Remember, Remember, 11 September: Memorialising 9/11 on the Internet
Lee Jarvis Swansea University
This is the accepted, post-print, version of a paper published under Jarvis, Lee (2010) ‘Remember, Remember 11 September: Memorialising 9/11 on the Internet’, In Journal of War & Culture Studies, Vol 3/Issue 1, pp.69-82. The full, published version of the article is available at URL: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/wac/2010/00000003/00000001/art00005?crawler=true
Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2009 annual convention of the International Studies Association in New York, NY, and at two seminars organised by Swansea University’s Department of Politics and International Relations. I would like to thank all those who attended for their extremely useful feedback on the ideas presented below. I would also like to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers at JWCS for their suggestions on this article and assistance in preparing it for publication. Any errors outstanding remain my responsibility alone.
Remember, Remember, 11 September: Memorialising 9/11 on the Internet Abstract
The events of 11 September 2001 continue to attract the interest of political elites and publics across the world. This article takes as its focus an unusual and contemporary collection of efforts to commemorate those attacks and their victims, exploring the emergence of a series of Internet memorials dedicated to the preservation of their memory. By positioning these memorials both historically and politically via an investigation of their form and their functions two lines of argument are pursued. First, that their multi-textual construction, participatory potential and dynamism signal an interesting and important mnemonic shift within social memory practices. And second, that the appeal of these websites lies in their location at the intersection of two related political logics: the first a politics of symbolic exchange, the second a promissory politics of hope. Keywords:memory; memorials; digital memory; Internet; 9/11
Political and public interest in the events of 11 September 2001 has scarcely waned in the years that have now passed since their occurrence. Across cultural sites as diverse as media documentaries, feature-length films, ceremonies of remembrance, postage stamps, even body art, the attacks of that date have been repeatedly, ceaselessly, remembered and remediated (for example, Edkins 2003: 102-108; Croft 2006; Jarvis 2009). If that which has become now, simply, ‘9/11’ represents one of the most exhaustively imaged of all human disasters (Heller 2005: 7), it also, undoubtedly, represents one of the most densely, most ‘intensely’, memorialised (Wagner-Pacifici 1996: 305). Indeed, where some commentators have pointed to a recent sense of ‘memory fatigue’ around the attacks (Hill 2009: 137-138), the frequently fractious debates accompanying efforts at their memorialisation alone hints at 9/11’s continuing import for individuals and communities throughout the US and beyond. With the ordering of names on the Ground Zero memorial (Pogrebin 2005), concerns over the twinning of art and commerce at that site (Trimarco and Depret 2005), and the infamous Anne Coulter attack on four September 11 widows (Chambers and Finlayson 2008) but three such contemporary controversies, the appropriate subjects and objects of memory in this context appear destined for contestation for some time to come.
This article engages with a rather less well documented genre of memory ‘project’ (Wagner-Pacifici 1996) that also appeared in the aftermath of 11 September 2001. Specifically, it takes as its focus a collection of Internet sites dedicated to the remembrance of those attacks and their victims. As one moment in an increasingly pervasive ‘digital memory culture’ arriving at the confluence of new technologies and a longing for the capture, storage and retrieval of memory (Garde-Hansen et al 2009: 5), these sites present a space equally interesting and important for tracing the interfaces of culture and violence in our contemporary era. In the discussion that follows, I aim to situate these projects both historically and politically by offering a sustained exploration of their form and their functions. And, through tracing the conditions of their emergence to a series of technological, social and more narrowly conjunctural developments, I pursue two related lines of argument.
In the first instance, by positioning these Internet memorials within a history of better understood social memory practices, I argue that they signal a potentially significant mnemonic shift within patterns of collective remembrance. Pursuing questions concerning their authorship and materiality in particular, I point to three moments of distinction marking these memorials out from their antecedents: their complexity of form; dynamism; and participatory potential. If Derrida is correct in tying the very contents of our present/future memories to the techniques and technologies dominating their capture – ‘Archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives’ (Derrida 1996: 18) – then reflecting on the novelty or otherwise of these efforts to negotiate 9/11’s movement from ontic to historical event poses implications for our understanding of memory that stretch far beyond the particularity of those attacks.
The article’s second argument derives from a contextualisation of these memorials within the political context of their production. Although no doubt made possible by advances of technological capability and accessibility, I suggest that a fuller understanding of these websites’ emergence requires our locating them specifically within the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the accompanying, widespread, claims to trauma, helplessness and community revitalisation that swiftly surrounded the attacks. To do this, I propose a reading of these memorials as an outcome of two discrete yet related political logics: the first, a politics of symbolic exchange; the second, a promissory politics of hope.
