21G.013 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Out of Ground Zero: Catastrophe and Memory

Study Materials

These study questions relate to assigned readings found in the calendar section.

Week 1

General Questions
  1. Should there be a memorial for the World Trade Center?
  2. What kind of memorial?
  3. Who is the audience/viewership?
  4. How can we activate collective memory?
  5. What is collective memory?
Questions to Guide your Reading

1. In “Individual and Collective Memory” Maurice Halbwachs argues that all memory is collective. How does he substantiate this claim?

2. Andreas Huyssen remarks that there is no space for “ruins” in the American imagination. Do you agree? Why or why not? How would you describe the first American reactions (for example, in politics, in the media, in culture, in religion) to the events of 11 September 2001?

I. Collective Memory

Q. What did you think collective memory was before you read Maurice Halbwach’s Collective Memory (CM)? What does Maurice Halbwachs (MH) think it is?

A: Maurice Halbwachs first used the expression in his studies The Collective Memory (1922) and The Social Frameworks of Memory (1925).

B: MH was a sociologist, working against individualism of psychoanalysis.

II. Space and Collective Memory

Q. What is first memory scene in chapter 1?

A: MH understood memory to be dependent upon the spatial environment of a given group. “Space,” Halbwachs argues, is “a reality that endures.” We can only recapture the past by understanding how it is “preserved in our physical surroundings” (Halbwachs p. 140).

Q: How could this environment change? How would this structural change affect collective memory?

A: A collective defines its reactions to the outside world in relation to “a specific configuration of the physical environment,” Halbwachs argues. If a community were to lose its location “in the pocket of a certain street, or in the shadow of some wall or church,” he insists, they would then lose the tradition that grounds their existence (CM p. 135, p. 157).

III. History/Memory, Archive/Museum

Q: How would you differentiate history from memory?

A: Halbwachs draws a dividing line between collective memory and history split by an axis that opposes internal to external knowledge and experience.

Q: Do history and memory have different temporalities? What kind of images illustrate history and memory?

B: For MH, memory is ephemeral, contingent. Cannot be sedimented into a single unified story.

C: History, on the other hand, pretends that memory does lend itself to unification. If history records memory responds…

D. The roots of term “archive” reach back to the Greek verb arkhein, which means “to begin” but also “to rule” or “to command.” In contradistinction, the word “museum,” a cousin to “mausoleum,” looks back to the past.

IV. Henri Bergson

A: In CM, Halbwachs refers to and then refutes the insights that Bergson presents in Matter and Memory.

B: Bergson envisions memory as something with all the concreteness and repletion of a book, a bound volume in the library of the unconscious, in which vivid images of past events would lie like so many pages sewn into signatures.

C: Bergson was convinced total recall was possible.

D: For Halbwachs, however, anamnesis only exists as a counterpart to amnesia.

Q: This is a conundrum. What do you think?

E: For Halbwachs, Memory survives as “piecemeal impressions,” whose meaning can be divined only through the lens of the social. Memory can only exist as a work-in-progress. Historically, memory starts only when a particular tradition ends or when collective memory withers away. (pp. 77-80.)

Q: What do life and death have to do with the matter of making a WTC monument? Should the monument testify to the lives lived and worked in the WTC? Or should it commemorate their deaths? Should the monument work memory or record history?

V. History/Memory (cont.)

A: In his initial propositions, MH conjectured that no memory could thrive without some material referent in which it could anchor itself. By 1925 Halbwachs came to see that, once spatial memory instills itself into the individual mind, it need not remain tethered to concrete objects.

B: The links which attach the community to its physical locale, Halbwachs maintains, gain even “greater clarity in the very moment of their destruction.” (p. 131.)

Q: How could urban destruction foster Collective Memory?

C: It is the conversations and the exchange of personal narratives that keep memory present to the collective–the work of memory consists in the reception.

Q: What criteria should the memorial meet?

VI. Andreas Huyssen, “Twin Memories”

A: Huyssen targets the problem of making a WTC monument in New York, to reconcile rebuilding a site of prime real estate with 1. The need to commemorate the dead and 2. The challenge of memorializing a “historical event?” (p. 7.)

B: Huyssen (and Eric) point out the differing symbolism of the WTC and the pentagon.

Q: Do you think the WTC is a more resonant icon? Why?

C: Huyssen develops upon the problem of the WTC monument in New York, “…how to imagine a monument to something that was already a monument in the first place? – monument to corporate modernism, capitalist realism…” (p. 9.)

Q: What style was the WTC? Who knows architecture?

