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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI to offer course on 9/11

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Seminar to explore its impact through literature, films

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 20, 2006 -- Alain-Philippe Durand, associate professor of French, film media, and comparative literature at the University of Rhode Island, will teach an honors course next semester that explores 9/11 through a selection of fiction and non-fiction literature and films that have been created since the deadly terrorist attacks on America.

The course’s objective is to identify characteristics, if any, that shape the texts and visuals as well as to study and discuss the various reactions to them. Durand will use three main questions to guide the discussion. Is there such a thing as a literature of 9/11? And if there is, how can it be described and explained? Who has the authority to write on 9/11?

Durand will use a number of texts and films including The 9/11 Commission Report, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jules and Gideon Naudet’s 9/11, and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.

This fall, on the fifth anniversary of attacks, Durand opened his class to a discussion about 9/11. After the class, two New York City students who were directly impacted thanked him. None of their other classes had even mentioned it, they said. The professor encouraged both women to sign up for his class on 9/11. One was interested; the other thought it was too early for such a class.

Durand anticipates his course will produce that same of kind of ambiguity, as well as lots of discussion and debate. He bases his opinion on an advanced French conversation course he taught a couple of years ago. He used Frédéric Beigbeder’s Windows on the World, for the conversation. The novel alternates between two narrators -- a Texan trapped with his two young sons on Sept. 11, 2001 in the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center and the author sitting in a restaurant atop the Montparnasse tower in Paris.

Durand said the students were evenly divided in their responses to the novel. Half of the class felt outraged, feeling only people who lived in New York during the attacks should write about it. The other half of the class said that it was too bad that it took a French writer to write about 9/11, but it was very important to write about. “It was tough to talk about it, but it made the students think about it and by thinking about it, they sometimes had different reactions,” the professor says.

Durand got the idea for the class after writing a chapter about the novel for the book, Novels of Contemporary Extreme, which he co-edited with his colleague Naomi Mandel, an associate professor of English.

Mandel studies and often writes about the Holocaust and Holocaust literature.

The more Durand probed into the literature of 9/11 the more he saw a connection between it and the Holocaust.

Durand ponders: Do only survivors have the authority to write and speak about their experiences? Survivors of the Holocaust help keep its memories alive. But what happens when the last of the victims dies? Will fiction then become the only way its true horror remains alive?

Just as the Holocaust has its dissenters and revisionists, so does 9/11. Durand points to Thierry Meyssan’s conspiracy-based 9/11: The Big Lie, which the class will review.

“It's human to want to look the other way and not want an unblinking view of horror, to speak about the unspeakable,” admits the professor. “But there is a duty of memory. To leave it alone and not think about it, is to leave room for someone else or something else to take its place.”

For more information about the class, contact Durand at 874-4708 or adurand@uri.edu.