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The National September 11 Memorial & Museum: a place to re-member
From its inception in November 2001, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) has been central to the decades-long effort to rebuild Lower Manhattan and memorialize the events and lives lost on September 11, 2001. A collaborative effort between the City and State of New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was responsible for mediating both public and municipal concerns for rebuilding the site. In hopes of arriving at a master design plan, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation—in partnership with the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York and AmericaSpeaks—participated in public forums aimed at garnering public support and soliciting feedback for what would eventually occupy the World Trade Center: a “vibrant, 24-hour commercial, cultural and residential community” and a “dignified memorial to those who died at the World Trade Center” (Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York 2002, 8). One of the larger public input programs, “Listening to the City,” was held between July and August 2002 and consisted of a two-part, open forum and additional online dialogue that drew nearly 5,300 participants (Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York 2002). Outreach also included public meetings in each of the neighboring boroughs, numerous advisory council
Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 59 meetings, a Federal Hall exhibition with comments, brochures, mailers, and feedback from victims’ family members, as well as thousands of emails and written comments directed at the organization (Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York 2002). Overall, more than 200 public meetings were held by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and its partners for this first phase of public solicitation, making the project the largest public urban planning project in US history (Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York 2002). Two major themes dominated the public’s recommendations: first, filling the void in the city’s skyline, and second, preserving the remnants of the Twin Tower footprints.4
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation conducted additional public campaigns from December 2002 through February 2003. The second phase of public solicitation, “Plans in Progress,” aided in vetting and selecting finalists for the international design competition to rebuild the World Trade Center (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and The Port Authority of NY & NJ 2003). Repeating methods from the first phase of canvassing, public endorsement once again elicited strong concern for the restoration of the skyline and the preservation of the Tower footprints (ibid.). In the end, architect Daniel Libeskind’s master plan “Memory Foundations” was selected in February 2003 out of 406 entries and seven finalists (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2003a)5
Figure 2.1 Daniel Libeskind, Memory Foundations. (2003). Courtesy Studio Libeskind ©Archimation.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Libeskind, immigrated to the United States in his early teens (Hirschkorn 2003). As Libeskind recalled the migration experience in relation to his architectural vision for the New World Trade Center:
I arrived by ship to New York as a teenager, an immigrant, and like millions of others before me, my first sight was the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan. I have never forgotten that sight or what it stands for. This is what this project is all about. When I first began this project, New Yorkers were divided as to whether to keep the site of the World Trade Center empty or to fill the site completely and build upon it. 1 meditated many days on this seemingly impossible dichotomy... So, 1 went to look at the site, to stand within it, to see people walking around it, to feel its power and to listen to its voices. And this is what I heard, felt, and saw. (Libeskind quoted in Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2003b, 10, emphasis added)
According to the above description, Libeskind’s aestheticization of the World Trade Center into a memorial landscape was mediated in part by the site’s abilities to communicate to him viscerally. He didn’t need to envision the site anew; he just needed to feel it. Articulating his vision for the New World Trade Center eight years later in Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero, Libeskind had this to say about his initial interaction with the site:
As I descended [into the footprints of the Trade Towers] some 75 feet down to the bedrock... I suddenly had a revelation. When I went down there, 1 suddenly saw this was not just a site to be rebuilt... Almost 3,000 people perished. This site is such a great, passionate wound. That’s why people care that there’s a void in New York... that it cease to be a void—that it is filled with something memorable, something that will heal that space. But you have to create a balance between tragedy and hope. (Libeskind quoted in Spielberg 2011, emphasis added)
By acknowledging the site as an architectural wound in need of healing, Libeskind’s design negotiates the trauma of the attacks and the cultural desire to heal from the enduring void left in its wake. Creating a “balance between tragedy and hope,” the Libeskind plan stayed true to the concerns raised throughout both phases of public solicitation to reestablish a strong skyline for the city and retain the shape of the devastated towers.
Libeskind’s design preserved the remaining tower footprints as “sacred space” and utilized their shape as part of an on-site memorial for which a separate design competition was conducted (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2002b, 2003c). Similar to the World Trade Center design competition adjudication process, a series of eight designs was
Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 61 selected for final consideration in 2003. In early 2004, Reflecting Absence, a design by largely unknown New York City-based architect Michael Arad, emerged as the winning selection out of 5,201 entries submitted from 63 different countries and 49 states (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2004a).
