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Affective pedagogies, emotional learning

I think memory itself is a[n] intersection of cognitive understanding and emotional intelligence, and so when one is in a memorial museum, you are learning through the mind but also through the heart. And the architecture becomes the visceral expression... it becomes the space in which you learn by feeling it.

—Alice Greenwald, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, President and CEO. March 28, 2017

The emergence of a memorial museum at the World Trade Center marks the convergence of differing mnemonic practices, goals, and experiences. According to institutional mission statements, the 9/11 Memorial is, first and foremost, a place of remembrance in honor of the victims and their memory; the 9/11 Memorial Museum is, on the other hand, primarily a learning space, a place of and for bearing witness (“Mission Statements,” National September 11 Memorial & Museum n.d.). Dedicated in 2014, the museological landscape of the 9/11 Memorial Museum employs a pedagogical function that is closely intertwined with, yet distinct from, its adjoining, above ground memorial.

Distinguishing memorials from museums, Williams (2007, 8) outlines that memorials “communicate their own significance visually, whereas museums construe history as scientific rather than commemorative, and therefore require explanatory textual strategies” to educate visitors about their collections and the histories they preserve (e.g., museum labels, audio guides, and docent-led tours). Supported by expository scripts, traditional museum pedagogies operate in favor of ocular techniques that display collected objects to convey their cultural importance. In other words, seeing is believing inside conventional museological spaces.

Emerging in the latter half of the twentieth century “as a specific kind of museum dedicated to a historic event commemorating mass suffering of some kind” (Williams 2007, 8), the memorial museum—as a late modern iteration in museum evolution (e.g., Yad Vashem, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre), marks the institutionalization of affective heritage through new museal practices of collecting, preservation, and display. In this newest iteration of museum design and pedagogy, “bodily visitor experiences that are sensory and emotional” are valued above the “visual and impassive” teaching techniques of didactic museum learning (Williams 2007, 3). Here, cultural histories of mass violence are gathered, arranged, and presented through sensory-filled encounters that hope to teach and touch the hearts and minds of visitors.

Largely dedicated to commemorating egregious abuses of political power that brutally claimed the lives of everyday citizens, memorial museums seek to narrativize deeply evocative events that remain open wounds in public consciousness, where “issues surrounding the identity, culpability, and punishment of perpetrators are often contentious or unresolved” (Williams 2007, 20). In its effort to present difficult content to the visiting public, the memorial museum ‘says without saying.’ This is not to say that institutional narratives and curatorial authority are irrelevant to, or ineffective in, shaping visitor expectations within memorial museums. In affective heritage, the impetus is to feel meaning as it is produced through highly curated, embodied encounters with and within these institutional spaces. Within this particular museum incarnation, affective heritage works to conceal— or, at the very least, minimize—visitor awareness of an institutional voice in hopes that museumgoers arrive at the answers (of guilt and culpability) ‘on their own.’ As institutional narratives actively lead visitors to reach the “right conclusion,” memorial museums do not tel! visitors the desired, moral outcome explicitly. Rather, memorial museums move visitors emotionally through difficult content in order to find the ‘right conclusion’ implicitly through evocative design, sequencing, and exhibition choices.

Indicating a significant departure from traditional museal techniques of collecting, interpretation, and display, affective heritage brings the deadened past “to life” by engaging visitors through feeling and feelings. In other words, I feel, therefore I know. In memorial museums, “visceral, kinesthetic, haptic and intimate ... bodily experience^]” (Williams 2007, 97) incite emotional reactions in visitors in hopes of sustaining the past and its contemporary relevance by fostering empathy and a sense of identification with it victims (Sodaro 2018). Although these embodied and experiential modes of learning were previously reserved for postmodern memorial architecture and other modes of artistic expression, such as fine art, music, and dance, memorial museums, “as new and unique cultural forms, work to engage and educate the public ... through the use of experiential and affective strategies” aimed at eliciting emotional responses (Sodaro 2018, 6, emphasis added). Here, museum objects, architecture, and expository texts are performative. Selected items and materials are chosen for display to maximize the visitor’s sense of historical accuracy, and “authenticity and evidence” are foregrounded through design to encourage the visitor’s emotional attachment to museum presentations of difficult heritage ‘scientifically’ (Williams 2007, 21).

Memorial museums harness the evocative power of affective heritage to sustain historical narratives of community, identity, and belonging. Steeped in culturally specific ideologies and practices of mourning the dead and ritualizing loss, memorial museums produce “emotionally invested narratives of the past” in hopes of effecting political subjectivity in the present (Arnold-de Simine 2013, 19). Within these experientially driven spaces, the ethical imperative of affective heritage “is taken to its literal extreme: visitors are asked to identify with other people’s pain, adopt their memories, empathize with their suffering, reenact and work through their traumas” (Arnold-de Simine 2013, 1). As such, this hybrid breed of museum has “an especially strong pedagogic mission” motivated “by moral considerations [rather than scientific ones] and draws ties to issues in contemporary society in a way that is uncommon in standard museum presentations of history” (Williams 2007, 21). Recognizing the convergence of these two institutional prototypes and their distinct, yet interrelated goals—the memorial’s remembering to teach and the museum’s teaching to remember—memorial museums are, as a result, deeply evocative sites with powerful political effects.

