This study in an endeavor to argue that a post-9/11 narrative like Porochista Khakpour’s Sons and Other Flammable Objects assigns a new meaning to an event like 9/11, and tries to reconstitute the identity of Khakpour’s ethnic collectivity around this newly-defined event. In this study, we argue that Jeffrey C. Alexander’s theory of Cultural Trauma can provide us with a more meaningful framework for the study of post 9/11 diasporic identities. In Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, Alexander believes that, unlike what Psychoanalytic and Enlightenment theories of Trauma posit, events cannot be inherently traumatic; thus, he contends that trauma should be studied as a social construct because events cannot be considered traumatic regardless of the social sphere in which they unfold. For Alexander, “Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, …and their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (1). Consequently, when such an event happens, says Alexander, “Collective actors ‘decide’ to represent social pain as a fundamental threat to their sense of who they are, where they came from, and where they want to go” (10 Emphasis Added). Alexander’s epistemological approach to trauma is not concerned with the authenticity or morality of the social actors’ narratives; rather it equips us with some fundamental questions about the relationship between the representation of the event and the collectivity’s communal pain. Accordingly, applying Alexander’s theory to Khakpour’s novel will enable us to account for the marginalized identity of Iranians in the wake of 9/11 attacks. Khakpour’s approach to 9/11 and its impact on the lives of the Adams turns the book into a socially constructed narrative that captures the communal grief and predicament of most Iranians, symbolized in the Adam family’s bewildering limbo state of between and betwix in a new country which allows neither nostalgic yearning for the homeland nor complete assimilation. Ultimately, this study will argue that a social constructivist approach to trauma in Khakpour’s novel will reveal the perennial predicaments of immigration and integration in diasporic communities.
Keywords: Cultural trauma, diaspora, 9/11 fiction, double-consciousness