More than five years after Arad’s winning design was unveiled, I attended a panel discussion featuring key architects from four design firms involved in the construction of the site’s memorial spaces. The panel was called “A Space Within: The National September 11 Memorial and Museum.” Walking around the exhibit that accompanied the panel discussion, I overheard a man say to a woman nearby, as he eyed Arad’s memorial model, that the design reminded him of a drain. Reacting almost identically to the memorial pools now sitting atop the twin voids where the Towers once stood, I was stirred by this man’s reactions to the model.
Throughout the panel, Mr. Arad spoke about his design plan for the memorial pools and described the empty space at the World Trade Center as spiritual. He commented that “it’s hard to define this space, it’s evasive... You feel it in your gut, in your heart” (Arad et al. 2009, emphasis added). During the question and answer session of the program, I asked Mr. Arad to describe his design process and how he came to the decision to envision the space in the way he did. In doing so, I referenced his aesthetic choice to utilize the negative space around the site as a kind of architectural “wound.”
Figure 2.2 Arad, M. and Walker, P. Reflecting Absence. ©Visualization by Squared.
Responding to my query, Mr. Arad offered that he wanted to create a space of remembrance. As he elaborated,
There’s no intent to make this place feel like a wound. In fact, one of the things that was important to me was to bring it [the height of the memorial pools] up to grade [street level]—to not have it removed from the street; to make it a live part of the city; but neither to erase the scar altogether and make it an invisible memory. (Arad et al. 2009, emphasis added)
After the September 11 attacks, there was intense debate over whether or not to rebuild the Twin Towers, or even the World Trade Center site itself. The significance of Mr. Arad’s decision to build something that is in essence nothing—a “drain”—empty or negative space, is not without consequence. Mr. Arad has clearly gauged the visiting public’s potential reactivity to the site, as indicated by his response to my question with reference to scarring as well as his architectural attempt to thwart the site’s ability to feel too much like a wound ‘cut into the ground.’ Although Mr. Arad would certainly be displeased by my and this anonymous man’s likening of his design to a drain, or even a hole cut into the ground, I do not make this analogy here in disrespect for Mr. Arad’s design or the lives his memorial represents. Rather, I make this connection in an attempt to understand the emotional response that such a space has elicited, and will elicit, from its onlookers. What does it mean to have a wound, a cut that does not heal, or a scar that keeps on draining, as a site of national memory and grief?
The emotional responses and visceral pulls evoked by and encoded within Reflecting Absence are key to understanding its role in preserving 9/11 memory and projecting it into the future. In an online statement, the 9/11 Memorial Jury offered the following rationale for selecting Arad’s as the winning design in January 2004:
In its powerful, yet simple articulation of the footprints of the Twin Towers, ‘Reflecting Absence’ has made the voids left by the destruction the primary symbol of our loss. By allowing absence to speak for itself, the designers [Arad in partnership with landscape architect Peter Walker] have made the power of these empty footprints the memorial. (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2004b, emphasis added)
Echoing Arad’s own vision for the design as a ‘feeling’ memorial, the Jury’s description of Reflecting Absence as a design that “speaks for itself” captures the affective transmission of traumatic loss contained in the winning memorial. Loss, emptiness, and absence serve as the affective and aesthetic power behind the Arad design. Its success is predicated on its propensity for affective heritage.
Establishing any memorial at Ground Zero is already, of course, an emotive undertaking. As one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member describes,
Before the [9/11 memorial jury] competition even kicked off, before people submitted their entries to it, we [those involved in the memorial selection process] went around the country to look at all different memorials and talk to the folks who were involved in the planning of them to get their advice. And I think that what we learned from it was that you can never predict what’s gonna happen next, because it’s such a viscera! experience going through a memorial.... There is something about the voids that Arad envisioned from the very beginning. These voids in the Hudson river, these cuts into what was there before that did evoke that visceral response, but whether or not people will feel it when it [the memorial] is actually complete is anyone’s guess. (Personal Communication, July 2011, emphasis added)
This description of engaging memorials as a visceral process confirms the role of more-than-representational knowledges in aiding the transmission of cultural heritage. It also highlights the 9/11 Memorial Jury’s desire to select a design that would facilitate historical memory, that is, understanding “what was there before,” through visceral experience, through feeling.6 As this 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member continues,
I guess what the jury kept hearing and kept talking about throughout the competition, was how do you get beyond the fact that it really is unknowable what the final design is going to pull from people. So how then do you choose a design that is not so overblown that people are overwhelmed by the details of the design, rather than the experience of it, but also not too simple that it is not evoking any emotion at all. (Personal Communication, July 2011, original emphasis)
This latter quote acknowledges the Jury’s role in evaluating memorial proposals on their capacity for affective heritage. Failure to elicit emotion and shape public feeling would actually risk trivializing 9/11 memory, as this staff member suggests.
