Terror, theatre, 9/11, literature


For the purposes of this paper, I will discuss two post 9/11 novels—both of which utilize the terror-as-theatre metaphor in order to work through the 9/11 spectacle. Both Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) explore avenues of communication and meaning making in the face of an event that many critics suggested defied language, description, and expression. Through their thematic use of performance, these texts reject a closed and inert polarized interpretation of 9/11 and invite a pastiche of interpretations and interactions. Through this communicative connection, authors, texts, and readers convene to create a new solidarity in the light of extreme political divisions that occurred as an initial reaction to the event. Instead of relying exclusively on the world of symbol and static spectacle which stills communication, these texts attempt to reinstitute nuances and complexities that demand readers become a part of the story, history, and even the future of 9/11 studies through reading and interpretation.

Interactive spaces in the texts where actor and audience meet are interpreted as dynamic and symbolic, rather than completely outside the confines of language, conversation, and experience. In these texts, communication occurs on various levels: through the actor/audience connection, the text/reader connection, the terrorist/victim connection, and even through the reality/fiction connection. As the texts implode these binaries, identities are confused, reformed, and most importantly, re-“acted” to consider multiple ways of responding to terrorism. Instead of taking part in the political dialogue and cultural backlash about 9/11 and culpability, these literatures point towards a future where critical conversations can take place through the new notion of terror as related to theatre.

Original Publication Citation

Elise Silva, "Terror as Theater": Unraveling Spectacle in Post 9/11 Literatures, Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, Vol. 11, No. 5 (November 2015), 1-22

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Harold B. Lee Library