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Melancholic Publics and Peaceful Tomorrows: 9/11 Automortography and the Geographies of Sorrow

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Abstract:

In her new book, Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich wants to claim the value of community in the ecstatic gathering of crowds. While the book is more journalistic than intellectual in approach and intent, it speaks to the continued desire for and value in collectivity in an atomized America. My interest lies in examining how mourning functions in the creations of publics, and what Michael Warner calls “counter-publics.” Specifically, I explore how automortography or the perilous last acts of an individual facing death, resonate and enable the creation of posthumous counter-publics. When a person dies, a retrospective re-collection is engaged, fostering a collection of people through mourning who view the final artifacts with reverence and sympathy. While some of these acts fit neatly into capitalist consumerism—ie. posthumous marketing so eloquently examined in Morrissey’s song about the ‘dead star’—I am not willing to cede all authority to the culture industry and claim, as Lauren Berlant does, that this is simply an aspect of “the pedagogy of the viscera” that maintains hegemonic notions of citizenship. I want to claim the possibility of counter-publics, that these wounded attachments can only reflect so much regulation and that in the largest sense it is the belated, melancholic counter-publics where communal politics have their greatest possibility. In other words, the promise, hope, optimism that has characterized the rhetoric of the nation is giving way to fractured, melancholic, specific sites of counter-politics and that through an examination of the machinations of automortography in a ‘mortographic’ culture (that is a culture steeped in representations of death—crime shows, murder mysteries, the evening news, etc.) that we can more fully illuminate how affect has political resonance and how the disidentification with notions of closure enable melancholic publics to flourish.
This particular paper explores how 9/11 fits into this logic. Framed by the hegemonic use of sentiment by the state, the event has also spawned a powerful and committed series of counter-publics that (like Emerson’s circles) resonate out from a center that is ground zero and the families of those who perished there. Peaceful Tomorrow’s is an organization that has been formed by survivors and by family members of those killed in order to contest the official responses and articulate peaceful alternatives; to modify Appadurai’s notion of ‘geographies of anger,’ the group offers an example of the geographies of sorrow that mark the cultural terrain of globalization. While their name is derived from a religious sense of non-violence articulated by Martin Luther King Jr., the group embodies a melancholic politics, a politics of work and action rather than resolution, and a politics of righteous questioning that might characterize some parts of the academy.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186129_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Kane, Thomas. "Melancholic Publics and Peaceful Tomorrows: 9/11 Automortography and the Geographies of Sorrow" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186129_index.html>

APA Citation:

Kane, T. , 2007-10-11 "Melancholic Publics and Peaceful Tomorrows: 9/11 Automortography and the Geographies of Sorrow" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186129_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: In her new book, Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich wants to claim the value of community in the ecstatic gathering of crowds. While the book is more journalistic than intellectual in approach and intent, it speaks to the continued desire for and value in collectivity in an atomized America. My interest lies in examining how mourning functions in the creations of publics, and what Michael Warner calls “counter-publics.” Specifically, I explore how automortography or the perilous last acts of an individual facing death, resonate and enable the creation of posthumous counter-publics. When a person dies, a retrospective re-collection is engaged, fostering a collection of people through mourning who view the final artifacts with reverence and sympathy. While some of these acts fit neatly into capitalist consumerism—ie. posthumous marketing so eloquently examined in Morrissey’s song about the ‘dead star’—I am not willing to cede all authority to the culture industry and claim, as Lauren Berlant does, that this is simply an aspect of “the pedagogy of the viscera” that maintains hegemonic notions of citizenship. I want to claim the possibility of counter-publics, that these wounded attachments can only reflect so much regulation and that in the largest sense it is the belated, melancholic counter-publics where communal politics have their greatest possibility. In other words, the promise, hope, optimism that has characterized the rhetoric of the nation is giving way to fractured, melancholic, specific sites of counter-politics and that through an examination of the machinations of automortography in a ‘mortographic’ culture (that is a culture steeped in representations of death—crime shows, murder mysteries, the evening news, etc.) that we can more fully illuminate how affect has political resonance and how the disidentification with notions of closure enable melancholic publics to flourish.
This particular paper explores how 9/11 fits into this logic. Framed by the hegemonic use of sentiment by the state, the event has also spawned a powerful and committed series of counter-publics that (like Emerson’s circles) resonate out from a center that is ground zero and the families of those who perished there. Peaceful Tomorrow’s is an organization that has been formed by survivors and by family members of those killed in order to contest the official responses and articulate peaceful alternatives; to modify Appadurai’s notion of ‘geographies of anger,’ the group offers an example of the geographies of sorrow that mark the cultural terrain of globalization. While their name is derived from a religious sense of non-violence articulated by Martin Luther King Jr., the group embodies a melancholic politics, a politics of work and action rather than resolution, and a politics of righteous questioning that might characterize some parts of the academy.

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