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The Culture of Commemoration

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a general sense that the world was different—that nothing would ever be the same—settled upon a grieving nation; the events of that day were received as cataclysmic disruptions of an ordered world. Refuting this claim, David Simpson examines the complex and paradoxical character of American public discourse since that September morning, considering the ways the event has been aestheticized, exploited, and appropriated,  while “Ground Zero” remains the contested site of an effort at adequate commemoration. 

In 9/11, Simpson argues that elements of the conventional culture of mourning and remembrance—grieving the dead, summarizing their lives in obituaries, and erecting monuments in their memory—have been co-opted for political advantage. He also confronts those who labeled the event an “apocalypse,” condemning their exploitation of 9/11 for the defense of torture and war. 

In four elegant chapters—two of which expand on essays originally published in the London Review of Books to great acclaim—Simpson analyzes the response to 9/11: the nationally syndicated “Portraits of Grief” obituaries in the New York Times; the debates over the rebuilding of the World Trade Center towers and the memorial design; the representation of American and Iraqi dead after the invasion of March 2003, along with the worldwide circulation of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs; and the urgent and largely ignored critique of homeland rhetoric from the domain of critical theory. 

Calling for a sustained cultural and theoretical analysis, 9/11 is the first book of its kind to consider the events of that tragic day with a perspective so firmly grounded in the humanities and so persuasive about the contribution they can make to our understanding of its consequences.

176 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2006

Culture Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Ethics


"Within our collective consciousness, 9/11 is regarded as a cataclysmic disruption of the ordered world, the day after which nothing would ever be the same. Simpson dares to refute this claim, examining the ways in which 9/11 has been exploited in American public discourse, from the debates over how to commemorate the Ground Zero site, to the rush to invade Iraq."

Toronto Globe and Mail

"[An]incisive and knowledgeable critique of the political and rhetorical effects of 9/11...[a] brilliant and illuminating book."

Reamy Jansen | The Bloomsbury Review

"Simpson’s book is thoughtful and brave, probing the social contract implicitly framed after 9/11 to portray the victims of the attacks as heroes and the site of the World Trade Center as sacred ground. We are told what and how to remember, and, thus, we become complicit in the politics of revenge that led to the invasion of Iraq."

Jay Winter | Journal of American History

"[This book] provides one of the strongest analyses of how 9/11/has been represented and put to use, and its force lies in questioning decisions about who is with us and who is against us."

Brian Bergen-Aurand | Rain Taxi

Table of Contents

Introduction: Taking Time
1. Remembering the Dead: An Essay upon Epitaphs
2. The Tower and the Memorial: Building, Meaning, Telling
3. Framing the Dead
4. Theory in the Time of Death

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