The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember in September, 2001, there was, in fact, one truly collective expression that took place.
By this I am not making reference to frightened Sikh cab drivers draping their livery cabs in flags and patriotic bunting.
As a kind of defense mechanism.
You know, so they wouldn’t be mistakenly lynched.
The collective expression I am referring to was in no way planned; it just happened.
It involved hundreds of “MISSING PERSON” posters that were plastered all along Lexington Avenue near the Armory.
I’ve written about this before, so I won’t belabor the point.
But I will note that this particular group of people had a different framing of the event.
Their communal manifestation of hope and grief, made up of sometimes rather orderly, sometimes overlapping and haphazardly pasted and taped leaflets, was eventually left to wash away with the summer rain.
It did not seek permanence due to it’s having been shared.
In this way it did not “fit” the dominant narrative.
Disappeared individuals melded into a massive wallpapering of smiling faces.
“HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PERSON?”
A thousand times over.
A vast ephemeral presence defining an inconsolable absence.
And defying the non-acknowledgment of their very existence.
This was quickly co-opted.
The New York Times published individual obituaries for a class of people it never mentions in its newspaper.
Similarly, the official memorial lists the names of those gone missing that day.
Quite similar to the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Or any other monument that assembles disparate dead people’s names together to show some sense of “collectivity”.
And then congregates living people together to commemorate the monument’s collection of names.
It just seems a bit forced.
If not staged.
The emotion of it, I shall not fail to mention, is thus rendered rather maudlin.
It also leaves out those who disturb the narrative.
Like the Viet–Namese themselves.
Or those who don’t buy into the official narrative of the attack.
Or those undocumented and thus uncounted slave laborers in the Towers.
Emotion, much less consolation, should not be a competitive enterprise.
And emotion is more true the closer it is to its source.
And emotion is more valid the less it is mediated.
And emotional outlet, in a non-communal society, devolves unfortunately into an exercise in self-dramatization.
And a secondary execution of unwelcome voices.
Image: “Missing Person” posters. | Date: September 2001 | Place: Lexington Avenue somewhere in the 20s. | Camera: Kodak Retina 35mm/1950s | Caption: A friend from work and I would spend our lunches trying to read as many as we could. I wasn’t comfortable taking these pictures. It didn’t seem right somehow. The posters that went up that day remind me of the local “martyr” commemorations for those fallen in armed clashes.