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Tuesday 13 September 2011

Tools for remembering 9/11

Stream, window in Nazareth
We all remember where we were when we first learned of the attacks on the twin towers in 2001. That simple point has been made countless times in recent days. Similarly, the 'right-ness' of marking the tenth anniversary at the actual sites where tragic loss of lives took place has simply been assumed by all. We might rationally argue that ceremonies of remembrance can be held at any location. The essentially subjective nature of remembering means its social enactment can theoretical take place anywhere. Yet when we saw President Obama joining ceremonies at the attack locations in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington there was clearly a self-evident appropriateness in the action. 
The same principle applies to the anniversary itself. Many survivors and others closely involved in the horrors of 9/11, when interviewed, said that in a sense a tenth anniversary is a wholly arbitrary occasion. Every moment of recollection has an awesome weight to it, however measured in time. But despite that reality, the marking of the tenth anniversary has a fittingness about it that no one can deny.
The 'right-ness' of last weekend's events demonstrates how collective memory operates. Locating the remembrance of tragic events in place and time is a necessary part of actually 'keeping the memory.' Physical memorials are part of that locating. Without these locators memories begin to fade or change character, even when what is remembered is momentous. Several of those interviewed last Sunday expressed precisely that worry. Their personal involvement guarantees their own memories, but they were concerned the wider social memory was perhaps changing or fading. 'We will not forget' requires more that subjective assent. To remember is to join a stream of social remembering.

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