Literature and 9/11

I recently stumbled upon this Inkblots review of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I found this passage thought provoking:

In one sense, Gibson succeeds – the story does flip enough switches in the back of the reader’s mind to think about the way we deal with searching for meaning after 9/11, and dealing with what’s been lost. However, in another sense Gibson doesn’t go quite far enough into the literary end of things, electing to keep the plot rolling instead of truly investigating the depths of the theme. This is both good and bad. It’s good because, hey, this is William Gibson, and if I’ve laid down my twenty bucks for a hardcover William Gibson book I’m going to expect some people getting chased, some shit blowing up and a whole mess of geek candy. Gibson doesn’t disappoint. It’s bad because there’s sort of a sense of cheapness lingering in the air when you’re done. There’s a feeling that he took a fairly stock Gibson plot (“computer geeks with unlimited funds use high-tech toys to chase McGuffin, chaos ensues”), and laced it with 9/11 references to lend it some depth, if only because all the 9/11 stuff in the book is so tangential. You’re not sure whether there is real meaning here, or if Gibson is another celebrity using 9/11 to draw some attention. Like Cayce, we’re rather left staring at the book, trying to separate the signal from the noise.

I am wondering is there a higher expectation when the subject touches on 9/11? Do we, will we, expect more than just a plot device on this event? Perhaps time will change things but right now I think anything touching on that day in a flippant or un-serious way will seem out of place. Thoughts?

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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2 Comments

  • I think that it depends entirely on the context in which 9/11 is presented. In a cheap thriller or other work which makes no pretenses to importance, I would expect nothing more than for it to be used as a plot device. I certainly wouldn’t expect more from a potboiler.

    On the other hand, I would expect a more in-depth treatment from a book which seeks to explore ideas. Most of Gibson’s work falls into that category. (As a caveat, I have not read Pattern Recognition.) I, too, would be disappointed if the impact of 9/11 on the characters were not explored. However, it can be difficult not to conflate my personal thoughts with those of the characters’. It is entirely possible that a shallow character would not drive a critical examination of the subject.

    A little long-winded way to say, it depends on the book and what it was trying to accomplish.

    On a completely unrelated note, you have made appeals in other posts for comments. Until this one, I have not made any, although I drop by here every weekday. I enjoy your thoughts and reviews, but I find it difficult to comment on books that I have not read. You, at least, are making a concerted effort to read more important works. I, unfortunately, find myself distracted by too many crap sci fi or fantasy novels.

    Keep up the good work.

  • I think that it depends entirely on the context in which 9/11 is presented. In a cheap thriller or other work which makes no pretenses to importance, I would expect nothing more than for it to be used as a plot device. I certainly wouldn’t expect more from a potboiler.

    On the other hand, I would expect a more in-depth treatment from a book which seeks to explore ideas. Most of Gibson’s work falls into that category. (As a caveat, I have not read Pattern Recognition.) I, too, would be disappointed if the impact of 9/11 on the characters were not explored. However, it can be difficult not to conflate my personal thoughts with those of the characters’. It is entirely possible that a shallow character would not drive a critical examination of the subject.

    A little long-winded way to say, it depends on the book and what it was trying to accomplish.

    On a completely unrelated note, you have made appeals in other posts for comments. Until this one, I have not made any, although I drop by here every weekday. I enjoy your thoughts and reviews, but I find it difficult to comment on books that I have not read. You, at least, are making a concerted effort to read more important works. I, unfortunately, find myself distracted by too many crap sci fi or fantasy novels.

    Keep up the good work.