Ashes to Ashes

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022171/00001

Material Information

Title: Ashes to Ashes Trauma, History, and the Ethics of Allegorical Memory in Post 9/11 Literature
Physical Description: 1 online resource (69 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: allegory, cormac, katherine, september, the, trauma, triangle
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: The post 9/11 era, considered in its development, reveals at least two contradictory political narratives originating from the Bush administration and mass media; each having attempted to situate the sociopolitical magnitude of the event into a coherent framework of signification. While the first strategy has promoted the suggestion of a repetition of history insofar as it associates the event of September 11th with the nationalist rhetoric of World War II, the second strategy has dislocated the event from any historical continuity, claiming that the event, far from having any historical precedent, irreparably alters the present historical situation ('Nothing will ever be the same'). This project argues that while these political narratives have adopted a historical model which situates 9/11's evental site into a framework of 'homogenous' and 'empty time,' recent contemporary novels fictionalizing the historical and political consequences of 9/11 have promoted alternative narratives of historical memory challenging the ethico-political efficacy of this historical framework. In particular, Katherine Weber's Triangle (2006) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2007) have allegorized the traumatic upheaval of 9/11 in conjunction with disparate historical traumatic contexts: the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. These particular allegorical representation, then, promote a different modality of history, in which the present is conceived as an uncanny site of uneven temporalities. That is to say, both novels use the allegorical trope of ash and burning as the means by which to represent this collusion of historical temporalities; thus the traumatic rupture of September 11th allows history to be read in new, provocatively unfamiliar ways. I will therefore show how this recent proliferation of allegorical representation also produces a specific ethico-political relation to these different historical traumatic contexts. This particular ethical dimension is, in turn, constructed through the way in which the allegorical trope's formal structure, as an instance of the imaginary register, fails to enact a closure of signification, simultaneously maintaining two disparate historical memories without a final movement of resolution. To the extent that these allegorical narratives highlight rather than occlude the Real of September 11th, these narratives remain ethically sutured to the 'ruins of history,' destabilizing the dominant symbolic narratives by which the Bush administration and mass media have attempted to domesticate this trauma.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Wegner, Phillip E.

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Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022171:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022171/00001

Material Information

Title: Ashes to Ashes Trauma, History, and the Ethics of Allegorical Memory in Post 9/11 Literature
Physical Description: 1 online resource (69 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: allegory, cormac, katherine, september, the, trauma, triangle
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: The post 9/11 era, considered in its development, reveals at least two contradictory political narratives originating from the Bush administration and mass media; each having attempted to situate the sociopolitical magnitude of the event into a coherent framework of signification. While the first strategy has promoted the suggestion of a repetition of history insofar as it associates the event of September 11th with the nationalist rhetoric of World War II, the second strategy has dislocated the event from any historical continuity, claiming that the event, far from having any historical precedent, irreparably alters the present historical situation ('Nothing will ever be the same'). This project argues that while these political narratives have adopted a historical model which situates 9/11's evental site into a framework of 'homogenous' and 'empty time,' recent contemporary novels fictionalizing the historical and political consequences of 9/11 have promoted alternative narratives of historical memory challenging the ethico-political efficacy of this historical framework. In particular, Katherine Weber's Triangle (2006) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2007) have allegorized the traumatic upheaval of 9/11 in conjunction with disparate historical traumatic contexts: the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. These particular allegorical representation, then, promote a different modality of history, in which the present is conceived as an uncanny site of uneven temporalities. That is to say, both novels use the allegorical trope of ash and burning as the means by which to represent this collusion of historical temporalities; thus the traumatic rupture of September 11th allows history to be read in new, provocatively unfamiliar ways. I will therefore show how this recent proliferation of allegorical representation also produces a specific ethico-political relation to these different historical traumatic contexts. This particular ethical dimension is, in turn, constructed through the way in which the allegorical trope's formal structure, as an instance of the imaginary register, fails to enact a closure of signification, simultaneously maintaining two disparate historical memories without a final movement of resolution. To the extent that these allegorical narratives highlight rather than occlude the Real of September 11th, these narratives remain ethically sutured to the 'ruins of history,' destabilizing the dominant symbolic narratives by which the Bush administration and mass media have attempted to domesticate this trauma.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Wegner, Phillip E.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022171:00001

