We invited the six shorlisted authors for the first Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize to talk to us about their nominated books. Here, Susan Faludi talks to us about her book The Terror Dream:
Why did you write the book?
I wrote this book because I saw something going on in the American culture that was troubling and destructive – but not being challenged (or even remarked upon) – and it seemed to me that gender was a crucial lens for comprehending this wider public crisis.
What is The Terror Dream?
The title comes from the novel that inspired the classic John Ford Western, The Searchers, in which a young man struggles to suppress what he calls his ‘terror dream,’ the humiliating memory of his whole family being killed by Indians while he hid in the brush. I chose that title because after 9/11 it seemed to me that Americans were haunted by a national version of the ‘terror dream.’ The nation came face to face with our own humiliating vulnerability, and Americans, likewise, tried to repress it by fleeing into myth and fantasy.
What is uniquely American about the response to 9/11?
What is uniquely American about the response to 9/11 is that the nation fell back on a frontier myth that was created in our early colonial history – precisely to conceal the kind of shaming failures that revisited the United States on the morning of September 11th. Seven and a half years after 9/11 what is the position now? Seven and a half years later, Americans are distressed by where the response to 9/11 took us as a nation, and a new administration in the White House is trying hard to repair the damage. But Americans have not really reckoned with the underlying cultural forces that brought us to this pass.
How culpable is the media in this and is news reporting and commentary getting worse in the United States?
The media is deeply culpable – they played a collaborative and inflammatory role in promoting the Bush-era cartoon fantasies that have shaped our domestic and foreign policy – and they have barely begun to inspect their complicity. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for American news reporting improving in the near future, especially when journalism is in fiscal free fall, but perhaps something new and better will ultimately emerge from the wreckage.
Apart from The Terror Dream which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I’m currently at work on a book about how the fraught nature of mother-daughter relations has shaped and thwarted the troubled progress of feminism. Which idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently? Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s bookThe Culture of Defeat has helped me to think in new ways about nations struggling with a legacy of public shame. Also, Richard Sennett’s Authority has been important to me in my new project, in thinking about how parent-child relationships play out in disfiguring ways in a public context.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
So many obvious choices spring to mind asthe work everyone should read (The Bible, Shakespeare, The Iliad, etc….), but, as a writer on gender, I feel compelled to single out a few works crucial to a feminist education. I’d nominate Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s essay, Solitude of Self , and, as predictable as this may be, Virginia Woolf ’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas (the latter’s linking of war and women’s status seems particularly relevant to the world today).
Click here to read reviews of Susan Faludi’s book, The Terror Dream.
Read more about the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize here.