To develop these arguments, this article proceeds in three stages. I begin with a brief overview of existing literatures on social remembrance. These literatures, I argue, encourage our approaching memory not as an individualised, correspondential and disembodied phenomenon. Rather, as a process that is inherently and inescapably intersubjective, provisional and material. A second section locates these Internet memorials within this broad understanding, focusing on the three mnemonic shifts noted above. The article’s final section then introduces the two political logics of exchange and hope that I argue characterise their existence and appeal.
Academic interest in the social processes through which memories are created, maintained, transformed and lost has a considerable lineage. For many, Maurice Halbwachs represents the pioneering figure behind this line of scholarly enquiry (see Olick and Robbins 1998: 106; Fowler 2005: 54-57), with his then-groundbreaking efforts to reveal the inseparability of individual recollection from social frameworks, concepts and landmarks. By demonstrating the roles of those around us in stimulating our memories (Halbwachs 1992: 38); sketching society’s uneven distribution of responsibilities for preserving the past (Halbwachs 1992: 48); and linking systems of remembrance to those associations or groups in which we all reside (Halbwachs 1992: 53), his work presented a considerable sociological challenge to the more strictly psychological understandings of memory that had hitherto dominated.
By the late twentieth century Halbwachs’ gauntlet had been taken up with interest. Academic studies of memory had mushroomed throughout the social sciences and humanities, attracting advocates from a diverse range of conceptual and empirical backgrounds (Santos, 2001: 164; Kansteiner 2002: 179; Berliner, 2005: 197; Radstone 2008: 31). If an array of factors played their part in this explosion, four are particularly pertinent to our discussion. First, broad transformations in the intellectual landscape contributed to the positioning of memory as a now legitimate and important object of scholarly inquiry (Nora, 1989: 9-10; Berliner, 2005: 199-200). Olick and Robbins (1998: 108), for example, tie this enhanced intellectual interest to relevant disciplinary trends of this period such as efforts to rethink historiography as a site of cultural domination. Related, if less charitable, accounts have pointed similarly to academia’s tendency towards faddishness (Finkelstein 2003: 5), and its efforts to ‘reinvigorate tired disciplinary perspectives’ through appeal to the phenomenon and lexicon of memory (Radstone 2008: 33).
Second, specific historical occurrences of the twentieth century also certainly impacted on this concept’s popularity. For some, the profusion of academic interest in memory relates directly to the de-sedimenting impacts of decolonization (see Klein 2000: 137), for others to the consequences of distinct socio-political transitions brought on, for example, by the Vietnam War or the transition away from dictatorship in Europe and Latin America (Olick 1999: 333). Third, authors such as Nora (1989) and Jedlowski (2001: 29) have highlighted the import of broader societal processes in this era; not least the destabilizing, dislocatory, experience of our entrance into a postmodern world intent on devouring the past with ever-greater alacrity. Viewed through this lens, contemporary lieux de mémoire have attracted ever greater attention as:
fundamentally remains, the ultimate embodiments of a memorial consciousness that has barely survived in a historical age that calls out for memory because it has abandoned it. They make their appearance by virtue of the deritualization of our world – producing, manifesting, establishing, constructing, decreeing, and maintaining by artifice and by will a society deeply absorbed in its own transformation and renewal, one that inherently values the new over the ancient, the young over the old, the future over the past. (Nora 1989: 12).
Finally, this scholarly engagement also, importantly, correlated with the generation of progressively sophisticated archival technologies; technologies, that is, with increased capabilities for, ‘fixing traces of the past, initially with the invention of photography and the phonograph and, later, the computer’ (Jedlowski 2001: 38). With their arrival and distribution, opportunities for both archiving and accessing the past have extended greatly across, if not throughout, the social (Cohen and Willis 2004: 598; Garde-Hansen et al 2009: 1). And, as Derrida’s above remarks remind us, these developments played a critical role in both broadening and shaping our shared mnemonic capacities (see also Olick 1999: 342-343).
This interweaving of intellectual, historical, societal and technological dynamics both precipitated and engendered the construction of a substantial body of work through which to explore memory’s social, cultural and political formation. Although this work has not passed without critique (for example, Olick 1999: 334; Kansteiner 2002; Berliner 2005), and in spite of its considerable heterogeneity, these discussions have proved particularly valuable in illuminating four characteristics inherent to efforts at reconstructing the past.
