Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Spectre of September 11th in Literature

Part 1: “Let’s not talk about it ever again.”

That was my sentiment after it happened, after I heard too many conversations, jarring the ears and . Obviously a hyperbolism—a demand impossible and not really desired. But of a piece, I think, with the commonplace among literary circles that it is a subject not yet ripe for literary … representation. And what really does this mean?

Glibly, we might say that the social or cultural imagination or unconscious must work through, process if you will, the images and ideas attached to this event. But again I wonder what this means. Does it mean, for example, that a specific image needs to be drawn forth capable of encapsulating the event? In other words, cultural reckoning means the reduction of the plenitude of images and words and ideas to a specific few capable of symbolizing the rest? Marita Sturken, in a book entitled Tangled Memories, describes the way that certain images are frequently substituted as cultural memories. Can we extend this thesis to a larger, cultural scope?

But this is not the matter at all. When we value texts which deal with historical events, this is never because they have necessarily reached the touchstone of our own experience, but because they manage to synthesize information in such a way as to bring the complexity of the event forth once more. Rather, it really has to do with an emotional immediacy, an open wound, not yet healed. We cannot write, or should not write, about the event because it still has a profound affective force. But admittedly this also is ultimately disappointing in its implications: literary representations are ways to bring forth what emotionally no longer submits us to the passions of grief and shock, disappointment and silence. Moreover, how would this affective force interact with the reading and writing concerning the event? Is the concern for the audience, or is it a concern directed to the capacity of the writer?

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