“The Spectral Lives of 9/11” – Banita


Introducing her essay in Popular Ghosts, Georgina Banita writes: “This essay draws on Jacques Derrida’s concept of the hauntology of terror to point out the spectrality of the images we associate with terrorism and with 9/11 in particular by focusing on such popular culture staples as the portrait of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist as invisible ghost – “the enemy within” – and other spectral conceptions of evil and criminality. In doing this I hope to challenge received notions of haunting in relation to spatiality and futurity in the context of a particular form of hauntology related to a specific locale – here the Twin Towers in Manhattan – which, however, becomes diluted through its infinite mechanical reproduction in the media. My interest is divided among several layers of popular attention to post 9/11 “apparitions.” First, I look at the haunting presence of the WTC victims in the popular imagination, victims whose bodies were never recovered and whose photographs were [-p.96] scattered in a traumatized city that learned to associate presence with image rather than with concrete corporeality. Second, I consider the proliferating metaphors linking terrorism to ghost-like invisibility and tenacious haunting. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden has often been likened to a specter that resists “capture” – both in the sense of retrieval and visual representation. Third, I investigate several explicitly post 9/11 mainstream films that not only mention the attacks but offer an unsubtle reification of the events. While Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) points to the attacks as its unstated backdrop, as the reality that always inhabits a portion of the viewer’s mind but does not receive any explicit mention in the film itself, other productions such as Reign over Me and 25th Hour (Lee, 2002) contend with 9/11 trauma as a hidden tumor written into the fabric of the film’s narrative and artistic strategies. I conclude that the imbricated layers of media representation itself have performed a kind of spectral haunting by reiterating images that have become ingrained in the popular perception of an event which still seems to derive its potency from hauntic repetition, involuntary memory, and a subtle process of postmortemization. The attacks, I argue, have not claimed a position in popular memory as an event, but rather as a post-event – less as the happening of one September morning and more as the era it ushered in through its abrupt disruption of everyday life and normality.” (pp.95-96)

Banita continues:

“In a brief comment entitled “Where Are the Ghosts of 9/11?” published shortly before the 2008 presidential elections in the U.S., David Simpson – author of 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration – writes: “Seven years after 9/11 one of the strangest things is that there are no ghosts. There never were.” To some extent this failure of the attacks to haunt and harass those they did not kill can be traced back to the rapid responses of the authorities and of the media toward a patriotic eulogization of heroism and a dismissal of the more troubling consequences of the attacks. “The photographs that appeared day after day in the New York Times,” Simpson continues, seemed [‘]… flagrantly dishonorable in their very effort to commemorate. They left little to be haunted by as they reconstructed the lives of the dead as Disneyfied icons of optimistic upward mobility, dreams achieved, selfless happiness, and civic virtue amidst an energetic and responsive democracy. No one was cruel, unhappy, or disappointed, no one unappeased.[‘] Simpson astutely argues that by preventing the work of mourning implicit in the act of being haunted, post 9/11 political games manufactured a pervasive fear of the exterior “other” while paying too little attention to the otherness within – the confrontation with uncanny remnants and specters of the attacks: “Except for the immediately bereaved who have hardly been allowed to speak but are constantly spoken for, we have continued to be kept (do we keep ourselves?) from our own hauntings, our own Godzillas or jungles of screaming souls.”” (p.96)

Defining terrorism as a form of visual warfare, Mitchell suggests that the war on terror is “a war on a projected specter or phantasm, a war against an elusive, invisible, unlocatable enemy, a war that continually misses its target, striking out blindly with conventional means and waging massive destruction on innocent [-100] people in the process” (185). Resembling shadow-boxing more than an act of selfdefense carried out with moral scrupulousness and precision, the war on terror can be seen as the struggle of a possessed person to ban the spirit that they are possessed by – a struggle that damages the self more than it banishes the parasitic spirit. Perhaps the most symptomatic embodiment of the terrorist as poltergeist is the symbolic head of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, whose frequent video appearances, coupled with the impossibility of tracking him down, have bestowed upon him the aura of a demon, a supremely evil figure who appears and disappears at will.” (pp.99-100)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Georgina Banita Shadow of the Colossus: The Spectral Lives of 9/11, pp.94-105 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.


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