Hess & Herbig, “Recalling the ghosts of 9/11”

Hess, A., & Herbig, A. (2013). Recalling the ghosts of 9/11: Convergent memorializing at the opening of the National 9/11 Memorial. International Journal of Communication, 7, 2207-2230. (23 pages)

Hess and Herbig are primarily concerned with the construction of public memory, looking particularly at the 9/11 memorial in NYC and the ways that the convergence of physical and mobile/virtual modes of memory appear to be unproductive. While, to a certain extent, conceding that digital memorials open a space for complex vernacular expression, they also see profound contradiction in the virtual’s convergence with everyday material activity. They not three kinds of paradoxes:

Connection/disconnection: Hess and Herbig note that while mobile, digital technologies allow us more connection with our social networks, it also appears to disconnect us from immediate spaces. Mobile technology, thus, does not simply alter people’s connection to physical space, but loosens that connection. Likewise, they believe that the mobile apps associated with the 9/11 memorial disconnect users from the other onlookers and visitors in the space itself. Instead, users create co-presence with the dead rather than the living, emphasizing a theme of trauma rather than pointed to the future reconciliation and healing. Furthermore, they argue that “technology creates specific, unambiguous experiences of the memorial that are different for different people rather than a larger, ambiguous frame for the public to experience as a whole” (2222). In other words, technology does a kind of Platonic work to lead towards a particular, unified theme unlike the physical marker as supporting many points of entry with its ambiguity.

Memory/Archive: The 9/11 memorial app offers a lot of different kinds of information, many of which cannot all be viewed (thus diffusing their argument that such text is unambiguous—with many diferent kinds of text not all of which are viewable, then there would again be hyper textual readings, i.e. multiple points of entry, i.e. ambiguous). Further, the mobile device privledges the individual experience: “the individualized experience of personal narrative deflects attention from nationalized narrative of 9/11” (2223). This, of course, does not account for the ways that individuals go through the space as individuals, creating their own individual pathways/navigations through the memorial itself. In other words, Hess and Herbig don’t quite think through their ideas.

Absence/Presence: “the absence of names invites a presence of mind for those at the memorial…yet in the case of the 9/11 memorial, where the physical space is one of personal and public reflection, digital technologies detract from the sense of physical presence. In short, the presence of digital technology invites an absent mind” (2224; though they don’t quite explain what that means or looks like). Here, they point to two ways the app disrupts the user’s visual experience: (1) the phone operates like a Sontag-esque camera where we experience the phone rather than the memorial itself—thus the user experieinces an absence from the presence; and (2) the vast amount of information on the mobile app dilutes the illusion of absence from the 9/11 memorial itself.

In sum, the authors are concerned that the app supports private memory rather than the memorial’s attempt at creating a public memory.

 

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