The “unknowable” and “unpredictable” nature of public feeling at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum renders trauma unruly, as encapsulated by the statements that “you can never predict what’s gonna happen next” and “it is unknowable what the final design is going to pull from people.” Staff members were preparing for such emotional ‘unruliness’ amongst museum patrons prior to its opening in May 2014. For example, museum employees wrestled with the potential need for hiring qualified mental health professionals to address the various responses that the site might elicit from the visiting public. In a 2010 interview with one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member, I inquired as to whether the institution had plans to make mental health professionals available in instances of visitor distress should experiences at the site lead patrons to become overwhelmed. At the time, I was informed that no such arrangements had been made. However, in a follow-up interview with this same staff member one year later, I was told that the museum was now preparing to have trained mental health professionals, such as grief counselors, available on-site.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum also designed “emotional egresses” into its Historical Exhibition as part of its visitor “management protocol.” Tucked inside the North Tower footprint, the Historical Exhibition, like the South Tower Memorial Exhibition, is largely self-selected and directed. In order to enter the historical galleries, which address the specifics of the attacks and their aftermaths—as well as the question of perpetration—museum visitors must join a queue. Should visitors enter the historical galleries unknowingly or select an ‘early exit’ after initial entry, the museum provides them with ample opportunities to opt out of the space. In the words of a different 9/11 Memorial & Museum employee:
When in the Historical Exhibition [which addresses the events of 9/11], for example, we ... also have what we are internally calling ‘emotional exits,’ or emotional egresses.... They are just at different points within the exhibition that if you as a visitor have had enough, you need to leave this space, that you can get out of the exhibition. (Personal Communication, January 2011)
These “emotional exits,” as the respondent describes them, permit visitors to disengage should the affective experience become too much. The museum’s potential to elicit such intense emotional reactions is, as the above comments suggest, predicated, to a large degree, on its location at the authentic site of trauma.
Museumgoers’ engagements at the 9/11 Memorial Museum generate novel encounters with traumatic remains, that is, with what and who is missing. Here, affective heritage is mobilized to produce an “authentic” experience where visitors, in the words of the following 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff members, feel the presence of those who perished:
I think it’s inevitable that people feel the presence of the missing in these places... That’s just a very consistent pattern. I mean, you could read about people who visit concentration camp sites, or battlefields—or memoirs of those kinds of visits—[and they] often ... feel the presence of the missing. And one of the critiques of building the museum [at the World Trade Center] below ground has been the sense of claustrophobia and the sense of [the space] pushing in on you. The general public might feel that. (Personal Communication, August 2010, emphasis added)
We wanted the museum to give people the sense that: ‘You are here in this space, remembering these people.’ The memorial pools are
Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 65 reflecting absence, the memorial [museum] exhibition, in some ways, reflects presence. We wanted to—we wanted to sort of return the people, the individual people [that perished] to the consciousness of the visitors. (Personal Communication, October 2010)
Affective heritage is thus not only an institutional goal at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but it is also a key byproduct of the traumatic history steeped within the very site and mediated by the space itself. As an additional staffer acknowledges:
We would be having, perhaps, a much greater freedom to dig deep interpretatively, and to take some creative risks [at the memorial museum], if it were located anywhere else in the United States, including across the street from the World Trade Center. But it’s not. It’s on the sixteen acres, this unintended burial ground if you will, for 2,800 innocent people. It is a very emotional, complicated site and so everything we do here [at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum] is balanced by this fact. On the one hand, we are setting the history as straight as it can be set, to educate, and hopefully stimulate many generations to come. But at the same time, we are on a site where there is blood in the ground. People physically died here and many never came—their remains were never found. And so there is this constant balance that you have to negotiate between the historical side and the kind of emotional side of what we’re doing. (Personal Communication, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, June 2011, emphasis in original)