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2008 Christopher Cowley 2


To my GrandfatherH.L. Robinson; your memory is a source of constant inspiration. 3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The completion of this thesis is a testament to the fact that, regardless of however much the writing process feels like a forlorn and solita ry affair, it is really never anything but an engagement and rapport with others This thesis is dedicated to a number of others: for without their commitment, guidance, erudition, and understanding, this thesis could not have even been a remote possibility. First, I would like to tha nk my committee for their unwarra nted and patient direction, without which my development as a writer and scholar would surely have suffered immensely. Specifically, I want to express my deepest grat itude to Phil Wegner, w hose direction as chair pushed this project into avenues I would not have otherwise noted or followed. I would also like to especially thank Stephanie Smith and Eric Kligerman: the many hours spent in their office and classrooms completely altered my image of what being a scholar and mentor means. Finally, I want to acknowledge the entire English Depa rtmentboth faculty and stafffor both allowing me the opportunity to grow as a scholar and fo r making the transition to graduate student and instructor as seamless and as enriching as possible. Next, there is really no way to articulate my indebtedness to all of my peers and colleagues, whose incalculable correspondence a nd support not only helped cultivate my ideas, but who, thankfully, also allowed me to call th em my friends along the way. Thus I give my most earnest appreciation to two of my closest friends, Joshua Coonrod and Richard Paeztheir constant reassurance, advice, humor, hum ility, and home-cooked meals nourished my mind, soul, and, especially, my stomach. And, of course none of my graduate experience would have been possible without the scholarly and friendly counsel of my best friends, Justin Litaker and Lee Hallford, and my undergraduate ment or, Becky McClaughlin, whose insistent encouragement convincing me to pursue my academic interests was the foundation upon which 4


everything else proceeds. And, finally, I would like to thank my partner, Sara Parsons, for never allowing me to become discouraged during such a stressful period. To close, I would like to give my utmost gratitude and love to my mother, father, and grandmother: without all of th eir love, support, and encouragement over the years, I would not even be a shadow of the person I am now. I can only hope they accept this thesis as an affirmation validating and confirmi ng all of the loving sacrifices th eyve made over the years. 5


TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................7 1 PROBLEMS AND OBJECTIVES...........................................................................................9 2 ALLEGORIES OF HISTORY OR, BLA STING OPEN THE CONTINUUM OF HISTORY.............................................................................................................................17 3 FROM THE ASCH BUILDING TO THE ASHES OF GROUND ZERO............................30 4 ASHES OF AMERICAN FLAGS..........................................................................................49 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................66 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................69 6


Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Masters of Arts ASHES TO ASHES: TRAUMA, HISTORY, AND THE ETHICS OF ALLEGORICAL MEMORY IN POST 9/11 LITERATURE By Christopher Cowley May 2008 Chair: Phillip Wegner Major: English The post 9/11 era, considered in its deve lopment, reveals at least two contradictory political narratives originating from the Bu sh administration and mass mediaeach having attempted to situate the sociopol itical magnitude of th e event into a coherent framework of signification. While the first strategy has promot ed the suggestion of a repetition of history insofar as it associates the event of September 11th with the nationalist rhetoric of World War II, the second strategy has dislocated the event from any historical conti nuity, claiming that the event, far from having any historical precedent, irre parably alters the presen t historical situation (Nothing will ever be the same). This project argues that while these political narratives have adopted a historical model which situates 9/11s ev ental site into a framework of homogenous and empty time, recent contemporary novels fictionalizi ng the historical and political consequences of 9/11 have promoted alternative narratives of historical me mory challenging the ethico-political efficacy of this historical framework. In particular, Katherine Webers Triangle (2006) and Cormac McCarthys The Road (2007) have allegorized the traumatic upheaval of 9/11 in conjunction 7