This chapter unpacks the moral imperatives underpinning affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is saturated with emotional value and dueling interpretations of the events, lives, and the historical record preserved at “Ground Zero.” Much of the memory debates outlined in Chapter 1 stem from the memorial landscape’s twin purpose of providing closure while maintaining the significance of the attacks in present-day public life. The mnemonic institution is, consequently, a powerful, popular idiom and medium for establishing post-9/11 subjectivities via more-than-representational modes of museal learning that resonate with visitors well beyond the museum encounter. Utilizing autoethnography, participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and visitor studies as a means to triangulate and evaluate the formation of “emotional learning” at the museological site, I argue that the curation of 9/11 memory operates as a highly illusive extension of soft power and dominant cultural values in the post-9/11 era. To make this argument, I traverse affective heritage through the central tenet of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum: feeling absence and sensing presence.

As visitors are encouraged to feel absence and sense presence at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, echoes of traumatic loss shape the physical and metaphysical environments of the heritage complex and its subsequent effect on memorial visitors and museumgoers. But trauma is elusive, incomprehensible. 9/11 Memorial & Museum visitors thus come away from the site having amassed an impression of the attacks, but not necessarily historical knowledge. Rather, they are left with feelings of place, with emotional interpretations of historical events as well as dramatized experiences of space and spatiality—with imprints of residual presence and absence. Here, “politically shaped and triggered affective cognition [at the mnemonic site] is the sense-making of bodies politic” (Protevi 2009, xiv), clandestinely operating as the emotional basis for its curation of political community. The mobilization of affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum thus imparts visitors with an individual awareness of these traumatic events at an embodied or visceral level, which then becomes unconsciously stored in the collective, cultural body of its visitorship. In tracing my own struggles to ‘feel my feelings’ at the provocative site alongside those of site visitors, 1 arrive at more collective ways of knowing and, more importantly, unknowing the curated modes of affective pedagogy and emotional learning made available to the visiting public.

A therapist friend once told me that when it comes to issues of trauma and PTSD, “the issue is in the tissue.’’ Trauma enters the body unconsciously and is stored in the form of bodily memories that can either remain dormant or become reactivated over time. The biomolecular landscape of the body thus stores unconscious experiences of trauma that are eventually translated— with the right amount of coaxing—from dormant impressions into conscious memories. Here, external stimuli and environmental factors can trigger past experiences of trauma as semi-conscious stirrings and guttural sensations are remade into more conscious forms of knowing, or feelings. As others echo,

Trauma is felt, but not understood; it is memorized and recalled, but not necessarily experienced [consciously]; it defies language, but insists on being communicated; it refuses to be incorporated into normality, but goes on perpetuating itself in memory; it is triggered at a specific moment in time, but alters its linearity; it must be forgotten, but is always recalled and relived. (Resende and Budryte 2014, 2-3)

As traumatic events are recalled at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, affective heritage thwarts the visitor’s linear perception of time and place-bound notions of space, profoundly re-shaping individual and collective experiences of the past and present, here and there, self and other. This produces a sensation akin to what Atkinson and Richardson refer to as “traumatic affect,” that is

the mode, substance and dynamics of relation through which trauma is experienced, transmitted, conveyed, and represented. Traumatic affect crosses boundaries .... It is not a prescriptive and contained concept, but an open one. (2013, 12)

Visceral by design, the acquisition of traumatic history at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum requires the individual to feel a past that he or she may not necessarily be connected to. What are the political implications of creating a ‘feeling memorial’ at the World Trade Center? What does it mean to develop an acquired, or “prosthetic memory” of traumatic events—to feel a history that is not yours directly but that can be consumed in real time as embodied experience (see Landsberg 2004)? And how do we, as museumgoers, begin to critically evaluate our emotional and embodied experiences in response

Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 53 to the curated atmospheres and sensorial modes of storytelling operating at the museological site?

To aid in answering these questions, this chapter explores three examples on both the transmission and reception of trauma at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The first draws on fieldwork during site visits to Lower Manhattan. The second example explores the design of the above ground memorial, including interviews with 9/11 Memorial & Museum staffers involved in its implementation. The final example describes the emotionally immersive environment of the underground memorial museum. I use this ethnographic data to sketch institutional motivations for imposing affective heritage throughout the 9/11 Memorial & Museum design, as well as the emotional import of re-membering this traumatic history in the present.1

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