For those planning to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, their visceral experience will inevitably be arbitrated by the trauma that took place in this place. As one staff member comments,
It’s a great advantage for the museum to open after the memorial ... we get a kind of learning experience to really see what is the visceral response to the memorial and what kind of support they [visitors] might need. (Personal Communication, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, June 2011, emphasis added)
The museum’s location within the original foundation of the Twin Towers, seven stories below ground, for instance, has left many—particularly family members—uneasy about entering the cultural institution. Here, affective heritage is complicated by the site’s dual role as cultural institution and human burial ground. As a subsequent respondent continues to expound,
The general public may be a predominant part of our planning, but we still have stake-holder audiences [e.g., family members, building survivors, first responders, local residents, etc.] that are deeply traumatized by what happened and just a little trigger—you know, the wrong smell in a gallery, the wrong vibration from a PATH train rumbling by; people are still on edge. For those of us who experienced the event—not directly in that we were in the building, but directly because we were in the places, like New York City... I mean, for so many of us a gorgeous, crystal-clear, blue sky, morning sky, has a very double meaning to us now; it’s beautiful and sad at the same time, and it will never, unfortunately, not have that sadness as a part of it. Memory and trauma are experienced in all five senses, and maybe it is a visual sense or the oral sense that are most profound in terms of the intake of this event. But there are people that still— they’ll smell something and they’re right back in the day or the aftermath of 9/11, or they’ll touch something, or taste something, and it’s... We just have to be really mindful of that. (Personal Communication, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, June 2011, emphasis added)
The risk of re-traumatization is, as this staff member warns, a real concern— and an ethical one, in the event that traumatic memory is triggered by affective heritage. Consequently, the ability of the 9/11 Memorial Museum to successfully elicit—and contain—visitor emotions is curtailed by various environmental stimuli, as well as any ongoing sense of threat associated with the wounded site.
These staff member statements locate the crux of affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial Museum: the absence of presence and the presence of absence. For those with first-hand, or lived memory of the September 11 attacks, and for those for whom a historical memory is being constructed, embodied encounters with absences and presences at the mnemonic site generate visceral experiences. These embodied feelings are translated into an emotional awareness that teaches site visitors (how to feel) about the traumatic past. Trauma cannot be taught within the space, per se; you cannot teach what is fundamentally unknowable. Rather, trauma must be sensed to be made sense of. As a modus operandi, the 9/11 Memorial Museum thus mobilizes affective heritage to create knowledgeable subjects, not through cognitive judgment, but through visceral arousal: I feel, therefore I know.
Highlighting the institutional rationale for selecting the Arad design, as well as the implementation of certain logistical and design decisions within the memorial museum, this section maps affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The experiential possibilities at work in this emotionally unpredictable, highly controlled space suggest not only more-than-representational experiences of place, but more-than-individual ones as well. Much like the events of September 11th themselves, the scope of affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is simultaneously individual and collective. What feelings, for instance, are visitors taking away from their below-grade museum encounters, and how do these feelings inform post-9/11 subjectivities? 1 offer the following memorial museum encounters as a series of possibilities.
I have been to the 9/11 Memorial Museum on eight separate occasions. My first visit to the site, shortly after its opening in May 2014, felt, in some ways, routine. I had already seen most of the objects cited for display. I had already set foot inside the cavernous underground space. I knew the museum’s general layout and how its themes would unfold. So how did I expect to gain anything new from this experience? Had it not been for one small, transitory gallery, I might have missed the point of the exercise entirely.
The gallery that 1 allude to is located within the museum’s Historical Exhibition (HE), sandwiched between two major narrative sections, HE1 and HE2: “Events of the Day” and "Before 9/11” (for the gallery’s approximate location, locate the “You Are Here” circle in the bottom, right-hand corner of Figure 2.3).
Figure2.3 Informational Museum Signage. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken April 2016).