8 with disparate historical trauma tic contexts: the Triangle Shirtw aist Fire of 1911, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. These particular alle gorical representation, then, promote a different modality of history, in which the present is conceived as an uncanny s ite of uneven temporalities. That is to say, both novels use the allegorical trope of ash and bur ning as the means by which to represent this collusion of historical temporalities; t hus the traumatic rupture of September 11th allows history to be read in new, provocatively unfamiliar ways. I will therefore show how this recent proliferation of allegorical representation also produces a specific ethico-political relation to these different historical traumatic contexts. This particular ethical dimension is, in turn, constructed through the way in whic h the allegorical tropes formal structure, as an instance of the imaginary register, fails to enact a closur e of signification, simulta neously maintaining two disparate historical memories without a final move ment of resolution. To the extent that these allegorical narratives highlight rather than occlude the Real of September 11th, these narratives remain ethically sutured to the ruins of histor y, destabilizing the dominant symbolic narratives by which the Bush administration and mass media have attempted to domesticate this trauma.


CHAPTER 1 PROBLEMS AND OBJECTIVES The post 9/11 era, considered in its developm ent, reveals at least two conflicting political narratives that have originated from the Bush administration and mass media. Though each narrative has been underscored by a similar political agenda, and while both narratives have attempted to stabilize the sociopolitical ramifications of the even t into a coherent context of signification, their contradictor y content has largely been a re sult of each narratives specific politicization of the present. The first of these strategies has been prin cipally historical in content: this strategy has attempted to draw a distinct correlation between September 11th and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while the subsequent war on te rror also has been associated with the United States involvement in World Wa r II. This mapping of hi storical equivalences not only immediately codified September 11th as a precipitant act of wareven when the identity of a culprit against which a response was to be made was not immediately at handbut it also inevitability consigned this response to one belonging primarily to a global military operation. Consequently, when the id entification of a culprit solidified into th e distinct yet still vague designation of Al Qaeda, the fundamental link between the ideolo gies of fascism and Islamic extremism was immediately established. Thus only three months after 9/11 the specificity of these historical actualities was erased in order to promote the suggestion of an unequivo cal return to, and repetition of, the historicopolitical situation of World War II. During his media address on Pearl Harbor Day in 2001, President Bush explicitly linked the contemporar y threat of modern terrorism with fascism, stating that American had seen this [threat] before: the terrorists are the heirs to fascism Like all fascists, the terrorists cannot be appeased : they must be defeated. This struggle will not 9


end in a truce or treaty. It will end in victory fo r the United States, our friends and the cause of freedom. Here a nationalist commemoration of Pearl Harbor is appr opriated in order to construct a tripartite schema c onsisting of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attack of September 11th, and the rise of the Nazi regime in Germanyradically distorting the complexity of the historico-political contexts that constitute each of these events. Indeed, this conflation of modern terrorism with National Socialism not only deploy s a dubious analogy; as Maja Zehfuss argues, it also furt her reinforces the notion that th e United States involvement in the Second World War can be exclusively defined as a Good War, a her oic fight for freedom against the absolute evil of its adversaries effectively obscuring the USs own destructive action in World War II (Zehfuss 101). Likewise, while imagery of Iwo Jima has been incessantly evoked since September 11thin which the deliberate visual association of firefighters hoisting the American flag at Ground Zero directly alludes to the iconic images of the battle of Iwo Jimathe historical memory of both Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima has coalesced into a historical matrix that effaces the very final solution of this conflict. Ad am Lowenstein argues that, since September 11th, this juxtaposition of historical phenom ena has rewritten the United Stat es role in the Pacific during World War II, once again, into a narrative of milita ry heroism. If, according to Lowenstein, this juxtaposition inevitably codifies Hiroshima as a justified solution to Pearl Harbor, this analogy also effectively occludes Hiroshimas own Ground Zero in the process (Lowenstein 181). Thus despite the lack of salient similarities between September 11th and these disparate historical events, this return and recourse to nationalist memory has been promoted, according to Zehfuss, precisely because it is not certain that the war on terror is a glorious fight for freedom (Zehfuss 102). The political significance of the Bush administra tions invocations of 10


