After Ground Zero: Problems of Memory and Memorialisation

Geoff Carr


According to French historian Pierre Nora, the twin economic and political revolutions of the eighteenth century ruptured lived traditions of memory as new social orders sought to create “new” pasts through establishing official “sites of memory.” It is against this formal tide that the anti-monument movement struggles, to return the act of social retrospection back to everyday life, to place the responsibility of retaining the past not on a site specific object, such as an obelisk, but upon each individual. In light of this current epistemological shift, it is curious that the Memory Foundations plan produced by architect Daniel Libeskind for the site of New York’s razed World Trade Center (WTC) ignores this avant-garde turn, and favours instead the creation of a conservative site of memory. Especially troubling is the vaguely defined process, used by Libeskind and other officials, to invest this place with an aura of sacredness. In this paper, I will discuss why constructing public memory at such sites is generally flawed, and suggest how the proposed “sacred memorial space” at Ground Zero attempts to manage and harness the range of possible recollections to be drawn from the horror of the collapse of the WTC, selectively forgetting the contradictory and complex, in favour of a spiritualised homogeneity.


Copyright (c)

© Centre for Studies in Religion and Society
University of Victoria
All rights reserved.

ISSN (Print): 1705-2947
ISSN (Online): 1712-5634