I have come to name this relatively non-descript gallery the “breathing room.” I call this space the breathing room because I experienced an instant wave of relief upon entry. I remember feeling aware that something was markedly different about this space. Visitors were audibly exhaling as they made their way into the gallery; one woman even flicked her hands as if she were flinging something off of her torso. I too audibly exhaled upon entering this otherwise forgettable room—but why? What was causing this collective sense of relief amongst the crowd?
1 returned to the museum later that fall to reenter the Historical Exhibition and retrace my path to the breathing room. Broken into three major narrative sections (see Figure 2.3), the Historical Exhibition is primarily didactic. This is where visitors gain their understanding of September 11, 2001. Beginning with the “events of the day,” visitors are transported back in time to the morning of September 11th, just moments before the first plane is set to strike One World Trade. Throughout this initial gallery, museumgoers are enveloped by images of the Twin Towers: moving images and still images of the towers at moments of impact, explosion, and ablaze. Importantly, there are very few images of onlookers and bystanders.
Entering the museum pavilion from the above-ground memorial plaza, visitors must first travel through airport-style security and then descend partway to concourse level to begin the museum experience and make their
Figure 2.4 Pair of original WTC Tridents. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 69 way to the Historical Exhibition. Staring upwards at a pair of architectural tridents as they make their downward descent, visitors experientially process the essence of the once erect towers (see Figure 2.4). This spatial orchestration prompts visitors to recall where they are. If they have forgotten, however, the museum provides them with other clues as they reach their first destination: the last known image taken of the Twin Towers as iconized in the collective imagination (Figure 2.5).
A popular spot for snapping the quick selfie or photograph by site visitors, the inclusion of this photograph at the start of the official museum story orients the visiting public within the larger 9/11 narrative. But where they are is only the beginning of the story; why they are here has yet to be disclosed.
Past the images of the Twin Towers at concourse level, the museum experience officially begins. The visitor’s initial point of entry into the museum narrative commences with giant-sized scrims projecting a Mercator world map as an accompanying loop of audio recordings details remembrances of the attacks through the accented voices of a global citizenry (see Figure 2.6). The soundscape, called “We Remember,” begins with a montage of voices commenting on the “surreal” nature of the attacks as a woman’s voice emerges to recall, to ‘wrap her head around’ what she was seeing, asking aloud: “how could anyone do this?” The recording continues
Figure 2.5 Last known image of the WTC taken at 8:30 A.M. on September 11,2001.
NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
Figure 2.6 “We Remember” exhibition and soundscape. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
on for several minutes, ending in silence with visitors facing larger-than-life projections of bystanders and onlookers staring up at the unfolding tragedy (see Figure 2.7).
Here, visitors are strategically positioned to watch the watching of others. This experiential moment is subtle yet transformational as it indicates the onset of affective heritage. Bearing witness to their witness, there is no need for images of bystanders and onlookers once inside the museum narrative. From the initial moment of entry, the visitor has effectively taken on this role. Cast into the role of witness, museumgoers proceed from this point onwards to process the unfolding history vicariously.
Upon exiting the “We Remember” soundscape, visitors soon encounter a final pair of side-by-side images of the Twin Towers, one taken years before and the other taken the evening of the attacks (see Figure 2.8). This completes the public’s orientation to the site; this is why they are here: to learn this history.
Completing their processional descent to bedrock, visitors are primed to experience the monumentality of the attacks through the monumental absence of the towers themselves. The presentation of impact steel and other large-scale archeological remnants along the museum’s ramp and interstitial galleries, for example, allows visitors to bear witness to the enormity of this unfolding tragedy by absorbing a sense of scale, first architectural and later
Figure2.7 Bystanders on scrims in “We Remember” exhibit. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken April 2016).
