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Affective heritage and the politics of memory after 9/11

The memorial museum in Lower Manhattan maintains the relevance of 9/11 memory on the historical present. An evocative storyteller, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum “communicate[s] values, beliefs, and feelings using vocabularies of construction materials and design elements”; it is “both medium and message” for the 9/11 story (Yanow 1998, 215). Here, the impetus is for visitors to feel meaning as it is produced through embodied encounters with and within mnemonic space. This is not to say that institutional narratives are irrelevant to or ineffective in shaping visitor expectations. Rather, affective heritage is mobilized in relation to institutional dogma to produce a kind of ‘feeling truth’ for visitors: I feel, therefore 1 know.

Memorial museums are evocative spaces. “They speak to us” and “shape us as much as we shape them” (Vergeront 2002, 8 and 12). Representing the unrepresentability of 9/11-trauma, or lamenting voids, as Mr. Arad so aptly described the challenge at hand, is a central tenant of World Trade Center commemoration. As a “means through which definitions of the national]” self are shaped and reshaped in relation to its ‘imagined others’ (Sturken 1997, 13), the 9/11 Memorial & Museum actively curates traumatic memories of the terror attacks, shaping audiences’ worldviews from the inside out. This raises important questions about the mobilization of affective heritage at sites of traumatic memory, particularly when the procurement of public feeling is a design priority. As Arad (2012) himself acknowledges: “you can’t understand the importance of [this] public space, until you vis-cerally feel it” (emphasis added). Therefore, if Arad’s Reflecting Absence is a catalyst for public feeling, how do we begin the work of reading those feelings critically?

Comprised of an above ground memorial and an adjoining, below-grade memorial museum, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is the largest cultural institution dedicated to the events of September 11, 2001. It is also the largest global producer of an emergent cultural product: 9/11 memory. With visitors spanning all 50 US states and more than 175 countries, the mnemonic site is paramount to establishing an official historical record of the attacks and communicating their relevance to domestic and international audiences (About the Museum, National September 11 Memorial Museum, n.d.). This book theorizes the role of trauma in shaping the mnemonic landscape of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum by asking how trauma is represented throughout World Trade Center commemoration and how this traumatic past is experienced, or ‘felt,’ by memorial- and museumgoers encountering the wounded site.

Part memorial, part museum, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a hybrid cultural institution. The emergence of the so-called memorial museum in late modernity marks the latest culmination in postmodern memorial architecture and commemorative practice. In this newest iteration of the memorial landscape (e.g., Yad Vashem, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Apartheid Museum), “bodily visitor experiences that are sensory and emotional” are valued above the “visual and impassive” authoritative aesthetics of monumentalisms past (Williams 2007, 3). This particular breed of museum has “an especially strong pedagogic mission” that is motivated “by moral considerations and draws ties to issues in contemporary society in a way that is uncommon in standard museum presentations of history” (Williams 2007, 21). Here, museum objects, images, and spaces are vital to the production of historical “authenticity and evidence” (Williams 2007, 21), where selected items are chosen for display to construct “emotionally

Introduction 5 invested narratives of the past” in hopes of effecting socio-political change in the immediate present (Arnold-de Simine 2013, 19).

Memorial museums are powerful, popular idioms and mediums for establishing cultural values and consolidating both national and transnational identities, asking the visitor to contemplate: “Who am I?” in relation to the difficult histories on display. Drawing on artistic and architectural practices deeply rooted in representing the unrepresentability of cultural trauma, most notably the Holocaust (see Williams 2007; Young 2016), these ‘negative’ mnemonic sites constitute psycho-physical fissures in the memorial landscape through an aesthetic of absence, loss, and rupture, indicating the haunting persistence of the past—particularly violent ones—on present-day social life (see Connor 2017). In these experience-oriented museological spaces, the politics of traumatic memory are elevated in powerful ways.

Affective Heritage offers a window into the inner workings of the state and its management of traumatic memory after 9/11. In her seminal text Trauma and the Memory of Politics, Jenny Edkins asserts the centrality of traumatic memory to contemporary processes of state-making and political community. According to Edkins (2003, 10-11),

the production of the self and the state ... takes place at the traumatic intersection between peace and war, inside and out .... Forms of statehood in contemporary society, as forms of political community, are themselves produced and reproduced through social practices, including practices of trauma and memory.

Trauma, for the author, constitutes a rupture between the state and self as the basis of political community. As Bell concurs, “discourses of state authority and legitimacy are called into question” during moments of catastrophe, “and a window for re-inscribing new understandings of the world emerges, albeit briefly” (2006, 10). Consequently, how traumatic events are remembered, if they are remembered at all, plays a significant role in shaping individual and collective identities and reestablishing—or disrupting— post-disaster political orders.