memory, then, proposes that t he present is like the past an d that therefore doing what was right then will also be right now (Zehfuss 102). Th is rhetorical appeal to the historical memory of World War II also infamously laid the ground work for the eventual war against Iraq, when President Bush referred to the rogue nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the Axis of Evil. The second dominant narrative, however, co mpletely refuses the suggestion of any historical equivalence in relation to the event and the ensuing war on terror. This secondary strategy attests to the ab solute singularity of the event, main taining that the event of September 11th represents a total break with the past. The part icular rhetoric of this strategy proposes that everything has changed since 9/11, or that America, nay the world, will no longer be the same. The ahistorical content of this strategy, in wh ich any relation with a hi storical framework is discarded, implies that the US was irreparably al tered from the event and that, moreover, the specific formal aspect of the attack has justif ied the drastic modification of the United States domestic and foreign policies. To the extent th at this narrative strategy discards any and all historical contextualization, it similarl y blurs the specificity of September 11th by isolating the event from any historical continuity. As Rex Bu tler and Scott Stephens co ntends, the ahistorical nature of this strategy, far from contending w ith the sociopolitical magnitude of the event, merely reproduces ideological co-ordinates, fo r it is only the hollow attempt to say something deep without knowing what to say (Butler a nd Stephens 2). Analogously, Jacques Derrida, in his interviews with Jrgen Habermas, stressed th e necessity of reflecting on the ideological coordinates which designate 9/11 as an unprecedente d event, since this injunction advocating the categorical, ahistorical nature of the event is less spontaneous than it actually appears (Derrida 86). Rather this response, according to Derri da, has to a large extent [been] conditioned, 11


constituted, if not actually c onstructedby means of a prodigi ous techno-social-political machine (Derrida 86). The political undertones of each strategy, then, displaces the specificity of September 11th into a politics of memory that blurs the distinct perimeters of the events situated-ness in a precise moment of history, as well as the particul ar sociopolitical forces that contributed to the event. Furthermore, the disparate content of th ese strategieswhich declares that September 11th has historical analogues, while simultaneous ly denying the event hi storical precedence functions not only to legitimize th e current administrations political agendas. It also radically diminishes both the viability and legibility of alternative narratives of memory and history, through the way in which the dominance of th ese strategies has limited the discursive possibilities of contextualiz ation. That is to say, since these rhet orical interpretive strategies both occupy and polarize the event, not only politicizing the memory of September 11th but also, in the process, other significant moments of US hist ory, competing narratives of historical memory become marginalized or suppressed. The rapidity with which these strategies were assimilated into popular discourse attests to this radical reduction of alterna tive narratives. Narratives which promoted the necessity of reflecting on the presen t situation before hurried military retaliation, interrogated the historical events directly im plicating the contemporary, and focused collective mourning on lives lost rather than on tendentious political agendasall of these were relegated outside the prevailing po litical conversation. The past few years, however, have witne ssed a marked increase in a growing body of fictional work that has engaged the cultural and political ramifications of September 11th. Though this increase is not altogether surprisi ng given the considerable geopolitical magnitude of the event, it is sign ificant that each of these novels has at tempted to historicize and politicize 12


the memory of September 11th against these dominant strategi es and have, conversely, offered alternative narratives of historical memory. Indeed, Jonathan S. Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), William Gibsons Pattern Recognition (2003), Don Delillos The Falling Man (2007), and Art Spiegelmans In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) have all, to some extent, ventured to locate the cultural a nd historical specificity of September 11th in diverse and politically challenging framewor ks of contextualization. Each of these narratives promotes a model of historical engagement that undermin es the political mystifi cations of the Bush administration. In particular, Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close works to situate September 11th alongside the traumatic historical lineage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Dresden: his confrontation with the underbelly of the United St ates military history seems to suggest that the complexity of September 11th can be significantly confronted only after a direct engagement with, and a return to, Americas own violent past. Foers focus, then, on how collective traumas of the past implicate the present acknowledges that th e present itself is modified as a result of the re-politicization of history that has taken place since September 11th. Conversely, Don Delillos 9/11 novel, The Falling Man has been one of the few narra tives to resist historical contextualization. This resistance, however, is itself deeply politic al gesture, I would argue, since Delillos project appears to be an attempt to return to the tr auma of September 11th without the political rhetoric that has acco mpanied the event. In fact, The Falling Man seems to indicate that we are still too close to the even t to assess its larger sociopolitical significance, to place it into a definitive context of historical meaning. For Delill o, it is the traumatic image of the Falling Man who, forever suspended in horrifying abeyance, works to disrupt the closure of September 11th, reinforcing the historical immedi acy of the event. C ounteracting narratives that have attempted 13


