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This book examines the commemoration of 9/11 in American memorial culture. It argues that the emergence of counter-memories of September 11 has been compromised by the dominance of certain narrative paradigms – or, frames of memory – that have mediated the representation of the attacks across cultural, critical, political, and juridical discourses.




As has been widely documented,1 the rise of memory as a body of cultural and critical interest can be loosely traced to a series of events that coalesced around the fall of Soviet Communism. These include the infamous historians’ debate over the Holocaust in Germany and a related national commitment to Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or coming to terms with the past;2 increasing concerns about the ‘amnesiac’ dimensions of both globalising capitalism and cultural postmodernism;3 the heightened importance of identity politics in the late 1980s and 1990s; confrontations with the legacies of colonialism, fascism, and Apartheid; and an apparent decline in national affiliations and ideologies as a grounding for identity.4 However, whilst these antecedents may point to a distinct, if diffuse, set of historical coordinates upon which to ground the recent interest in memory, subsequent developments have resulted in a rather amorphous, and arguably, indefinable field of study.

Lucy Bond

1. American Trauma Culture after 9/11

In just sixteen words, Hernán Poza III (a former volunteer firefighter and, at the time of 9/11, a social worker in New York City) encapsulates the central tropes that have framed reactions to September 11 across multiple discursive realms: firstly, in media coverage and political rhetoric immediately following the attacks; secondly, in early critical theory; thirdly, and must enduringly, in the corpus of 9/11 trauma fiction, which forms the main focus of this chapter. Poza writes:

this is for history

this is overwhelming

this is not real

this is the new world

(Poza 2003, 19)

Lucy Bond

2. The New American Jeremiad after 9/11

The previous chapter examined the predominance of trauma as a frame of memory after 9/11, arguing that its centrality in the American public sphere can be at least partially explained by widespread subscription to the attacks as a moment of national unhoming. This chapter considers attempts to ‘rehome’ the United States by reconnecting post-9/11 American society to the founding mythologies of the nation. Whilst the narratives considered in the last chapter tended to personalise geopolitical concerns, many of the discourses analysed below evidence an oppositional tendency to nationalise private experience. Similarly, whilst my analysis of American trauma culture after September 11 exposed the ways in which existent academic and popular conceptions of trauma had been mobilised in political discourse following the attacks, here I identify a converse process through which historic ideologies of exceptionalism and triumphalism have been absorbed into official, vernacular, and commercial memorial culture in the wake of 9/11. This pattern has, once again, facilitated the development of a series of intrinsically politicised memorative regimes, perpetuated by their conscription into a dominant frame of memory: the American jeremiad. As the following analysis will argue, the jeremiad has operated as the exemplary mythic vehicle for the national imaginary from the early seventeenth century and can be seen in resurgent form in American memorial culture after 9/11.

Lucy Bond

3. Analogical Holocaust Memory after 9/11

Building upon recent critical attempts to foreground the comparative properties of memory, this chapter examines the ways in which cultural and political discourses have sought to construct analogical frames of reference for 9/11. I focus upon the widespread recourse to the Holocaust as a point of reference for September 11, investigating the convergence of two pre-existing cultural discourses in the American public sphere: the ‘Americanisation’ of the Holocaust in memorial culture from the early 1990s, and the mobilisation of the Holocaust in support of US military intervention in foreign policy rhetoric in the post-Cold War period. Contrary to recent critical attempts to construct ethical paradigms of transcultural memory, in these discourses recourse to Holocaust memory paradoxically results in a renationalisation of American memorial culture and a corresponding reassertion of American exceptionalism. In the decade since September 11, the pre-eminence of the Holocaust has ensured that certain memorial constellations have been ignored and the traces of their paths erased in favour of less problematic acts of historical analogy. Accordingly, I suggest that it is not always the most visible points of connection that offer the potential for ethical modes of remembrance, but the hidden histories, the forgotten memories, whose relationship to 9/11 presents the most important claims to attention.

Lucy Bond

4. Memory, Law, and Justice after 9/11

This book has argued that representations of 9/11 have recurrently been mediated by certain frames of memory (the psychoanalytic rhetoric of trauma, the triumphalist tropes of the jeremiad, and the analogical templates of Americanised Holocaust memory) in the American public sphere over the past thirteen years. These paradigms, all of which were culturally prominent prior to the attacks, have shaped the articulation of September 11 across diverse cultural, critical, and political forums. Whilst the media upon which this analysis is based are not, of course, representative of the sum of 9/11’s memorial culture, they point to a number of issues that require further exploration. Firstly, they underline the absolute impression of American innocence (and exceptionalism), eliding more difficult elements of US history. Secondly, they suggest a convergence of public and private spheres, evidencing both an over-personalisation of political discourse (as in the mobilisation of trauma post-9/11 examined in Chapter 1) and an abstraction of private loss (as in the transformation of victims into national symbols analysed in Chapters 2 and 3), leading to an appropriation of personal experience. Thirdly, these frames project a contradictory relationship to otherness. On the one hand, their standardising bent appears antithetical to alterity, yet, on the other, the continual reinforcement of a national culture of memory, and the affirmation of its particularly American attributes, enacts an imaginary ringfencing that symbolically separates the United States from the rest of the world.

Lucy Bond


Over the course of this book, I have examined the ways in which frames of memory acquire hegemonic dominance when mobilised by the discourses of the public-political sphere, calling for more attention to the biases naturalised by such paradigms through their repetition over time, arguing for greater reflexivity in the relationship between memorative practice and theory, and urging the development of a more diverse culture of memory that seeks to open up, rather than delimit, dialogue and debate about the past. The preceding chapters foreground three frames of memory that have mediated representations of 9/11 across cultural, critical, political, and juridical discourses over the past thirteen years — the rhetoric of trauma, the tropes of the jeremiad, and Americanised Holocaust memory. These transcendental paradigms underscore the simultaneous ubiquity and uniqueness of American suffering by collectivising trauma, nationalising victimhood, and exceptionalising the attacks. In so doing, such templates (implicitly or explicitly) mask other losses from view, perpetuating an introspective and exclusionary memorial culture that is reluctant to acknowledge any mode of contextualising historicity. Accordingly, I suggest that we might productively move towards a montaged memorial culture that is inclusive of a variety of perspectives, agendas, and interpretations, and global in its orientation.

Lucy Bond


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