Affective Heritage dissects the symbolic power of traumatic memory as a catalyst of modern-day political community that has generated “affective bonds” and “a sense of belonging” in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (Bell 2006, 5, citing Anderson 1991). In its efforts to integrate the traumatic events of September 11th into collective consciousness, the generation of cultural memory at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum operates as a type of‘banal nationalism’ with the powers to engender “obligations and loyalty to the ‘imagined’” community (Bell 2006, 5, citing Anderson 1991; also see Billig 1995; Militz and Schurr 2016; Paasi 2016; and Benwell 2017). Here, affective heritage transforms the consumption of this difficult past beyond re-presenting deadened histories typical of traditional museal techniques of collection, classification, and display. In affective heritage, past traumas are ‘brought to life’ through “visceral, kinesthetic, haptic and intimate ... bodily experience^]” (Williams 2007, 97) in hopes of stirring visitors to identify with victims of historical violence (see Sodaro 2018).

As recent literature on collective memory and international relations suggests (Bell 2006; Auchter 2014; Resende and Budryte 2014, amongst others), memory is an everyday practice of statecraft: “Memory constructs our identity, it has the power of naming, of legitimizing. Memory [also] has the ability to create divisions by hardening political identities and the boundaries between them,” real or perceived (Auchter 2014, 8). Offering ‘official’ accounts of national pasts and pastimes, memorials and museums safeguard state-produced narratives of memory and history. Transforming lived experiences of collective memory into eventual histories, these mnemonic landscapes are particularly important cultural sites denoting the limits of political community through popular narratives of events, peoples, and places.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a recent incarnation of the global proliferation of the memorial museum and its two-pronged mnemonic formula: “reverent remembrance” (Williams 2007, 8) coupled with ‘witnessing objects’ that support museal narratives of historical violence. In these hybrid cultural spaces, museal efforts curate difficult histories in hopes that site visitors are imparted with ‘moral memories’ of past atrocities not to be repeated (e.g., Yad Vashem, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Apartheid Museum). Within these spaces, affective heritage is a key pedagogical mode of popular geopolitics—away of learning complex international power relations and world politics through popular memories (of peoples, places, and cultures) and emotive storytelling. Casting mnemonic landscapes as “site[s] of micro-politics where political subjectivities, geopolitical and security imaginations, identities, and imagined communities are (re)produced at the level of the everyday” (Caso and Hamilton 2015, 2), memorial museums are deeply evocative sites with powerful moral appeal to shape global identities and corresponding worldviews.

Memories of mass atrocity are paramount to the successful succession of the late-modern nation-state system and the supranational arena of international relations. As global publics reckon with painful pasts inside memorial museum exhibitions, these cultural institutions strengthen public support for supranational political institutions (see Sodaro 2018). Tasked with the responsibility of distinguishing present-day governments (and the societies that patron them) from authoritarian regimes of the past, memorial museums proliferate post-World War II values of human rights, international cooperation, and transitional and restorative justice. Here, the evocative narratives of shame and reconciliation conveyed in these memory spaces require culpable states to ‘prove’ that they have redressed these historical wrongs if they want to retain political viability in postmodern times. Narratives of past historical injustices are not only acknowledged in these hybrid museological spaces, but they also offer the promise of peace and

Introduction 7 reconciliation in the wake of genocide and other human rights atrocities (Sodaro 2018).

As an “everyday experience” of the geopolitical (Dittmer 2010, xviii), the internalization of popular memories in the aftermath of traumatic events results in the affective curation of everyday, “emotional communities” (Resende and Budryte 2014, 8 on summarizing Sasley 2014). Following the September 11 attacks, popularized narratives explaining the perpetrators’ motives—“Why do they hate us? They hate us for our freedom.”— underscore the power of this fledgling traumatic memory to influence public opinion and policy on matters of war and peace, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and inter/national security. The official curation of a state-produced ‘9/11 memory’ at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is, therefore, critical to understanding the construction of political community in the post-9111 world order. As Sasley confirms: “the specific manner in which trauma is remembered by the collective transforms the memory of the event into a political act, driving specific group behavior in the present” (Sasley 2014, 140). If we visit museums because they are places where “history comes alive,” as the popular movie franchise Night at the Museum teaches us, what then do we hope to gain upon visiting the memorial museum in Lower Manhattan? To make sense of this premiere cultural institution for conveying the horrors of international terrorism and the meaning of American resilience in the face of such adversity, I ask in the pages that follow: what does the 9/11 Memorial & Museum teach us about history, ourselves, and others? Who is the cultural institution’s primary audience—the “imagined community” (Anderson 1991) it reconstructs this traumatic history and safeguards its memories for? What stories of history are to be preserved at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, and what ‘moral lessons’ are visitors imparted with?

