“The Multidirectionality of Memory: Networks of Trauma in Post – 9/11 Literature.” Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies. Dec. 2014: 15-34.
Ever since the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, a conspicuous indecision between a rhetoric of absolute singularity and unprecedented shock on the one side, and an uncanny feeling of familiarity with such spectacles of terror and violence on the other side, has characterised discourses about the events on that day. Leaving aside here the notorious argument that links the alleged déjà-vu effect of the attacks to the imagery of disaster movies, as well as the question of political motivations behind any such discourse, this ambiguity appears to emerge mainly from two dialectically intertwined sources of experience: the purely subjective present and its historical and cultural embedding.
Jonathan Safran Foer and Art Spiegelman’s post-9/11 texts offer an opportunity to re-think trauma in the context of the terrorist attack on the US. It is not primarily an un-representable void, but a productive, albeit liminal in-between space of both individual and cultural remembering and aesthetic representation. The inclusion of older traumata in narrative discourses on September 11th, paradoxical at first glance, allows to explore the interrelations between the multimodal nature of individual memory, the multidirectionality of collective remembering and their respective narrative potentials, and, lastly, carries implications on literature as a factor of flexibilisation in broader cultural discourse.
A form of witnessing that emanates from a border space between distinct historical traumata rather than the contemporary context alone, this oscillation acknowledges the dilemma of representing the elusive shock of traumatic experience while, simultaneously, allowing the possibility of communication to arise and move beyond conveying a purely negative void. The contemporary trauma narratives after 9/11, therefore, depart from the trauma aesthetic indebted to Adorno or Lyotard in their emphasis of the productive potential of diachronic detours through historical traumata and intertextual experiment with representational possibilities. Because witnesses and iconic systems from disparate experiences enter into a mutual interaction and complementation, the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 enter into a framework that encourages telling and makes accessible what was initially experienced as incommensurate.
As regards the context of post-9/11 discourses, the instances of literature discussed here open up the rhetoric of singularity that was pervasive especially in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in a way that strongly differs from simple displacement, undifferentiated comparison or a certain competitiveness between the commemoration of different collective traumata, be it WWII or 9/11. Their multidirectionality and multimodality counters tendencies of oversimplification and closure whilst providing a historically and aesthetically dynamic possibility of remembering.