Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Nancy K. Miller

Committee Members

Feisal Mohamed

Talia Schaffer

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | American Film Studies | American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Architectural History and Criticism | Disability Studies | Literature in English, North America

Keywords

trauma, memory, care theory, museums, memorials

Abstract

This dissertation is a reflection on how loss was articulated in the wake of 9/11. The terror attacks engendered a memorial style that sought to give shape to grief, acknowledging it without filling it in or erasing it. This new style, which I term embodied absence, exists across a range of mediums, from literature to architecture. It is such a potent memorial form because it also captures the traumatic process, which is prolonged, layered, and potentially open-ended. However, despite their ability to mirror the nature of trauma, instances of embodied absence never verbalize the attacks’ root trauma—the disconnect between our idealized conception of the American state, and the inegalitarian, hypercapitalist reality 9/11 revealed. This root trauma is sometimes gestured at and acknowledged, but it is never grappled with in any direct or meaningful way. Nonetheless, it looms with an overwhelming presence in the post-9/11 consciousness, and has reshaped our relationship with the state. Though we have not addressed the root trauma, we have taken steps to correct it, and those steps have expanded our expectations of what kind of care the state should provide and how it should provide that care.

This dissertation is structured, to a certain degree, as a call and response. The first half looks at cultural attempts to represent grief, while the second half examines concrete efforts to remedy it. In the first chapter, I outline how the representational style of embodied absence evolved and discuss literary examples of the style, such as the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the comic In the Shadow of No Towers, demonstrating how embodied absence in these texts mirrors the layered and ongoing nature of trauma. In the second chapter, I examine the renewed interest after 9/11 in the Twin Towers and the wire walk Philippe Petit performed between them, and how they became symbols that enabled us to consider the root trauma from the safe remove of a double metaphor. The third chapter looks at the type of care enacted by the 9/11 Repository as it seeks to identify the remains of all 9/11 victims; I argue that this is a new type of care relationship that demonstrates, contrary to prevailing care theory, that institutions are capable of performing direct acts of care. Finally, chapter four performs a close reading of the 9/11 Museum, arguing that the while the museum has the capacity to enact institutional care in the same way that the 9/11 Repository does, it fails to do so.

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