Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘reverse Utopias

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‘Terror and Mismemory’: On 9/11

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Like the Normandy Invasion, like World War II, as time passes 9/11 is increasingly figured as a lost, Utopian past, a perverse sort of Golden Age which in the same singular instant is both forever lost and always just around the corner.

Several years ago I wrote an article about 9/11 for a book that, due to the whirling speed of academic publishing, is only just now coming out: Portraying 9/11: Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre. My piece for the book is titled “Terror and Mismemory: Resignifying September 11 in World Trade Center and United 93” and is about the way the trauma of 9/11 has been reimagined by film and journalistic retrospectives as “a permanent state of emergency from which there is no possible relief or escape.” Instead of allowing time to progress forward, we simply replay the tape over and over again, stuck in the single moment when the Towers were still on fire but before they collapsed.

After discussing briefly my own memories of 9/11, including the myriad reports of phantom attacks from that morning that are now no longer discussed and the long list of “possible” attacks in news reports since then that have similarly never happened, the piece concludes like this:

This feeling of permanent, unmitigated existential threat has begun at last to dissipate, but it has never really left us — a temporal loop caused by that day’s repeated reconsumption as spectacle. Though the attacks lasted only a few hours on one very devastating morning, on the level of spectacle they remain ongoing and unending. This is perhaps one reason why Freedom Tower, the new office complex and memorial long scheduled to be built on the ruins of Ground Zero, has for so long remained unbuilt and perhaps in some real sense unbuildable. We have been frozen in time, unable to move on.

I have never felt this more than I did after opening Twitter and my RSS reader this morning to discover a ubiquitous wall of chatter about 9/11. @ibogost sums it up in a single evocative phrase: “The sad exhaustion of an event named to repeat itself forever.”

Adam Kotsko makes much the same point from a different direction in a blog post he put up last night, “An Isolated Incident: Or, The Day Nothing Changed.” While I disagree in an important sense with Adam’s major conclusion — I do believe 9/11 makes a turning point in the breakdown of the rule of law in the U.S., as well as the attitude of the U.S. towards imperial exercise of its military superpower — I agree with him in nearly all the particulars. 9/11 was a trauma, not a new reality. Constantly reliving that trauma, constantly re-experiencing it over and over to the point where it becomes a strange sort of macabre celebration, is not helping anybody. We need to move on.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 11, 2011 at 10:32 am