First, and most obviously, this literature has significantly furthered Halbwachs’ effort to move us beyond an intuitively plausible understanding of memory as the individualised possession of discrete, atomised, agents. By forcing our attention unto the social contexts within which practices of remembrance occur, these discussions of social memory have helped track the importance of ‘mnemonic others’ (Zerubavel 1996: 285) that variously corroborate, question and assist in refining ‘our’ memories. All of our memories are simultaneously organised, weighted and structured within (incomplete, precarious and dynamic) social frameworks that are not of our making (on this, see Winter and Sivan 2000: 28). The codification of past events simply cannot be understood in isolation from the broader discourses, interpretive resources and relationships to which memory-makers are themselves subject. As argued below, for example, it makes little sense to abstract the 9/11 Internet memorials of our discussion from distinct efforts to decode the attacks’ meaning and import. And this is the case in their moments of resonance with, and departure from, alternative remediations of those events.
Second, by conceptualising memory as an inherently social phenomenon – as something fashioned intersubjectively – these literatures also smooth our departure from any directly correspondential account of remembrance. Memory, as approached throughout this discussion, must be viewed not as an object to be (re)discovered, lost, or mislaid. Rather, as a process that is brought into being through effort and labour: a process that is characterised, as such, by dynamism and flux (Olick and Robbins 1998: 111; Santos 2001: 169). In Jedlowski’s (2001: 30) formulation, ‘what we call ‘memory’ is a complex network of activities, the study of which indicates that the past never remains ‘one and the same’, but is constantly selected, filtered and restructured in terms set by the questions and necessities of the present’. And, this continuous process, of course, is precisely the space wherein embedded (and embodied) social actors exercise agency through their revisiting, revising and reinventing that which appears to have passed. As Wagner-Pacifici (1996: 301) suggests, ‘collective memory vibrates – it is existentially committed to being provisional’.
Acknowledging the contingency underpinning all memory projects brings us to these literatures’ third contribution: namely, their escape from a strictly chronological approach to remembrance. If memory is a process at once collective and constitutive, then our knowledge of the past is necessarily bound up with our sense of, concerns in, and claims to the present and future (Olick and Robbins 1998: 128; Santos 2001: 164). The past – or, better, pasts – deemed worthy of remembrance by any group are always invented and structured by contemporary concerns and aspirations (Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991: 379); a linear distinction between past, present and future simply cannot be sustained. For, ‘it is the present that shapes the past, ordering, reconstructing and interpreting its legacy, with expectations and hopes also helping to select what best serves the future’ (Jedlowski 2001: 30). If the earliest Durkheimian contributions to the study of social memory overstressed the quasi-instrumentalist dynamics at play in these processes of selection, that emphasis should not militate against our attentiveness to the overlapping of temporalities in memory work more broadly. For, as Edkins (2003: 34) summarises, ‘the past is produced in the present, rather than preceding it’.
Finally, these literatures have also been crucial in tying the linkage of social memory to both technologies and places of remembrance. The chronological listings of medieval annals and their preservation of extreme, liminal, events (White 1987: 5-10); the AIDS Memorial Quilt paying testimony and tribute to the lives and deaths of those claimed by that epidemic (Sturken 1997); and Maya Lin’s anti-imperial, anti-masculine, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that courted such controversy in the context of a divisive and unpopular American conflict (Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991), in each of these cases, our knowledge – our memory – of their referents is intimately bound to the particularities of their embodiments (see Wagner-Pacifici 1996: 302). What we remember, indeed whom we remember, is fundamentally shaped within the sites and technologies that structure how and where we remember (Young 1989: 64). Objects, images and representations of the past are not passive vessels containing and transmitting stories. They are, instead, entities ‘through which memories are shared, produced, and given meaning’ (Sturken 1997: 9).
The above brief review does scant justice to the diversity of perspectives on offer in these debates over social memory. What I hope to have done, however, is to sketch this literature’s import in forcing our rethinking of the processes through which past occurrences are reproduced in and for specific presents and futures. For, if memory exists as a social, contingent, contemporary and embodied phenomenon, engaging with the heterogeneous ways in which it is constructed across diverse sites and spaces becomes both conceptually and socially imperative. As Olick and Robbins (1998: 113) have argued, ‘it is virtually impossible to discuss collective memory without highlighting historical developments in the material means of memory transmission’. And, in the following section I attempt to do this by turning now to the 9/11 Internet memorials introduced above.