to domesticate the event through po litically dubious strategies, The Falling Man suggests that the present is still too tenuous and over-determined to consign the tr auma of 9/11 to a historical closure. But whereas these novels have directly dealt with the repercussions of the aftermath of 9/11, along with the events broader context in history, other contemporar y novels have taken up these issues in more oblique, allegorical repr esentations. Novels such as Cormac McCarthys The Road and Katherine Webers The Triangle, in particular, have al legorized the events of September 11th together with past collective trau mas of the twentieth century. Whereas The Road conflates images of Hiroshima and September 11th in the form of an ashen post-apocalyptic America, Triangle draws a distinct relation between th e Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 and September 11th through allegorical descrip tions of falling, burning bodies. Though each novel differs significantly in both stylistic and thematic approaches, it is this collusion of historical temporality through reoccurring allegorical tropes of ash and burning that place 9/11 along side historically and politically di ssimilar contexts of memory. Ra ther than upholding conventional politics of memory, the use of historical allegory in these novels not only counteracts the proliferation of repeated images that followe d the event but its unfamiliar context of memory undermines the nationalistic rhetoric that has pe rmeated political discourse since September 11th. What specifically sets these tw o allegorical novels from those just discussed is how the immediate historical situation is represented as the eruptive return of past historic al traumas into the present. Additionally these novels suggest a more intimat e relation to history than perhaps those formally discussed: that is, the allegori cal tropes of ash and burning structure a specific ethical dimension through the very textual perf ormance of their allego rical representation. The pervasive use of ash and fire in these novels is allegorical in sofar as they both signify and 14


coordinate a distinct dialecti cal relation between September 11th and another traumatic historical context: Hiroshima in The Road and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Triangle While fire and burning serve as the tropes of the Real through which both historical traumas are constituted, ash becomes the constituent allegorica l image of the remainder of this Real as traumatic encounter, reconfiguring the memory of each historical trauma in relation to a broader historical context. Thus, the allegorical relationship maintained in these narratives implies that the present is determined and constituted by a process akin to the returned of the repressed, but only insofar as this symbolic return presents new configurations of history. Particularly, both Triangle and The Road promote a modality of history in which the present, blasted open by the traumatic rupture of September 11th, reorients our relationship to th e past in provocatively new, and ultimately more politically ethical, configurations Finally, these allegorical narratives suggest that, through the very intimate correspondences be tween historical traumatic events, an ethicopolitical alternative to current po litical discourse is sheltered. My objective here, then, is twofold: the firs t part of this thesis will lay down the theoretical dimensions of this emergent al legorical tendency, while the second part will demonstrate the various ethicopolitical implications of this allegorical dimension through a detailed discussion of Katherine Webers Triangle and Cormac McCarthys The Road Relying heavily upon Walter Benjamins theo ries of allegory, I will contend that this recent allegorical impulse is not only a result of a counter-narrati ve of political memory that opens up a broader consideration toward past collective trauma, but th at it is also coextensive with a concomitant crisis of representation engendered by the collective trauma of September 11th. My argument will attempt to synthesize the histor ical dimension of allegory via Benjamin with the referential problems of traumatic experience. Insofar as Be njamins notions of allegory are principally 15


