior of one of those falling buildings he had the field pretty much all to himself. The really notable thing about the art of 9/11 is how little there is of it, even ten years on.

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