A recent study identified the existence of almost forty Internet memorials commemorating the 9/11 attacks and their victims (Hess 2007: 816). In the analysis that follows, I draw on six examples of this genre to illustrate my own understanding of these memory projects. These examples were located sequentially (see Curtis et al 2000: 1002) by means of a snowball technique through following links between memorial websites identified through preliminary searches within the Google search engine (see also Hess 2007: 816). The final sample of six was arrived at through use of a ‘maximum variation’ principle (see Flyvbjerg 2006: 230) in order to reflect the diversity of content, form and emphasis within this emergent genre of memory project. This principle not only facilitates reflection on the heterogeneity of this cultural form in the following discussion. It also renders possible a ‘cross-case analysis’ (Yin 1981: 63) of potentially important equivalences linking these quite distinct websites. In this sense, the remainder of this article offers an early effort at analytic (rather than statistical) generalization (see Curtis 2002: 1002) concerning, first, the distinctiveness of these particular sites of memory, and, second, their broad socio-political appeal. For, approached collectively, I argue that these under-investigated phenomena (for exceptions, see Grider 2007; Hess 2007; see also Weber 2006) necessitate our revisiting longstanding concerns with questions of representation and participation alike in practices of remembrance. To explore these, I turn now to the three above-noted mnemonic shifts signalled by these memorials: their digital form, dynamism and accessibility.
The visitor encountering any of the 9/11 Internet memorial sites will be struck, first of all, by the multiplicity of textual practices marking these phenomena. As one recent embodiment of Nora’s (1989: 14) ‘archive-memory’ that is predicated on an epochal imperative to collect, categorise and keep historical artefacts, these memory projects are characterised by a proliferation of representational forms unavailable to architects of their antecedents (see Kidd 2009: 167). Hybridizing the Lacanian imaginary and symbolic into complex, polygonal, engagements with the recent past, words, photographs, cartoon graphics and multimedia clips all jostle for the audience’s attention. In some, such as the ‘9/11 Memorial Website’, these capabilities are deployed to emphasise the pictorial, with images of the crashes and international mourners both softening the nationalist emphasis of the displayed American flags, and bounding the far sparser written text on offer. In others, including ‘Where Were You…September 11th, Two Thousand One’, it is the written recollections of visitors that take centre stage; a logocentric bias reflected, perhaps, in the ‘View/Browse’ and ‘Search’ options heading each page.
The interweaving of textual forms facilitated by the digital technologies underpinning these memorials already marks them out from more conventional sites of remembrance. However these forms are negotiated and combined, their availability and juxtapositions facilitate new techniques for engaging their visitors. If divorced from the physical world and thus lacking the geographical resonance of earlier monuments such as at Auschwitz (see Young 1989), these memorials make use of alternative affective strategies for both capturing attention and stimulating emotion: strategies such as the audio-visual ‘moving tributes’ video clips on ‘Remember: September 11, 2001’. Here, a more appropriate point of comparison may be not the war memorial at all; but rather the obituary with its duality of function as rite de passage assisting the bereaved, and space of verdict for pronouncing a dead person’s achievements (Fowler 2005: 61). Yet, with their emphasis on those seemingly ‘ordinary’ individuals caught up in events beyond their control, the value of this comparison appears strictly limited given the obituary’s historical focus on the lives of ‘the dominants’ (Fowler 2005: 62).
A further distinctive feature of this digital form concerns the incorporation within these memorials of direct, traceable, links to other virtual sites. While we know from Foucault (2002: 27) and others that any textual unity necessarily transcends and escapes its own limits, these Internet projects are particularly interesting in the explicitness of their connections to others. With visitors able to move swiftly from their present location through the click of a hyperlink, these 9/11 sites embed themselves within a seemingly perpetual digital network. And, this perpetual networking not only incorporates connections to websites with similar purposes. It also evidences and builds on the Internet’s commerciality with advertisements for ‘local’ businesses such as the Boston Law Firm specialising in ‘litigation, tax, construction and divorce’, and, more curiously, for ‘Local Girls 18+’. This peculiar configuration of death, sex and commerce engendered by their digital existence, then, further positions these memorials as ‘anomalous’ memory projects in Wagner-Pacifici’s (1996: 309-311) terminology. Defying established conventions for remembering, commemorating and grieving the past, they here represent a considerable shift in the forging of social memory.