D: Pruitt Igoe became an icon through its destruction. It marked the end of urban modernism, beginning of Postmodernism.

Q: Will the WTC become a belated icon? To what? How much time does Huyssen think should be allotted to realize the WTC memorial? What is the other destroyed monument that is invoked in this essay? Why are no ruins allowed in the American imagination?

Week 2

Questions to Guide your Reading

1. In “The Age of Total War” Eric Hobsbawm sets the events of World Wars I and II within the larger context of the global political economy. Which institutions and financial sectors were activated in that “short century” from 1914-45? How does this economic formation compare to the post-9.11 landscape that Andreas Huyssen describes in “Twin Memories”?

2. What is the function of temporal juxtaposition in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five?

I. Reinhold Martin, “One or More”

A: Martin asks whether there occurred anything like a singular, world-historical “event” worthy of commemoration and rebuilding (what he calls ’erasure’).

B: Symbolic energies are already being expended by many in New York, not only the lower Manhattan development corporate real estate developers, architects, Mayor Bloomberg, and political commentators.

Q: What do you think? How many? What does Martin think? What is the target of his Critique? Why is this a problem?

C: Martin has two views on WTC attacks. Separately, they are part of a continuum. But taken together, that is, when the first attack is complemented by the second, it takes on world-historical importance.

Q: Where does he say this?

Week 3

Questions to Guide your Reading

Choose one of the poems from Paul Celan and explicate it. Substantiate your analysis with references to the poem.

I. Paul Celan

A: He was born in Czernovitz, in Romania, in 1920 which up until 1918, formed part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a polyglot amalgam of nations stretching from Austria in the west to the Balkans in the south-east.

Q: What language was spoken there?

B: The speaking of good German marked an individual as both bourgeois and cultured, one who participated in the cosmopolitan world of politics, art, literature and music.

C: German began as, and remained, Celan’s dominant language, in part through the insistence of his mother and her influence on his education. The first poet Celan remembered reading was Schiller and he wrote his first known poems, as a teenager, in German.

D: In 1942 the Germans deported his parents to labor camps in the Ukraine where both died.

E: Celan could not live in a German-speaking culture, but he felt he could write in no other language. In 1948, just after he arrived in Paris, he wrote, “There’s nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German.” Dennis Schmidt calls German ’the language of his [Paul Celan’s] deferred death.'

F: Celan tried to get at the task of expressing the agony of extermination… but German– that is, the vocabulary of the German implicated in the Holocaust–was inadequate. The creativity of his language and its metaphorical density became acts of defiance against the Germans that had executed his parents and the many millions like them. In his hands, “language broke apart on the wheel of history and reformed in poetry.”

II. Fugue

Q: What is a fugue?

A: Johann Sebastian Bach was an integral figure in both German culture and the western tradition of classical music.

B: Celan wanted to reengage with German music, language, culture. The organizers and governors of the camps and many of the prisoners shared this latter heritage.

Q: What do you think Celan achieves by linking fugue to death? How is the musical theme established in the title continued in the poem?

C: There is also a second definition, from psychiatry, for the word fugue: a dreamlike state of altered consciousness, lasting from a few hours to several days, during which a person loses his/her memory of a previous life and often wanders away from home. Fugue itself derives from the Italian word fuga, which means a running away, flight.

III. We drink you at night

A: In the first stanza, Celan writes of the black milk, addressing it directly.

B: Amy Colin argues, the address to a ‘you’ is a way of creating intimacy within a poem, or a way of creating a possibility of dialogue. A speaker may address him/herself as ‘you’ and creating an internal dialogue, or may implicate the reader/hearer as ‘you’.

Q: Think of some of the meanings the class suggested for ‘black milk’. Can the ‘black milk’ hear? Can the ‘black milk’ respond? What happens within the poem as a result of the speaker’s addressing an inanimate object or abstract concept? How do you as a reader react to the shift?

IV. He commands us to strike up and play for the dance

A: Primo Levi tells us that the concentration camp commandants formed prisoners into orchestras which played at different times during the workday.

B: One does not normally dance to a fugue. Nor are ‘whistle’, and ‘scrape’ words associated with classical music.

C: Celan appears to be setting up a second strand of musical associations, this time with popular music. The beat is heavy and insistent, more like a march or a communal song.

Q: What does the union of the two ideas (fugue and march) suggest to you?

V. Margareta

A: Margareta recalls the Romantic German ideals of the feminine.

B: Margareta is the heroine of Goethe’s Faust.

VI. Shulamith

A: She is the “black and comely” princess in the ‘Song of Songs’ in the Old Testament.

B: Shulamith is often seen as the Jewish people itself.