To answer these and other questions, this book draws on institutional ethnography conducted from 2009 to 2019, including semi-structured interviews with 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff, 9/11 family groups, and other related heritage industry professionals at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Hanger 17, the 9/11 Tribute Museum; and others. Collecting these interviews has enabled me to document the memorialization of the September 11th terror attacks through the experiences of those involved in generating official narratives of history at the commemorative site, first-hand.2 By capturing and recording the experiences of research participants on the frontline of these historic events, these interviews offer testimony to the psychic, material, and socio-political formation of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the rise of 9/11 memory—an official body of state-endorsed knowledge, collected by local municipalities in concert with federal and public-private partnerships—to establish coherent memories of the September 11 attacks, reframed as cultural history at the attack’s epicenter: “Ground Zero.” These interviews also offer glimpses into processes of memorialization and the

institutionalization of lived memory as it is translated into historical narratives to be preserved for present and future generations.

To triangulate these findings, 1 conducted focus groups with museum visitors, participant observation at 9/11 Memorial & Museum-related offices, construction sites, and events, as well as historical and archival analysis of institutional records and meeting notes. I also conducted additional semi-structured interviews with employees of The Flight 93 National Memorial, The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, local New York City residents and workers, and World Trade Center construction workers—both those who built the site in the late 1960s to early ’70s and those rebuilding it after the attacks. Although the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is my primary research site for this study, the Flight 93 and Pentagon memorials also function throughout this research as sites of comparative engagement, not only as nationally dedicated 9/11 memorials,3 but also in consolidating divergent memories of 9/11 through practices of “mnemohistory”, or the history of a particular collective memory (Assmann 1997 quoted in Bell 2006, 2). Less concerned with the minutia of events that occurred at each afflicted site— although each memorial landscape dedicates itself to documenting this history as well, mnemohistory is concerned with how historical events are narrativized and made culturally meaningful, today. How the past is recorded, preserved, and interpreted is thus central to its continued relevance on contemporary society. As such, this empirical data documents the emergence of 9/11 memory across three independent, yet interrelated mnemonic landscapes, and how it is made meaningful as cultural memory through processes of commemoration and collective attachment to these evocative sites.

In the pages that follow, I traverse the curation of traumatic memory through the central tenets of affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum: feeling absence and sensing presence. Trauma, according to Kerler, is

characterized by a paradoxicalpresencelabsence .... [O]n the one hand, the trauma is present in the sense that it hauntingly calls for its articulation; on the other hand, it is absent since it cannot be completely repre-sented/articulated. (2013, 84)

This paradox of being simultaneously present and absent, what Kerler refers to as trauma’s “representational elusiveness” (2013, 85), is a fundamental organizing structure of affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, profoundly shaping institutional narratives and visitor experiences of place.

A growing literature at the interface of cultural geography and heritage studies theorizes the significance of affect in shaping embodied experiences at places of memory (see Sturken 1997, 2007; Landsberg 2004; Williams 2007; Crang and Tolia-Kelly 2010; Doss 2010; and Sather-Wagstaff 2011 on affect in heritage). Moving beyond representational conventions, this scholarship marks an important shift toward more-z/iaw-representational spaces of contemporary memorial design (see Gurian 1995; Huyssen 1995,

2003; Yanow 1998; Vergeront 2002; Thrift 2004; Bondi 2005; Thien 2005; Anderson and Harrison 2006; Lorimer 2008; Waterton 2014). Situating my arguments alongside geography’s broader “emotional turn” (see Grosz 1994; Nast and Pile 1998; Probyn 2000; Anderson and Smith 2001; Long-hurst 2001; Davidson and Milligan 2004; and Bondi 2005 on feminist geographies of emotion), more-than-representational theories offer promising methodological approaches for studying places of trauma. Investigating the co-constitutional production of thinking and feeling, embodiment and emotion, emotional geographies highlight the more-than-representational qualities of place. As Davidson and Milligan acknowledge,

Emotions can clearly alter the way the world is for us, affecting our sense of time as well as space. Our sense of who and what we are is continually (re)shaped by how we feel. Likewise, place must be felt to make sense. (2004, 524, emphasis added)

Meanings of place, in other words, are simultaneously negotiated through psychological and physiological encounters in space and time.