The explicitness of the linkages between these memorials and other Internet sites calls forth a second shift signalled by these memory projects. In a recent discussion of the politics of memory, Edkins (2003: 130) draws a useful distinction between those memorials that stand as evidence of a problem solved by presenting a concise and coherent moment of historical closure. And, on the other hand, those that seem somehow to defer the moment of closure through evoking and encouraging differing visitor responses. These projects, I argue, offer an example par excellence of the latter with their capacity for continual transformation through the addition of new photographs, new inscriptions, and new links all promising hitherto unarticulated reflections on 9/11 and its victims. In the ‘National Book of Remembrance’ on Legacy’s ‘Remember: September 11 2001’, for example, this is done directly; the visitor actively encouraged to, ‘Share your memories or express your condolences’. With scope for extending this project’s construction by uploading photographs and, interestingly, downloading suggested entry templates, a considerable 28,422 entries had been left on this virtual book at the time of writing: entries continuing throughout 2009. Where others, such as the ‘God Bless Americans: September 11 Memorial Site’ have not capitalized on this dynamic potential – their apparent abandonment signalled by unfulfilled directions to ‘Recommended Sites’ on its pages – scope for future endogenous change therein remains open.
The opportunity for dynamism within these memorial projects – whether realised or possible – is interesting in its blurring of what Young (1989: 67) has referred to as the three parts of a monument’s existence: ‘its literal conceiving and construction; its finished form as public memorial; and its life in the mind of its community and people over time’. If all memorials are characterised by historical transformation – and what better example than the much-discussed laying of gifts at the Vietnam Veterans Wall – these sites dramatically extend the possibility of mnemonic change in this context: confronting visitors and contributors with, and as, ‘an ongoing process that depends less upon the implied eternity of a built physical environment than on the entirely different eternity of circulating information’ (Grider 2007: 267). Although this promise of an endless memorialising process throws up challenges to their guardians, as the ‘ALL SPAM IMMEDIATELY DELETED’ warning on ‘September 11 2001 Gay Victims and Heroes’ suggests, the interactivity and associated liquidity of these sites keeps open ever new prospects for reconfiguring 9/11 in the minds of visiting publics (see Garde-Hansen et al 2009: 16-17).
A final mnemonic shift signalled by these memorials directly follows that above. As indicated already, their sense of dynamism is driven not only by the presence of external links and the possibility of new contributions from their creators. But also, and in large part, by the ability of visitors to engage in, and contribute to, their ongoing construction. Where political elites have historically dominated the organisation of war memorials, archives and so forth, these websites offer a potentially significant forum for constructing, disseminating and contesting ‘vernacular memories’; memories ostensibly structured around, ‘the interests of ‘ordinary people’ and their personally situated interpretations of national tragedy’ (Hess 2007: 815). With sites such as ‘September 11th Memorial.com’ and others already mentioned actively soliciting the reflections of their visitors, these memorials provide ample opportunity for the circulation and sharing of reactions to the 9/11 events. Facilitated, here, by an enhanced interactive potential than that offered within traditional monuments requiring corporeal presence at a pre-specified location, and building on earlier efforts to aggregate individual ‘micro-histories’ both online and off (see Clarke 2009), these memorials potentially greatly enhance the accessibility of memory itself. First, by presenting new possibilities to assist in the shaping of 9/11’s retrospective construction amongst willing contributors. And, second, by offering a presentational space upon which to display the collected vernacular memories.
The enhanced accessibility marked by these memorials is important, I suggest, for two related reasons. In the first instance, they throw forth a relatively underexplored space for the blending of what Wagner-Pacifici (1996: 312) terms public event-memories and private memories. If the events of 9/11 were experienced in relative synchrony by all watching their unfolding live on the television, they were also, of course, experienced rather differently. By collocating the reflections of those wishing to remember collectively, then, these Internet sites allow a potentially politically productive contamination of the personal and public: bringing individualised reflections into a broader, and continuously unfolding, memory project. Second, and because of this, these sites also engender new opportunities for articulating dissensus with the ways in which ostensibly shared events such as 9/11 are remembered. With discussion on these sites marked by disagreement as well as concord, these projects facilitate a valuably agonistic approach to remembrance; one that throws forth new questions for exploring the ‘we’ in Nora’s (1989: 12) assertion that:
lieux de mémoire originate with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory, that we must deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations, pronounce eulogies, and notarize bills because such activities no longer occur naturally [my emphasis].
To summarise, the discussion thus far has located these Internet memorials within ongoing debates over the construction and character of social memory. In common with alternative lieux, these memory projects need be approached as processes (not objects) that are inherently social, contingent, contemporary, and embodied. Moreover, their multi-textual construction, dynamism and enhanced participatory scope, I argued, all provoke new questions and challenges for our understanding of social remembrance itself: signalling, here, a contemporary and potentially profound series of mnemonic shifts.
