Tag Archives: Philosophy of History

9/11 Anniversaries and the Compression of History.

The plethora, saturation, ubiquity (there really doesn’t seem to be an adequate word to capture the essence) of “9/11ness” in the weeks running up to the anniversary of the events which launched (well over) a thousand ill-informed tomes of punditry is difficult to absorb in the extreme.

All cultures commemorate, especially when the thing(s) they remember are either particularly triumphant or traumatic in nature, allowing for the continual re-casting and re-narration of history in light of progress/regress since the event (s).  The Serbs, for example, retain a vivid (and almost wholly fantastical) “memory” of the battle of Kosovo and their perceived defeat by the Turks.  The reality (although accurate accounts are scarce) suggests that the battle left no clear victor with wholesale slaughter on both sides.  Memory, especially collective memory, is malleable and discourses of commemoration are an important part of this plasticity.

One of the things, which strikes the senses about the “9/11 Decade” cavalcade across the Western media is that it is rendered meaningless as an anniversary (chronological or otherwise) by the fact that the “9/11 Decade” has been subjected to analysis and comment ever since the basic reality of the events themselves had been digested (i.e. since the morning of September 12th 2001).  To create hours of programming around the concept of remembering the “9/11 Decade” is redundant.  Asking “what has/have the events/decade meant” should be met with the response, or rather question, “How come you don’t know?  there has been nothing but analysis of such meaning from the moment the towers fell”.

Here we run up against what I would class (without access to detailed referential materials for the moment) as one of the fundamental conditions of post-modernity (as concieved by Lyotard, Jameson and, to an extent, Zizek), with the post-modernity’s acceleration and compression of space/time creating a mode of  media production and consumption, which necessitates, above all, the “world changing event”, the “catastrophe” or (crucially in the age of the image) a visible Hegelian moment of historical synthesis (as visual commodity).  Under these conditions, the image, the analysis, the search for meaning in the event, becomes so compressed that the event begins to consume itself , having no span of history or broader context within which to situate itself.

This is not, I must stress, a reflection of program makers or artists, journalists etc… glossing over any real or perceived context (much admirable work is done into this), rather the compression of space and time is beginning to reach a point whereby the “momentous event” (correctly defined or not), an object of consumption since the advent of the mass media, and to an extent, more widely, history itself is in danger of becoming simulacra, unrelated to an original, even an original which has been witnessed first hand.  The amateur video footage of what has surely become the most recorded event in global history is looped, daily across the world to a point of practical, if not strictly mathematical infinity and, as such, what might be termed the “9/11 commemoration industry” (with apologies to Norman Finklestein) and their pervasive “coverage” of the events and their sociopolitical significance across the airwaves and in print (rather than on a the private,  individual-traumatic level) seems both paradoxical and interesting, in that it raises profound questions about history, reality and media consumption in the age of the image.


I fully appreciate the irony of constructing a blog post about the 9/11 anniversary coverage, thereby contributing to the feedback loop I’ve just outlined.  This post should have perhaps been left for an unrelated time of year, although the “instant” nature of weblogs militates against this (another irony I am also well aware of).  The “9/11 Industry” is fascinating and problematic though, and I hope to write further on it in the future.

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