VII. Meister

A: Meister in German “can designate God, Christ, rabbi, teacher, champion, captain, owner, guildsman, master of arts or theology, labor-camp overseer, musical maestro, “master” race”.

B: Celan’s precise word choice allows him to pack a whole history into one word: he manages to indict multiple strands of the ‘civilisation’ whose most recent flowering was the Holocaust.

Q: What associations does the use of this word arouse in you as a reader? How do these associations lead you to read this section of the poem?

Week 4

Questions to Guide your Reading

What is Lisa Yoneyama’s notion of “phantasmatic innocence?” How would it function in the cultural response to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How would this response to compare to that, currently underway, in the aftermath of 9.11 in the US?

I. Yoneyama

Q: Nandy is a radical historian. Lisa Yoneyama doesn’t only present an objective account. How would you characterize her work? What were the possible aesthetic origins of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (HPMP)?

A: Kenzo Tange designed both the Commemorative Building Project for the construction of greater East Asia (imperial) and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Q: What is the design of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park? What were some similarities between the two monuments? What problems does Yoneyama see in these similarities?

B: Her book is a wake-up call against nationalism. She sees nationalism as the real enemy. This nationalism brings about amnesia.

Q: What is being forgotten? How did this blind spot manifest in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park? Does Lisa Yoneyama (LY) argue for distinction between memory and history? What was Halbwachs’ distinction?

II. Comparing Germany and Japan

A: Yoneyama draws a comparison, because she wants to demonstrate how politics of memory are symptomatic of deeper crises in postwar democracy. She reminds us of historians’ consensus that Nazism and the Holocaust were products of European modernity.

Q: How could that be? What is she saying?

B: The genocide of the Holocaust made many doubt tenets of European modernity. Today, politics of memory in Europe revolve around recognition of and mourning for a loss of origins and innocence.

C: In Japan, concerns about loss are less profound.

Q: What’s the problem that Yoneyama sees in Japanese postwar monuments and memory?

D: Yoneyama wants to show how this phantasm of Japanese civilian innocence’ is “enmeshed” within the universalistic discourse on humanity.

Q: Yoneyama sees Hiroshima and Nagasaki as tropes. What’s a trope?

E: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are tropes for humanity. They take on a “universal referentiality.”

Q: Do you think WTC can take over this position as being ‘master code for catastrophe’?

F: Against this, LY sees politics of memory in Japan as privileging anonymous position of humanity a ’nuclear universalism.’

III. The Epigraph Debate

Q: What was the problem with the epigraph on the HPMP?

Q: How did this debate begin?

IV. Peace/Bomb

Q: What is the link Yoneyama sees between peace and the bomb?

A: Macarthur himself thought that Hiroshima should be re-planned to turn it into an international showcase for exhibiting the link between the bomb and peace.

Q: What do you think about accommodating visitors? How would this compare to Libeskind’s Jewish Museum?

B: LY says that Hiroshima, as commemorative city, was designed to demonstrate the interchangeability between the bomb and peace.

V. Ariella Azoulay

A: Like Halbwachs, interested in spatial dimension of memory.

Q: Why is memory thwarted in Hiroshima?

Q: What is a mantra of this article, from Resnais film?

B: In the wake of this total catastrophe, there was nothing to see, nothing to remember.

Q: If there was nothing to remember, does Azoulay want us to forget?

Q: What is Marie-Ange Guilleminot’s (MAG) account of postwar censorship?

C: MAG wants to answer this silencing with something mute. We address to address someone, to answer back. She is responding to Hiromi Tsuchida’s account.

Q: How does that resonate, to redress?

D: Responding to someone else’s gaze. She can see only by responding (p. 80.)

Q: What is Azoulay’s stance toward the museum?

Look at pages 86 and 88.

Q: How does this transmission related back to Halbwachs?

Week 5

Questions to Guide your Reading

How do vision and blindness operate in the poetry of Hiroshima by Toge, Shoda, and Kurihara?

I. John Whittier Treat, Writing Ground Zero

Q: What does the chapter title mean. Is it poetry against itself?

A: Treat is struck by the “aesthetic conservatism” of post-Hiroshima poetry.

Q: What do you know about Japanese poetry?

B: Treat brings up Paul Celan as a good example of the speaker who ‘stands outside language.’

C: This sense of ‘standing outside language’ is part of the post-Hiroshima condition. The poet is alienated in the same way the target of a nuclear attack is alienated.

Q: What’s a metaphor?

D: It is derived from metapherein, to transfer, which is from meta and pherein, to bear. It is defined as a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language.