The most recent, and most sustained, effort to engage with digital memories of the sort focusing this article introduces their emergence as an engagement in deferral: as an effort to postpone or suspend death, endings, history, and information loss (Garde-Hansen et al 2009: 4-5). The 9/11 memorials of this discussion, however, are more usefully approached, I argue, as the product of two different logics. The first, a logic of symbolic exchange. The second, a promissory politics of hope. In this final section I explore these now in turn, attempting both to contextualise these memory projects politically, and to further our understanding of their creation and appeal.
Memory, in some sense, has always operated as an exercise in substitution or exchange (see Marlin-Curiel 2007: 79). In representing, re-presenting, that which has passed, discourses, technologies and vehicles of memory seek to replace absence with presence; attempting the suture of rupture and the bringing of closure to openness. The 9/11 memorials we are discussing, I argue, evidence this dynamic on two distinct levels. In the first instance, as with alternative earlier monuments, these sites proffer themselves as a symbolic substitute for the attacks’ victims to whom they are dedicated. At its most poignant, for example on ‘Sept11thMemorial.com’, this logic approaches explicit articulation with individualised tributes directed to particular victims: tributes given often, if not exclusively, from kith, kin or acquaintances. Here, the fullness of these collected representations seems to surrogate for the corporeality of the victims themselves, contributing, perhaps, to the sense of spectrality characterising a War on Terror populated by phantoms and ghouls (see Devetak 2005; Hill 2009). With the bodies, the remains, as well as the persons so often missing in the attacks’ aftermath, this relation of substitution here acquires a personalised urgency that resonates throughout the many contributions to these memorials. Moreover, while we continue to await a definitive official memorial to the attacks, these sites substitute equally for institutionalised forms of political activity. If not constituted by a ‘fictive kinship’ of the sort identified in Winter’s (1999) analysis of civil society efforts to remember the Great War, these memorials did, and still do, proffer an immediate, tangible, alternative for the as-yet incomplete efforts towards larger collective memory projects in this context.
Bringing the multiple agents behind these memorials’ construction back into focus moves us to the second political logic underpinning their appeal. For, if these Internet sites substitute for their subjects and alternative memory projects alike, they also offer an even more visible politics of promise and hope. And they do so, I argue, in a number of ways. Most overtly, the frequently explicit appeals to normative or socio-political progress upon these sites situate their very existence as part of a movement towards more desirable futures. Offering remembrance as a pathway, for example, to a deepened future understanding of the attacks’ impacts, ‘tell us your story, so generations and generations after will remember that it wasn't only a war on our buildings, our government, our economy, but of our hearts and lives and everything that makes us an American’ (Where Were You…September 11th, Two Thousand One’). Or, more immediately, as a cosmopolitan gesture of assistance for those affected by 9/11, ‘I decided that this would be my way to assist and help people all over the world, by giving them a place to visit and pay their respects to all of the lives lost.’ (Sept11thMemorial.com). Or even, implicitly, as a movement towards more progressive and pluralistic forms of political life, as in the ‘September 11 2001 Gay Victims and Heroes’ self-dedication to ‘The Lovers Who Awaken Each Morning without Their Gay Patriot & Hero beside Them’. These sites repeatedly depict remembrance as a powerful mechanism for ushering in enhanced futures: both public and private.
Second, and perhaps less explicitly, by making use of the Internet’s interactive potential, these memorials also promise to assist in the reactivation of community within the US and beyond. Reproducing, here, post-9/11 claims to a new sense of communal unity and action – ‘For too long our culture has said, ‘if it feels good, do it’. Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed – ‘let’s roll’’ (Bush 2002) – these sites offer a powerful impression of collective engagement (see Torchin 2007: 89; Garde-Hansen 2009: 146). In both soliciting and publishing visitors’ comments and photographs, the memorials interpellate their audience into a seemingly active community by appeal to this ostensibly (if differentially) shared recent-past. As such, by facilitating a new form of participation in the forging of memory, and by signalling a communal entitlement to contribute to these projects, these memorials re-create 9/11 as a site of redemptive transformation; positioning the attacks here as an opportunity for escaping a hitherto individualised, self-interested, social existence.
The enhanced capacity for public participation in these projects calls forth a final promise at which their existence hints. For, through encouraging individuals to contribute to their ongoing construction these memorials also offer(ed) a space for those seeking the recapture of political agency at a time in which it was frequently deemed lacking. 9/11, as is well known, was widely interpreted as a moment of trauma for audiences far beyond the attacks’ most immediate victims (for example, Croft 2006). Those events, we were repeatedly told, represented a barbaric, incomprehensible wound on America’s body politic (Jackson 2005: 32): a wound neither foreseen nor preventable. By facilitating particular strategies of purposive engagement for those seeking to remember 9/11, then, these Internet memorials function also as an effort to ‘fill’ the trauma brought on by the attacks: an effort to plug the ‘void of meaning’ so oft-articulated in their aftermath (Campbell 2001). As if responding to an initially, unusually, passive ‘America’ – and one that would swiftly be substituted for a reinvigorated triumphalism – these memorials provided a series of new, seemingly moral, opportunities for reclaiming some form of agency in a time of uncertainty.
