September 16, 2009

9/11 & Collective Memory

In her book Paradise in Ashes, Beatriz Manz wrote:
Collective memory is clearly a social product, but individual memory also flows from social context. Individuals tap their own recollections, draw on discussions with each other, and filter these perceptions of the past not only through their own interim experiences, but also through the social arena in which society as a whole interprets these events (230-31).
Paradise in Ashes is about the tragedies and murders that took place in Guatemala during the 1970s and 1980s. Memory serves an important role throughout Manz' discussion of how people dealt with, memorialized, and moved past the atrocities they endured. It is not only an excellent book in its own right, but it is highly relevant to a larger discussion about the role of collective memory.

Ground Zero, New York, 2004. Photograph by Ryan Anderson.

Last week marked eight years since September 11, 2001. The internet is a medium that lends itself to all sorts of ideas and projects, and the collective memorization of 9/11 is one of them. Last Friday I was sifting through different sites, paying attention to the vast stories, reflections, and memories that people have of that day. Here are just a few examples of how this event has been remembered, carried on, reflected upon, and disseminated:

Lorie Byrd over at the blog Wizbang, wrote a post called "Never Forget--Eight Years Later." Here is a small excerpt:
Whether criticized for it or not, I think it is also important that we remember what it felt like on that day. I was watching the Today Show and saw the second plane hit the tower in real time. I remember shock, disbelief, and sadness, but most of all a vulnerability that did not exist on September 10. That feeling stayed with me for quite some time. I had felt it to a much lesser extent when the WTC was bombed years earlier, but 9/11/01 was, obviously, on a level never before seen in our nation's history. When I heard the announcement that the Pentagon had been hit as well, and then saw video of the gaping hole, my only thought was "we have been attacked and we are at war."
Byrd's post is a mix of reflection, politics, and personal memories of what the event means to her. For her, remembrance of this specific day has been on ongoing project, and she links to the past posts she has written about the subject as well. Additionally, she posted links to other sites and colleagues who also wrote about and memorialized the event, which illustrates some of the ways that collective memory works online.

SusanG at Daily Kos used the speech by president Obama as a way to mark the day. Interestingly, she did not offer any commentary of her own, and instead let the words of the president speak for her. The discussion forum of the post is where the real action is, and where people express not only their memories, but also their political views as to how the event should be remembered. This is collective memory in action.

Scott at Powerline wrote "Dartmouth's 9/11," which provides snapshot portraits of Dartmouth alumni who lost their lives on 9/11. These were found in the New York Times piece called Portraits of Grief. Here is just one example that Scott posted:

Kevin P. Connors (Tuck) '73

Whether it was climbing a mountain, playing charades or challenging his four brothers and his sister to a game of Monopoly, Kevin Connors would not be defeated. At work, there was the thrill of picking the next big investment for clients of Euro Brokers, where he was a vice president. At home, the simplest of family gatherings became thrill-seeking adventures. Children would be pitted against adults, and Mr. Connors, 55, would side with the team he thought had the best chance of winning.

"My brother was a voracious fan of winning at all things," said Sheila Connors LeDuc. "He once bought a boat to sail around the world. When it sank off the coast of South America, he beat the ocean by not drowning."

And when planes struck the World Trade Center, Mrs. LeDuc was certain that her brother would survive once more. Slowly, she has had to accept another probability. "This was bigger than the boat going down," she said. "I just hope he is at peace and that those of us who mourn him can come to the same peace."

Matt Corley at Think Progress wrote this in a 9/11/2009 post:

Recently, the Guardian interviewed former New York governor George Pataki to discuss the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Pataki, who was in Manhattan when the World Trade Center was hit, used the opportunity to criticize the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate CIA interrogators who went beyond their legal guidance, saying it “jeopardizes” national security...

This post is overtly about the continuing politics that surround 9/11, and less about remembering or reflecting on the event. Still, I would argue that it is in fact about collective memory and how the event is characterized throughout the nation. Everyone has their take. It's all a part of the way many Americans circulate, contest, and reshape how that one day is talked about and remembered in larger national discourse. Collective memory, in many ways, is a process more than anything else. Memories are shaped by the present, and the ways that different events are viewed depends a lot on individual perspectives and politics. There are vastly different ways that people from across the political and social spectrum talk about and remember 9/11 through blogs and other online media, and there is no one "right" way to do it. What 9/11 means, in the end, all depends on this vast conversation that Americans continue to participate in, effectively shaping, creating, and re-creating conceptions and memories of that day over and over again.

Cross-posted here.


Conor said...

I enjoyed this post

Ryan Anderson said...

cool man. thanks for being my #1 most consistent commenter. i should give you a prize at the end of the year or something.

Conor said...

Haha, i just like reading your stuff.