16 historical in character, thereby acknowledging the ruins or the Real of history, this thesis will argue that the allegorical trea tment of history in these novels corresponds to the belated, discontinuous temporality of traumatic experi ence. This synthesis will show the recent proliferation of allegorical re presentation opens up different configurations of historyeach producing a specific ethico-political relation to these histories. This particular ethical dimension is, in turn, constructed through the way in which th e allegorical tropes form al structure, as an instance of the imaginary register, fails to enact a closure of signification, simultaneously maintaining two disparate historic al memories without a final move ment of resolution. To the extent that these allegorical na rratives highlight rather than oc clude the Real of September 11th, these narratives remain ethically sutured to the impasse of this Real, destabilizing the dominant symbolic narratives by which the Bush admini stration and mass media have attempted to domesticate this trauma. In his Shocking Representations, Adam Lowenstein claims that the allegorical encounter with historical trauma entails an opening out to complex and often contra dictory representations, where unexpected recombinations and disfigurements of history can occur (Lowenstein 50). It is, then, this collision between temporalities, between history and fiction, which produces the allegorical moment of defamilia rizationor, as Lowenstein calls it, working off Benjamins theory of allegory, moments of representative s hock. This shock of representation, produced by the uncanny nature of the narratives symbolic repetitionalong with th e eruption of the past into presentreinscribes the sign ificance of previous traumas in to the contemporary, serving as an ethical expansion to, rather than a domesticati on of, the memories of these collective traumas.


CHAPTER 2 ALLEGORIES OF HISTORY OR, BLASTING OPEN THE CONTINUUM OF HISTORY What these particular descriptions make mani fest is that September 11th signals both the break from the decade following the Cold War which solidified the United States as the uncontested proponent of a global neo-liberal agendaand the emer gence of and entry into a new historical situation1. Needless to say, while the period of the Cold War provided the United States prevailing political narratives with which to forward and legitimize its assorted political programs (despite intermittent historical situations such as the Vietnam War which temporarily disturbed their coherence), the decade of th e 90s similarly marshaled political narratives suggesting the end of history. This political na rrative, articulated most concisely in Francis Fuyuhamas neo-Hegelian study, The End of History and the Last Man contended that the end of the global communist project, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall, fu lly sanctions and validates the neo-liberal agenda as the end goal of history. Fu rthermore, this new project, defined by the diffusion of democratization and ca pitalization to the rest of the underdeveloped world, also fully exposed and legitimized capitalisms ultimate dr eam: the desire to unleash the absolute, uncontested deterratorialized flows of capita l throughout the entire world. Though this period announced the installation of a new historical s ituation, where the horizon or objective towards an objective future was perhaps more ambiguous than during the years of the Cold War, September 11th inaugurated a break with both of these political narratives and objectives. Political historian Harry Harootunian, however, provides a diffe rent interpretation of the political narratives of the 1990s, esp ecially as it relates to September 11th. While Harootunian concedes that since 9/11 there has been a sw elling chorus of opinion aimed at demonstrating 1 This point is highly indebted to Phillip Wegners forthcoming book project, Life Between Two Deaths: US Culture, 1989-2001, forthcoming from Duke University Press 2008. 17


how the destruction of the World Trade towers has constituted an event of world historical magnitude announcing the installation of a new time marked by a boundless present, he argues that the historical and tem poral upheavals of September 11th were nevertheless already present during the 90s following the fall of the communist project (Harootunian 471). Far from affecting the temporal order and upsetting the relationship between history and the tripartite division of past, present, and futu re, the events of September 11th, then, simply exposed further the asymmetry of the temporal order on a larger global scale2 (Harootunian 471). In fact, Harootunian suggests that the na rrative pronouncing the end of history was really only but the exhausted echo of this historical displacement, disclosing a narrative th at has played out its productivity and whose worn and frayed image finds itself reflected in an attempt to position the temporality of the present as endless durati on now that it no longer needs to rely on its relationship to a past and futur e (Harootunian 474). If the end of history narrative was only but a worn and frayed image, September 11th nevertheless allowed the US to once again displace and distort the geopolitical upheaval pr oduced by the fall of communism onto a broader political project connected to the expansion of democratizationthe war on terror. Thus, although Harootunian challenges the opinion that September 11th constituted an event of world historical magnitude, I w ould argue that it wa s indeed September 11th, conceptualized now as a repetition of the Real produced by the fall of the Berlin Wall3, which not only fully exposed the histor ical unevenness of the geopolit ical and economic ordermost explicitly the prevalence of radical fundamentalismsbut also compounded the problem insofar 2 One could argue, however, that Harootunian sees Hurricane Katrina, rather than September 11th, as the event which exposed most fully the problems with the current temporal order, since, according to Harootunian, it was Hurricane Katrina that was able to easily rip off the veneer of the present to reveal an endurin g and deep-seated historical unevenness (Harootunian 475). 3 Again, I must give full credit to Phil Wegner on this point, as his article Periodizing the Cold War in Don Delillos Underworld makes clear the political and historical stakes of Zizeks formulation of symbolic repetition. 18