This article has offered an early attempt to think through the emergence and appeal of an unusual set of memory practices that followed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Although sharing the social, contingent, contemporary and embodied characteristics of their antecedents, these Internet memorials, I argued, also signal a potentially significant mnemonic shift within contemporary processes and forms of remembrance. This is so in their construction around far greater textual complexity than earlier monuments; their enhanced scope for transformation; and their proffering new opportunities for participation amongst their visitors. To fully understand their emergence, however, I supplemented my discussion of their historical and technological backdrop by drawing attention to two political logics underpinning their emergence: those of hope and substitution. While similar logics, no doubt, permeate alternative sites of memory, the existence of these websites as a promise to assist their visitors in recapturing both community and agency in particular requires attentiveness to the specificities of their immediate context: the aftermath of 11 September 2001.
Finally, if my reading of these sites as constituting a promissory politics of hope has any merit, these memorials, I suggest, become further interesting still. For, by rearticulating 9/11 as a platform for reclaiming community, agency, and a normatively desirable future, these memorials present an important challenge to the above-noted and much-discussed sense of rupture that accompanied the attacks. Re-positioning those events and their costs into a coherent and knowable, if ‘broken’, continuity, these sites seem to substitute interruption with teleology; calling forth remembrance as a process for benefiting our future selves and others. And, in so doing, they perhaps encourage our rethinking one of the primary claims for distinguishing memory from history within academic discussions of the former: that of memory’s non-linearity.
Berliner, D. (2005), ‘Social Thought & Commentary: The Abuses of Memory: Reflections on the Memory Boom in Anthropology’, Anthropological Quarterly, 78: 1, pp. 197-211.
Bush, G. (2002), ‘President Delivers State of the Union Address’. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html, accessed 11 September 2004.
Campbell, D. (2001), ‘Time is Broken: The Return of the Past in the Response to September 11’, Theory & Event, 5: 4.
Chambers, S. and Finlayson, A. (2008), ‘Anne Coulter and the Problem of Pluralism: From Values to Politics’, borderlands, 7: 1.
Clarke, M. (2009), ‘The Online Brazilian Museu da Pessoa’, in Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A. and Reading, A. (eds.), Save As…Digital Memories, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 151-166.
Cohen, E. and Willis, C. (2004), ‘One nation under radio: digital and public memory after September 11’, New Media & Society, 6: 5, pp. 591-610.
Croft, S. (2006), Culture, Crisis and America’s War on Terror, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Curtis, S., Gesler, W., Smith, G. and Washburn, S., (2000), ‘Approaches to sampling and case selection in qualitative research: examples in the geography of health’, Social Science & Medicine 50: 7-8, pp. 1001-1014.
Derrida, J. (1996), Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, London: University of Chicago Press.
Devetak, R. (2005), ‘The Gothic scene of international relations: ghosts, monsters, terror and the sublime after September 11’, Review of International Studies, 31: 4, pp. 621-643.
Edkins, J. (2003), Trauma and the Memory of Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Finkelstein, N. (2003), The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering(2nd ed.), London: Verso.
Flyvbjerg, B. (2006), ‘Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research’, Qualitative Inquiry, 12: 2, pp. 219-245.
Foucault, M. (2002), The Archaeology of Knowledge, London: Routledge.
Fowler, B. (2005), ‘Collective Memory and Forgetting: Components for a Study of Obituaries’, Theory, Culture & Society, 22: 6, pp. 53-72.
Garde-Hansen, J. (2009) ‘MyMemories?: Personal Digital Archive Fever and Facebook’, in Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A. and Reading, A. (eds.), Save As…Digital Memories, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 135-150.
Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A. and Reading, A. (2009), ‘Introduction’, in Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A. and Reading, A. (eds.), Save As…Digital Memories, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 1-21.
God Bless Americans: September 11 Memorial Site, http://www.godblessamericans.org/, accessed 10 October 2009.
Grider, N. (2007), ‘‘Faces of the Fallen’ and the dematerialization of US war memorials’, Visual Communication, 6: 3, pp. 265-279.
