I saw a few of my students at the brief 9/11 memorial event on campus this morning, and I wonder what they think of all the fuss. It's interesting teaching a course on 9/11 literature to students whose memories of the event are dim and fleeting, who may come to view 9/11 the way many of us view Pearl Harbor: a sad thing happened to a bunch of people I don't know a long time ago but what does it have to do with me?
We've been reading articles on trauma theory alongside poems and personal accounts of the events of September 11, 2001, and if nothing else my students can see that it no one poem, story, or account can capture the magnitude of the attacks or the nuances of various responses. We've seen how the event has been mediated, manipulated, manhandled, commodified, fetishized, and idolized, and we've only just begun our studies.
One question that keeps coming up deals with debris: how do we handle the aftermath? Do we hide the wounds and broken things or put them on display? And who gets to decide what bits of twisted steel or charred paper are worthy of treasuring and which ones will land in some forgotten landfill?
When we visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan in May, we were drawn to a battered, misshapen sculpture--Fritz Koenig's The Sphere, which was recovered from the rubble following the 9/11 attacks. I suppose it would have been possible to restore the sculpture to pristine condition, but instead it stands witness to the trauma that the nation suffered, a visible reminder that we are all wounded even if our scars are not visible.
And this morning at the campus memorial I was reminded of the 9/11 survivors we met in Manhattan, family members for whom the names on the memorial are more than just a list of the lost, and I thought of the words of the Shepherd in Jose Saramago's novel All the Names: "One can show no greater respect than to weep for a stranger." After all these years, we're still weeping.