September 11, 2011 marks the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Professor Terry Doody is teaching “Politics and Other Fictions”, a literature class that centers around this event. Recently, we visited with Professor Doody to find out more.
WIH Reporter: Three of the novels featured in your class focus on the actual event, but the rest do not. What informed your choice of novels for this class?
Doody: The anniversary of 9/11 is exactly the reason I want to teach the books–not only the three of them immediately focused on the event itself, but the other novels that give us a sense of Islam, in some of its very many forms.
WIH Reporter: How can reading fiction enlarge our perspectives in approaching this event?
Doody: Shelley says in “The Defense of Poetry” that we must be able to imagine what we know. What we merely know are facts. Imagination, at least for the Romantic writers of the nineteenth century, is the greater power necessary to comprehend our whole reality with the fullness of our consciousness. And fiction is not merely useful but always essential to our comprehension precisely because it takes us beyond ourselves and our familiar reality into the minds of others.
WIH Reporter: What is an example of the importance of imagination in relation to merely knowing facts?
Doody: One of the reasons we lost the war in Viet Nam is that we could not imagine losing it. We could not imagine the culture, the need, the endurance of the Vietnamese. We thought they would react just as we would react, and they didn’t.
As the old saying goes, the generals are always fighting the last war, which was in the jungle not in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, which itself is not a modern nation-state. They are not us, and we are having trouble imagining them, despite all the information technology at our disposal.-
Politics and Other Fictions begins on September 8th, 2011, and features the following novels: Malgudi Days (Narayan), The Satanic Verses (Rushdie); Palace Walk (Mahfouz); Let the Great World Spin (McCann); Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer); The Good Life (McInerney); Say You’re One of Them (Akpan); Unaccustomed Earth (Lahiri); and The Thing Around Your Neck. (Adichie).