E: Treat also talks about synecdoche. “Auschwitz is synecdoche for the catalogue of modern atrocities.” It is a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).

II. Toge Sankichi, “Give me back my father”

A: Robert Jay Lifton calls this a “rallying cry for peace movements”

Q: What does Treat say about this command: “give me back…”

III. Toge, “The Scar”

A: This poem takes poetry itself as the theme. It is reflexive. It’s about a boy, but the boy’s very body becomes a “text” of the bombing.

IV. Toge, “The Shadow”

B: Like “The Scar,” this poem also reflects the fragile nature of poetry itself.

Q: How does the description of the shadow on the bank convey this fragility?

V. Kurihara Sadako hope, Auschwitz, vision, Shoda’s waka elegiac pain that has purpose

A: Treat is interested in how these poems touch on the main themes of post-Hiroshima poetry.

B: Shoda’s last epic poem became just as performative as it was poetic.

VI. Lisa Yoneyama, “Taming the Memoryscape”

A: This chapter discusses the urban imaginary that erases Hiroshima’s dark past, and whitewashes it.

B: Starts out by talking about plans to build a “peace tower” by an automobile company design including a “light of peace”.

Q: What is the problem with light? What are other “lightening” projects in Hiroshima?

C: The Hiroshima Contemporary Museum was “deliberately constructed to represent the future, bright and full of potential… not the dark and ghastly past.”

Q: Why can’t we say “I love Hiroshima”?

D: Yoneyama is critical of Hiroshima’s urban renewal.

Q: On what terms? What does LY say about “the touch of the real”?

E: Yoneyama reads the pamphlet of the Office of Tourism very closely and she picks up on something called “Historical Fugue.”

Q: What is a fugue? How does ‘Historical Fugue’ compare to ‘Death Fugue’?

F: Yoneyama also mentions the Atomic Bomb museum within context of “memorial containment”.

Q: How do politics of memory affect this question of containment?

Q: What are hibakusha?

G: At the end of the chapter she talks about trope of “8.6”, or hachi roku - August 6, peace day. In early postwar years, this day incited urgent anti-war protests especially since another war was being waged nearby.

Q: What war was it?

Week 6

Questions to Guide your Reading

What is butoh? How could this sort of performance sustain collective memory? Butoh, like other performative arts, happens in real space and in real time. How does performance activate memory differently than monuments do?

I. Lisa Yoneyama, “Memories in Ruins”

A: This chapter examines what has come out of the renewal projects. She looks at what goes against the grain of post-ground zero reconstruction.

Q: What are the two main projects Yoneyama talks about? 
What was the response when city officials started to remove the ruins?

B: A major question to consider is whether the atomic relics should be retained as functioning parts of the building? This is what happened with the atomic bomb hospital. Should they be relocated to a museum?

Q: What are the advantages of a museum?

C: Yoneyama warns against an entertainment charge for a Peace Memorial Park.

D: The dome becomes an “official receptacle of memory”. There’s the sense that once that is up, then nothing else needs to be built.

Q: How does the passage on pages 80-81 relate to Halbwachs?

II. Jean Viala, “Turbulent Years”

Q: Why was 1960 a turning point?

A: It marked the emergence of ‘anti-art’ groups, representing the post-Hiroshima generation. The anti-art group represented a larger critique of modernity, even within Japan.

Q: Avant-garde turned away from Western Art, and towards the Japanese tradition–why?

B: They deliberately returned to clichés of Japanese art… but turned them into wasteland spastic, gruesome creatures.

C: Tatsumi Hijikata was a seminal postwar artist who shattered traditional dance framework.

Q: These aren’t ballets. What are they?

D: They are happenings in which we let the body speak for itself, to disclose truth, to reveal itself in all its authenticity, rejecting superficiality of everyday life. The dancer’s body is turned into “dead body” that rejects the habits of everyday life… and life itself.

III. Alexandra Munroe, “Revolt of the Flesh”

Q: What does Ankoku Butoh mean?

A: It reveals primal forces through images of physical deformity, self-obliteration of the body, no words, no elegance–abject perverse savagery, primitive sacrifice. It is an attempt to liberate Japan’s “suppressed pre-modern consciousness.”

B: It is an artistic style “consumed by thoughts of the void, driven by fantasies of fragmentation and irrationality.

Week 7

Questions to Guide your Reading

1. What is Germany’s Holocaust memorial problem, as James Young sees it? What is Young’s own problem with Holocaust memorial?

2. What is your response to Eiko Hosoe’s film Navel and Atomic Bomb? Think about visual culture in post-Hiroshima Japan and post-9.11 America. How do different artworks look back upon these sites of “ground zero”?