Figure2.8a-b Images of WTC before and after attacks. NS11MM. Images courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
human. As former museum director, now President and CEO, Alice Greenwald describes the descent:
that descent gives you a kind of processional aspect, you feel like you are processing toward something; it generates an attitude of reverence. And as you move down the ramp there are these periodic vistas that open in front of you, and you see the space and you get a sense of scale, but you also get a sense of the authentic. And you’re moving into the space before you’re ever told the story. There are hints about it... but it is more about the physical environment that is actually conveying meaning in an affective, emotive way... You’re feeling it as much as knowing it, and I think that is the role of architecture in this space. (Greenwald and Bloomfield 2017, emphasis in original)
Back inside the Historical Exhibition, for instance, the experiential dynamic of vicarious witnessing is carried over into visitor encounters with archival voicemail recordings detailing, in many instances, someone’s final moments of life. Looped phone calls left by 9/11 victims to various authorities and family members generate evidence of the human toll of this tragedy while leaving visitors to suspensefully contemplate the fate of the speaker. These intimate audio recordings propel museum attendees to ponder a series of emotional possibilities—and proximities. Who are they in relation to the victim? Are they a witness to someone else’s witnessing, or are they the receiver of the phone call?
An American student with whom I spoke about her visitor experience at the 9/11 Memorial Museum was quite struck by these voicemail recordings. Upon detailing her experience inside the Historical Exhibition, she began recalling how emotional it was for her to listen to the voicemail recordings when she suddenly burst into tears. As I sat next to her, waiting for her to continue, she did not reveal any direct connection to the events of that day. Instead, she remembered making worried phone calls to an overseas friend after the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Proximity to trauma is at stake in this example of affective heritage. Here, voicemails from 9/11 trigger more recent memories of trauma: surviving friends and family members calling loved ones in the wake of ongoing terror threats. In a tragic twist of fate—and affect—these unanswered voice messages map past events onto present, here onto there, then onto now, self onto other. As such, the woman’s emotional response to this very compelling component of the Historical Exhibition is no longer tied to the historical events that she is witness to. In the space between trauma and affect, she is no longer witness to someone else’s trauma. Rather, she is experiencing it directly as her own.
Conflations of witness and survivor are of ongoing negotiation throughout visitor encounters at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. To reach the museum’s “Foundation Hall,” which contains the vast majority of its large-scale objects—the Slurry Wall, Last Column, North Tower antenna, Ladder 3 fire truck, and others—visitors will descend to the bedrock of the original Trade Towers alongside the “Survivors’ Stairs.” The survivors’ staircase is an archeological remnant and witness to the events of 9/11 (see Figure 2.9).
Figure2.9 Survivors’ Stairs. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken April 2016).
The staircase, formerly located at Vesey Street, provided safe passage for many building survivors fleeing the World Trade site. By making visitors retrace the survivors’ path, albeit in reverse fashion, the museum effectively places visitor experiences in dialogue with those of survivors.
The meandering, narrow hallways of the “Events of the Day” galleries funnel visitors along the narrative arc of the attacks: from the first plane strike, to the attacks on Washington, D.C., and Somerset, Pennsylvania, to the World Trade Center collapse. As the events of the day become increasingly grim, so too does the gallery’s atmosphere; the lighting progressively becomes dimmer and the wall colors darker. Here, subtle shifts in design combine with crowded passageways that bottleneck in dramatic effect to sustain an affective atmosphere where knowledge of the attacks is no longer merely depicted, but even simulated.
Entering the first part of the Historical Exhibition, visitors encounter a time-lapsed projection of the first plane flying into One World Trade Center. In an attempt to render the significance of this recreated moment fully understandable, visitors are initially transported back in time, as if waking to the morning’s comfortingly routine headlines: “Cops Bag Panther,” “Scientists Urge Bigger Supply of Stem Cells,” et cetera. As the voices of popular morning show personalities interrupt their regularly scheduled programing to narrate the unfolding details of the Trade Tower crash, visitors are introduced to the gallery’s first narrative sequence: ‘Wait, what the hell just happened?!’