The intensely emotional nature of post-9/11 World Trade Center redevelopment, for instance, is compounded by the site’s traumatic transformation as a result of the attacks: the site feels like a wound. Here, collective meaning of place is negotiated by the psychological desire to make sense of trauma as well as the physiological sensing of traumatic space. As Hutchison acknowledges: “Trauma is experienced not only physically [in space and time] but also psychologically, through emotions. Trauma is a sensory experience” (2016, 78). Popularly described as ‘beyond words,’ ‘without definition,’ and ‘inaccessible’ to the psyche, trauma creates an “emotional rupture,” or void, within Western systems of meaning and representation (Hutchison 2016, 19). Emotions, however, are (more) conscious expressions of visceral sensations and feelings emerging at the interface of trauma and memory: “Emotions tell us things. While they are often hidden and inaudible, neglected and refuted, when uncovered and taken seriously, the political insights they provide are invaluable for analyzing politics and policy” (Hutchison, 2016, xii). Trauma’s presence in visceral or “deep memory” (Delbo 1990) utilizes the language of emotions to enter and fill the absences left in its wake. As such, the insights of emotional geography are instructive for mapping the more-than-representational spaces incited through affective heritage at the wounded site.

Affective Heritage intervenes in the politics of trauma and memory at memorial museums as “soft power” (Nye 1990). No longer confined to state-centric approaches to power and geopolitical influence, ‘soft power’ has been reclaimed and repurposed by scholars of popular culture and world politics (PCWP) to address the power of culture and the cultures of power mobilized by sub-national actors and agencies, including at sites of history and memory (see Caso and Hamilton 2015; Chen and Duggan 2016; Rowley and Weldes 2016). Such conceptualizations of power have influenced critical scholarship on memorial museums and the emotional power of such ‘moral memories’ to influence political change (e.g., “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”—Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor and Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Stated otherwise, memorial museums are dynamic sites where the politics of cultural memory, national belonging, and social identity are mediated and hashed out in the space and time of the museological encounter, with profound implications on both domestic and foreign affairs.

A critical body of scholarship, for example, has begun to address the political implications of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and its role in shaping public emotion in support of the US-led war on terror. In their text, The Securitization of Memorial Space, Nicolas Paliewicz and Marouf Hasian (2019) detail the memorial museum’s reinforcement of governmental narratives of insecurity and national threat, which are then mobilized to “evoke trauma’s dissociative affects of fear and anxiety” in the visiting public (Doss 2010, 146). The unstable emotions procured through these unsettling narratives are then guided by affective heritage to encourage visitor support for “measures aimed at their [own] security” (Doss 2010, 146 and 148). Marita Sturken (2015) and Amy Sodaro (2018) also question the memorial museum’s affective curation of space, site, size, and scale, to advance narratives of US exceptionalism that deemphasize more critical evaluations of US domestic and foreign policies at the mnemonic site.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s location at “Ground Zero” has also been foundational in instituting cultural memory and unifying global discourses about the September 11th terror attacks. Residing in the footprints of the original Twin Towers, the organization’s positioning at the ‘authentic site’ of tragedy designates it the memorial heart of Lower Manhattan and is bolstered by the surrounding city’s role as a global destination for tourism. With nearly half of site visitors residing internationally and more than three-quarters of its domestic audience traveling from outside the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is central to the spatial diffusion of 9/11 memory, fostering a historical awareness of the attacks well beyond the impacted geographies. Here, affective heritage offers 9/11 tourists a highly mediated, technologically savvy, multi-sensory mnemonic experience, instilling an experiential, embodied awareness of a historic event its audience increasingly did not live through.

The sensual experiences of 9/11 were reserved for those who witnessed the events of that day first-hand—those who experienced the vibrations of the planes upon impact, the buildings crumbling beneath them, the smell of smoke and diesel fuel, the sounds of jet engines screaming as they exploded into concrete and steel, the feeling of toxic air and acid dust clinging to their skin, filling up their lungs. With the rest of the public watching the attacks unfold televisually, the events of the day were largely witnessed second-hand. For those geographically removed from the event’s epicenters, mediated images of the attacks were transmitted globally, with the most traumatizing of content extracted from the narrative and its circulation. ‘Filling in’ the voids, the blank spaces between memory and trauma, real and virtual, representational and the more-than-representational, affective heritage provides 9/11 Memorial & Museum visitors with the answers: this is what took place here on this “hallowed ground.” In her now classic writings on trauma and cultural history, Cathy Caruth characterizes traumatic memory as a state of unfolding: “not experienced as it occurs, it is fully evident only in connection with another place, and in another time” (1995, 8-9, emphasis added). Too exceptional to comprehend in their initial occurrence, traumatic events can only be grasped by the psyche belatedly (Caruth 1995, 1996). It is through this belatedness that the subject reckons with trauma across multiple temporal and spatial geographies, conflating here and there, then and now, self and other. What would it mean to develop a “prosthetic memory” of highly visceral, deeply triggering events at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum (see Landsberg 2004)? To feel experiences that are not yours directly, but that can be consumed in the time and space of the museological encounter as ‘real time’ experiences and feelings? What are the political implications of creating a ‘feeling memorial’ at the World Trade Center, and how are these feelings central to understanding the formation of political subjectivities in a post-9/11 world? This book asks these and other important questions of this powerful mnemonic site.

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