Q: What were some of the failed Holocaust (HC) memorials? What is Germany’s Holocaust problem?

A: A memorial could become a place for Germans to un-shoulder their memory.

Q: What is James Young’s Holocaust problem? Does he want a monument? Describe the winning proposal?

Q:What’s different about the politics of memory in the Holocaust memorials and those in the World Trade Center?

Q: What’s the problem with a literal monument that depicts death? Why are Jews necessary (as jury, as architect) to HC memorials?

I. Cathy Caruth

Passages to consider:

37/ seeing is not the erasure of a death… it is reappearance of a death… it notes not knowing difference between life and death.

42/ traumatic histories of lovers can emerge only in their relation to each other… because the relation creates a break within the mutual understanding of their address.

56/ it is in the event of this incomprehension and in our departure from sense and understanding that our own witnessing may indeed begin to take place.

Week 8

Questions to Guide your Reading

What conditions must be in place in order for one to be a witness to Auschwitz? Answer this after reading the text by Giorgio Agamben.

I. Primo Levi, “Argon” and “Hydrogen”

A: Argon–an inert colorless odorless gas from a and ergos = lacking activity or force. In “Argon” Levi draws an analogy between the non-reactivity of this inert gas and the refusal of his Jewish ancestors to assimilate into the gentile majority of their native Italian piedmont–family is self-sufficient.

B: The etymology of hydrogen reveals two words: Hydro, meaning Water and Gen, meaning Born. “Hydrogen” is an anecdote about his boyhood experiments with this explosive gas.

C: Agamben and Levi see both sides as caught up in a dialectic of destruction.

D: Carbon-1789, coined by Lavoisier 1780s in Fr. as charbone, from L. carbo (gen. carbonis) “charcoal,” from I.E. base *ker- “to burn.” Carbon paper (soon to be obsolete) is from 1895.

Q: For what is carbon a metaphor here? What is he saying about art, and literature on page 240?

II. Giorgio Agamben, “Remnants of Auschwitz”

Q: What is the paradox or impasse of witnessing? What are ethics?

A: Ethics can best be defined as the science of morals; the department of study concerned with the principles of human duty. It is necessary to define things such as good and bad, moral duty and obligation.

B: Metaethics concerns issues of universal truths, the will of God, and the role of reason in ethical judgments.

C: Normative ethics involves a more practical task, which is to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct.

D: Applied ethics concerns specific controversial issues, such as abortion, infanticide, animal rights, environmental concerns, homosexuality, capital punishment, or nuclear war. By using the conceptual tools of metaethics and normative ethics, discussions in applied ethics try to resolve these controversial issues.

E: Agamben wants to unsettle the discourse of the holocaust, to point out the limits of language and theory–also the limits of memorial–to account for holocaust. He wants to disrupt the smooth flow, the idea of mastering the past.

Q: What’s Agamben’s problem with the word ‘holocaust’?

F: It is derived from olah (one type of sacrifice), offering to the divinity.

G: Agamben’s takes a great interest in Levi’s notion of a grey zone.

H: “Why is shoah unsayable? Why confer on extermination the prestige of the mystical? Can’t we understand this?” (p. 32.)

Week 9

Questions to Guide your Reading

In 9.11 Noam Chomsky offers a retrospective chronicles of the events and tendencies that preceded and perhaps contributed to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

1. What is his account of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

2. What role did the U.S. play in that conflict and how could 9.11 be understood as its repercussion?

I. Agamben, “on Security and Terror”

A: Politics produces emergencies. Three instruments of governance are security, discipline, and law. Is security a central element of liberalism?

Q: How do security and terrorism form a single deadly system? Why does security only function within a context of freedom of traffic, trade, and individual initiative?

II. Noam Chomsky, 9.11

Q: Is this a work of memory? What was America’s role in Afghan conflict of early eighties? Why does Putin want Chechen rebels identified as terrorists? What is Chomsky’s take on Clinton? What is Al-Jazeera?

Week 10

Questions to Guide your Reading

Kenzaburo Oe and Primo Levi employ different narrative strategies to account for the different historical moments of Hiroshima and Auschwitz. How do they compare? What are the gains and losses presented by each strategy?

Week 11

Questions to Guide your Reading

1. Now that you’ve briefly seen the surroundings of the site where the WTC once stood, have your thoughts on the memorial process changed or stayed the same?

2. Considering the remarks of Jill Lerner and Maya Schali, what challenges do you see to the building of a memorial? Besides the memorial, what other urban functions need reconstruction?