The spatial layout of the Historical Exhibition is complex. Unidirectional, the Historical Exhibition propels visitors forward, but its corridors are segmented into left-hand, right-hand, and center isles (see Figure 2.10). Narrative sequences zigzag right to left, left to right, so that visitors find themselves rubbernecking from side-to-side, not knowing which way to turn or where to look first. After the first plane strike, for example, the wall color mirrors the billowing smoke wafting from the crashed airliner and confettied paper streaming from the gaping hole in Tower 1. Amidst the visual confusion, the words of American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ong emerge from the opposite hand-side wall to assist visitors in processing the disorienting moment: “1 don’t know, I think we are getting hijacked.” This reversal in narrative logic—of first effect, then cause—is repeated throughout the remainder of the gallery. Here, the disorienting maze of the Historical Exhibition leaves some visitors anxiously searching for a means of egress. Numerous people with whom I spoke about the Historical Exhibition commented on feeling claustrophobic within the “Events of the Day” galleries. Respondents repeatedly said that they felt “choked” inside the progressively darkening space, and others even reported experiencing the onset of panic attacks. Located within the original North Tower footprint, the experiential movement of the visitor within the “Events of the Day” gallery is haunted by
Figure 2.10 “Events of the Day” historical gallery. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
Affective pedagogies, emotional learning 75 building evacuees, making the visitor’s entry into the subsequent gallery all the more poignant, even necessary. Beyond the garbled displays of smoldering towers and charred debris, visitors emerge from the smoke-colored corridors into the bright openness of the breathing room, finally safe.
Adorned with popular images of the Twin Towers, the breathing room is drastically different from the preceding gallery (see Figure 2.11). Unlike the blackened walls and dimly lit, narrow halls of the previous gallery, this space is predictably sequential, well-lit, brightly painted, and wide open. Nearly half of the room is lined with seating for visitors to rest and recollect themselves. Despite the inclusion of historical information, the breathing room’s primary design function is not to educate, although it does this as well. Rather, its primary function is to transition visitors onward.
Offering a brief respite to visitors exiting the first section of the Historical Exhibition, the breathing room reveals the apparatus of affective heritage inside the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Although 1 initially noticed an energetic shift as visitors transitioned from the “Events of the Day” galleries into the “Before 9/11” section (see Figure 2.3), 1 was unable to detect the mechanisms of affective heritage while experiencing them. It wasn’t until reaching the breathing room threshold that I sensed something had been turned on, or
Figure 2. Il The “Breathing Room.” NS11 MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
rather off, like a light switch. Affective heritage is so pervasive, so visceral, inside the primary galleries that it is nearly impossible to detect, making the museum’s voice totalizing. Unable to distinguish the mood of the space from your own, your feelings adapt to the museum narrative, adopting its impressions.
The breathing room, as mentioned earlier, is a space to transition the visitor between thematic sections. Having amassed a vicarious understanding of the attacks—including its premeditation—from the previous galleries, the breathing room readies the visitor to encounter those responsible for the crimes. Like a carefully calculated algorithm, this transitory gallery offers visitors a built-in moment of rest, an intermission between the “Events of the Day” and “Before 9/11” galleries. Here, rest is not only of a physical nature, but of an emotional one as well. The placement of this space is, as one woman reflecting on her museum experience commented, “interesting, after your emotional quota is filled.” She continued, “You can feel it. Everyone is coming off of this ‘emotional high,’ and then you are slammed in the face with this.” The “this” she refers to is the “Rise of Al-Qaeda” subsection housed within the “Before 9/11” gallery, or HE2. Here, visitors are made to grapple with the threat of international terrorism and the human actions underpinning it.
The “Before 9/11” gallery establishes historical precedents to the 9/11 attacks. Outlining the 1993 plot on the World Trade Center, for example, visitors now enter the hostile geography of the “other.” From here, affective heritage is switched back on as visitors find themselves surrounded by taupe colored walls and images of Afghan sand dunes (see Figure 2.12). Transported into the mysterious terrain of “the Orient,” museumgoers encounter the 9/11 terror plot and various “geographies of threat” spanning the Greater Middle East, including Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Kuwait.
Having just endured the emotional trauma of the first gallery, museum attendees are entirely unprepared to process this subsequent gallery space, HE2. This becomes visibly evident as visitors encounter the display of the 9/11 hijackers. Located slightly below eye-level and toward the end of the gallery’s narrative sequence, visitors can linger on the perpetrators’ images or choose to opt out almost entirely. One visitor, who chose the former, stated the following: “I feel like I am looking at devils in the face.” Another pointed at the images in disgust and let out an audible “yuck!” (Field Observations, April 2016). These responses are striking, although not surprising given the presentation of this information after the “Events of the Day” galleries, when visitors’ emotional quotas are ‘too full’ to engage beyond mere reactivity. As such, the inclusion of the perpetrators’ images and information pertinent to the terror plots only confirms what ire, the visitors, already know about them.