as it allowed the US to fully embrace this narra tive and legitimize its political agendas after September 11th. Indeed, Zizek has provided the theoretica l perspective by which to conceptualize the actualization of this retroa ctive accumulation of symbolic meaning. As Zizek argues, the symbolic status of an event changes retroactivel y with its symbolic repetition: whereas the first eruption is experienced as a contingent trauma, it is through its subseque nt repetition that the event is recognized in its symbolic necessity it finds its place in the symbolic network (Zizek 61). In short, I am argui ng that if the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the first eruption of the Real, constituted the initial destab ilization of political narratives describing the historical present and future, it was the repetition of this eventSeptember 11ththat most fully revealed the destabilization and unevenness of this historico-political order. This discussion, then, allows for a different re ading of the narrative threads that I have been delineating. What we have seen since 9/11, both in political discourse and from cultural production, is a hyperactive production of interpretiv e practice beset with contextual strategies attempting to politicize and historicize the pres ent, or what Harootuni an calls the boundless present. Both of these representational prac ticespolitical discourse and literary production re-politicized history in an atte mpt to describe and contextualize the lack of substantive symbolic strategies available to coordina te the effect of September 11th on the present and future. Indeed, from both sides of the political spectrum, the desire to integrate and foreclose September 11th into a stable historical contex t has been one of the primary political agendas having emerged since the aftermath of the event. Thus, the traj ectory that Ive been trying to trace suggests a trenchant polarization of history. On the one hand, the Bush Administrations politicization of September 11th as a return to the political and military struggles of World War IIwhich ultimately and simultaneously negates final hist orical analysissuggests a modality of history 19


that is strictly homogenous and linear. Far from a return to history, the Bush administrations appeal to the national rhetoric of military victor ies is only but the desperate attempt to advocate the political and military models th at lead to the economic reconstructions after World War II. In effect, this modality views history as a progres sive series of obstacles, a linear movement of perpetual overcoming; its backward glance toward history suggests that th e political strategies that worked then can still be applied to the curr ent historical situation. The Bush administrations recourse to history is really nothing other than the denial of history, insofar as the 90s and September 11th are still consigned to a period of hi story which spans and includes the second World War and its aftermath. The problem of modern terrorism and the w ar on terror is thus modeled off the successful democr atization of Japan, as well as th e reformation of Europe after World War II. Indeed, one could argue that it is this notion of a boundless present of homogenous time has solidified into the new political narrative of the Bush Administration, with its endless war on terror and its call for perp etual vigilance in the face of modern terrorism without providing an alternative narr ative toward a future objective. What is more, the political narratives which have dislocated September 11th from any historical continuity allow the Bush administ ration to obscure the more deep-seated problems that emerged during 1990s. It furthermore allows the plurality of these political issues, spanning from the entry into the 1990s to the aftermath of September 11th, to be consolidated into simplified political narrative focusing al l of its emphasis on the problem of modern terrorismone which now supplements a global m ilitary dimension to the economic component that was always already inscribed in the end of hi story narrative. Consequently, this highlights the fact that, far from treating September 11th as an absolute rupt ure inaugurating a new historical situation, the present is regarded as merely another obstacle toward expanding western 20


