Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 2014


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Magali C. Michael

Committee Member

Laura Callanan

Committee Member

Judy Suh


exceptionalism, Foer, Jonathan Safran, science, September 11th, technology, Whitehead, Colson


This dissertation examines the intertwined histories of science and American exceptionalism, contending that the September 11th attacks undermine the nation's sense of its scientific superiority and result in the creation of a body of 21st-century literature that explores the country's position as a technological superpower. Specifically, because September 11th counters the nation's belief in its capacity to prevent or contain such attacks, the literature grapples with related challenges to concepts of knowledge, self, and nation.

Chapter One traces the post-World War II relationships among science, military- industrial research, and American culture, arguing that the image of a national security bolstered by scientific research and development dominates narratives of defense from the post-World War II years through September 11th. Chapter Two considers The 9/11 Report and its graphic adaptation as natural outgrowths of the histories of technology and American exceptionalism. While The 9/11 Report insists that it cannot create for the reader an experience of total knowledge (i.e. that the report cannot "know all and see all"), the graphic adaptation asserts that the event can be completely known, understood, and integrated into existing narratives of dominance and superiority. Chapter Three reads Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a detective story. While Foer incorporates many of the tropes of the pre-World War II detective into the writing of his protagonist, Oskar, he balances this traditional characterization with a complex understanding of knowledge work by modeling for the reader the process of ethical witnessing. Chapter Four traces Colson Whitehead's tortured relationship with the city he both loves and fears in The Colossus of New York. Colossus specifically addresses challenges to the technological arm of exceptionalist discourse by exploring how the nation never has the final say in how its technologies are employed. In reading technological change as akin to geologic change, Whitehead naturalizes the eventual dissolution of the city but at the same time imagines contemporary fusions of human and machine as equally inescapable and redemptive.