Halbwachs, M. (1992), On Collective Memory: Edited, Translated, and with an Introduction by Lewis A. Coser, London: University of Chicago Press.
Heller, D. (2005), ‘Introduction: Consuming 9/11’, in Heller, D. (ed.) The Selling of 9/11: How a National Tragedy Became a Commodity, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 1-26.
Hess, A. (2007), ‘In digital remembrance: vernacular memory and the rhetorical construction of web memorials’, Media, Culture & Society, 29: 5, pp. 812-830.
Hill, A. (2009), Re-Imagining the War on Terror: Seeing, Waiting, Travelling, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Jackson, R. (2005), Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Jarvis, L. (2009), Times of Terror: Discourse, Temporality and the War on Terror, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Jedlowski, P. (2001), ‘Memory and Sociology: Themes and Issues’, Time & Society, 10: 1, pp. 29-44.
Kansteiner, W. (2002), ‘Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies’, History and Theory, 41: 2, pp. 179-197.
Kidd, J. (2009), ‘Digital Storytelling and the Performance of Memory’, in Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A. and Reading, A. (eds.), Save As…Digital Memories, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 167-183.
Klein, K. (2000), ‘On the Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse’, Representations, 69, pp. 127-150.
Marlin-Curiel, S. (2007), ‘Re-collecting the Collective: Mediatized Memory and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, in Guerin, F. and Hallas, R. (eds.), The Image and the Witness: Trauma, Memory and Visual Culture, London: Wallflower Press, pp. 69-81.
Nora, P. (1989), ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations, 26, pp. 7-24.
Olick, J. (1999), ‘Collective Memory: The Two Cultures’, Sociological Theory, 17: 3, pp. 333-348.
Olick, J. and Robbins, J. (1998), ‘Social Memory Studies: From “Collective Memory” to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices’, Annual Review of Sociology, 24: 1, pp. 105-140.
Pogrebin, R. (2005), ‘Controversy Still Clouds Prospects at 9/11 Site’, New York Times: 14 December 2005, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/14/arts/14zero.html, accessed: 8 May 2009.
Radstone, S. (2008), ‘Memory studies: For and against’, Memory Studies, 1: 1, pp. 31-39.
Remember: September 11, 2001, http://www.legacy.com/SEPT11/Home.aspx, accessed 10 October 2009.
Santos, M. (2001), ‘Memory and Narrative in Social Theory: The contributions of Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin’, Time & Society, 10: 2/3, pp. 163-189.
Sept11thMemorial.com, http://www.sept11thmemorial.com/, accessed 8 October 2009.
September 11, 2001: Gay Victims & Heroes, http://www.angelfire.com/fl3/uraniamanuscripts/sept11.html, accessed 12 October 2009.
Sturken, M. (1997), Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering, London: University of California Press.
Torchin, L. (2007), ‘Since We Forgot: Remembrance and Recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Virtual Archives’, in Guerin, F. and Hallas, R. (eds.), The Image and the Witness: Trauma, Memory and Visual Culture, London: Wallflower Press, pp. 82-97.
Trimarco, J. and Depret, M. (2005), ‘Wounded Nation, Broken Time’, in Heller, D. (ed.) The Selling of 9/11: How a National Tragedy Became a Commodity, pp. 27-53.
Wagner-Pacifici, R. (1996), ‘Memories in the Making: The Shapes of Things That Went’, Qualitative Sociology, 19: 3, pp. 301-321.
Wagner-Pacifici, R. and Schwartz, B. (1991), ‘The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past’, American Journal of Sociology, 97: 2, pp. 376-420.
Weber, C. (2006), ‘An Aesthetics of Fear: The 7/7 London Bombings, the Sublime, and Werenotafraid.com’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 34: 3, pp. 683-711.
Where were you…September 11th, Two Thousand One’, http://www.wherewereyou.org/, accessed 10 October 2009.
White, H. (1987), The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Winter, J. (1999), Forms of kinship and remembrance in the aftermath of the Great War’, in Winter, J. and Sivan, E. (eds.), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 40-60.
Winter, J. and Sivan, E. (2000), ‘Setting the framework’, in Winter, J. and Sivan, E. (eds.), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 6-39.
Yin, R. (1981), ‘The Case Study Crisis: Some Answers’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 26: 1, pp. 58-65.
Young, J. (1989), ‘The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning’, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 4: 1, pp. 63-76.
Zerubavel, E. (1996), ‘Social Memories: Steps to a Sociology of the Past’, Qualitative Sociology, 19: 3, pp. 283-299.
9/11 Memorial Website, http://www.911-remember.com/, accessed11 October 2009.