What is troublesome about HE2 is not the inclusion of the perpetrators’ images per se. Nor is it the detailing of the 1993 and 9/11 terror plots. It is
Figure 2.12 The “Rise of Al Qaeda” historical gallery. NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken June 2019).
the orchestration of affect in the previous gallery, HE1, which leaves visitors in a state of emotional overload when entering HE2. Here, affect bubbles over to reveal the most viscerally raw emotional responses from museum visitors: disgust, anger, and rage. As the perpetrators become synonymous with the “greater Middle Eastern threat” exemplified in the museum’s short, expository film “The Rise of Al-Qaeda,” the film’s voiceover narration by former NBC news anchor Brian Williams fills the room’s atmosphere with bombastic certainty. The Middle East’s barbarism is expertly evidenced in the short film to neatly explain the formations of international terrorism, thereby effectively foreclosing the cognitive space and emotional distance needed to distinguish al-Qaeda from the rest of “the Orient” and terrorism from political Islam. Despite a small information graphic attempting to differentiate al-Qaeda from the broader “Muslim world,” visitors will come away from HE2 with a racialized understanding of the attackers and “why they hate us.” As cultural differences buttress latent fears of “the Arab world” and Islam, xenophobia and Islamophobia fill the atmosphere of HE2, leaving visitors’ feelings unresolved as far as “good” Arabs and Muslims are concerned. This ambiguity continues onward into HE3—the third and final segment of the Historical Exhibition—and its treatment of Arab and Muslim-Americans and their diasporas after 9/11: Are they victims of the attack, members of the international community expressing global sympathy and solidarity, or dangerous threats in need of eradication?
Before reaching the end of the Historical Exhibition, the museological journey continues by depositing visitors into a world “After 9/11.” Upon entering this final phase, or HE3, one visitor let out an audible sigh in frustration before proceeding to ask aloud: “Where is the end to this?” My sentiments exactly. Physically and psychologically exhausted, visitors are relentlessly propelled into a succession of post-9/11 emotions: grief, anger, sadness, revenge, and hope. Here, affective heritage compels visitors to partake in collective mentalities as a means to contemplate their own emotions. How do they feel: angry, sad, revengeful, hopeful? This emotional orchestration is only effective if visitors submit to their implied victimization. Having witnessed the attacks and ‘survived’ the ordeal, visitors can now position themselves in relation to the affected communities depicted. Upon determining how they feel about the 9/11 attacks, the rise of global terrorism, and the fate of the collective “we,” visitors must decide, in the end, which feelings to adopt as their own.
The above field observations reflect the melancholic potential of affective heritage to deepen the initial trauma. Within the spaces of the museum’s Historical Exhibition, re-membering 9/11 keeps the emotional wounds of the attacks raw. We have already witnessed one such repetition in the collective consciousness. After the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s targeted killing in May of 2011, crowds of strangers spontaneously gathered in the streets of New York and elsewhere across the country, chanting: “USA, USA!” The guttural reactions conjured through word of the al-Qaeda leader’s death amassed public sentiment into collective action as affective intensities transformed collective emotion into actionable knowledges: I feel, therefore I will. Here, collective emotions inform post-9/11 political subjectivities, spilling over into material effects.
Creating traumatic memory afresh, affective heritage at the 9/11 Memorial Museum risks intensifying Islamophobia and thwarting collective healing across current social divisions. That this is a real concern is indicated, for instance, by the racial epithets that I documented several visitors using when they encountered museum displays in HE2. As a repository of public feeling, the museological complex is thus foundational to maintaining—or deterring—xenophobic, Western narratives of history, loss, and suffering. The museum’s elevation of Muslim-American victims and its displays of global Muslim solidarity in HE3 thus arrive too little, too late. Affective heritage has already taken hold and political subjectivities mirror discursive shifts in the museological narrative toward the global war on terror. This position is evidenced further by the inclusion of the bin Laden compound souvenir ‘victory brick’—a masonry stone taken from the former al-Qaeda leader’s Pakistan residence—that is on display in the museum’s “Foundation Hall,” across from the Historical Exhibition’s exit (see Figure 2.13).
Figure2.13 Mortar brick from bin Laden’s Compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Interstitial galleries, NS11MM. Image courtesy of the Author (taken April 2016).