notions of democracy to political and economic spheres which are not only deemed potentially volatile but also archaic compared to the models of modernization valorized by the US and the rest of the Western world. These allegorical narratives, however, appear to politicize the return to history in a completely different fashion. The use of allegory in these novels politicizes history not only to reclaim the past and the present from political appropriation. Indeed, the performative nature of these allegorical representations also offers a completely different model of history, one which utilizes belated, discontinuous models of temporality that destabilize and expose the political narratives championing homogenous modalities of history. Whereas the Bu sh administration has effaced the specificity of historical traumatic events through its politici zation, these narratives attempt to maintain specificity through the way in which the allegorical mode works to form a certain identity in difference, bringing into view a broader framework of historical memory through the dialectical mode of its signification. These allegori cal narratives represent September 11th as a rupture of the Real that makes the sym bolic texture of history readable in new ways. Though they still posit September 11th as an absolute ruptureas an historical rupture that must be politically and ethically re-conceptualizedits reengagement with history nevertheless serves as a political project that not only reconfigures the political dimensi on of US imperialist history. It also paves the way for an alternative poli tics of memory acknowledging the imperative need for a more ethically positioned po litical objective, one which is de dicated to the constitution of a new future horizon. Both of these narrative strategies, however far they diverge, indicate that a reengagement with history is not only imperative, but that it is tantamoun t to a re-orientation of the present, insofar as the present, mark ed as a over-determined and volatile phenomenon, upsets the stability of viably familiar narrative mode s. In short, if these allegorical narratives 21


highlight and advocate an ethical fidelity to someth ing like a return of the repressed of the real of history, the Bush administration denies a nd suppresses this repressed history through its adoption of a homogenous, con tinuous historical time. It is important to stress, then, the particular theoretical model with which to conceptualize these renewed historicizations opened up by September 11th. To return to the course of Harootunians examination, his description of the temporal unevenness of the historical present is markedly reminiscent of Freuds notion of the return of the repressed, calling this destabilization of homogenous time as the specter that has come back to haunt the present in the form of explosive fundame ntalism fusing the archaic and the modern (Harootunian 475) For Harootunian, nation-states and communities th at experience the upheaval caused by massive conflict or collective trauma inevitably define th e present by historicizi ng and temporalizing the asymmetrical interplay of the past and current s ituation, which suggests th at history is not only the locus of uneven rhythms, the collusion of coexisting temporalitiesit is also the scene where the ghosts of the past comingle [sic] w ith the livingin the ha bitus of a haunted house (Harootunian 478). Later, Harootunian describes the divide be tween the phenomena of history and memory as an uncanny domain, which is ineluctabl y crystallized through the transformation and codification of historiography into historical memory (Harootunian 478). This modification of Freudian concepts into a historical dimension not only approaches the sp ecific description of allegory that will need to be further discussed la ter. It also helps to show how the historical present can itself be conceived as Unheimlich which indicates that this proliferation of historicizations having o ccurred after September 11th reveals the installation of a historical situation fully effected by the unevenness of tempor al orders. Consequentl y, this formulation of 22


the present as Unheimlich makes manifest the totality of the political stakes of the present, insofar as this return to history itself can be defined, a priori as a struggle to contextualize the present in relation to the September 11th. As Saul Newman convincin gly argues, Freuds return of the repressed, as the repetition through which the effect of th e uncanny is produced, can also be translated into a historical process that harbors a specific political dimension. For Newman, political action takes shapealbeit either ra dical or conservative precisely through the uncanny as a return of the repressed, especial ly when politics is understood as the attempt to construct something new, coupled with somethi ng old (Newman 117). Thus the contestation of this unfamiliar or uncanny histor ical present plays itself out as a struggle over both a politics of memory and a politics of history; to the extent that this struggle is played out through the symbolic modes of discourse, the unheimlich becomes the very site of a crisis of representation. Yet the concepts of the uncanny and the return of the repressed ar e also theoretically and thematically related to the repetition co mpulsion endemic to traumatic experience as described by psychoanalytic discourse. Thus, pe rhaps, the key component linking the phenomena of the return of the repressed, the Unheimlich and traumatic repetition is the Freudian notion of Nachtraglichkeit : the discontinuous tempor ality of traumatic experience, or the belated repetition compulsion that follows the aftermath of a traumatic en counter. History theorized in terms of Nachtraglichkeit would necessarily be one defined by belated rupture and repetition, but it also, according to Michael Rothberg, would be cons titutive of the very r eordering of the past (Rothberg 24). The concept of trauma as a ps ychical phenomenon has, of course, largely been investigated in the context of its effect on the individual. To s uggest, however, that the traumatic event of September 11th has initiated an emergent collec tive practices and production is to project a commonly designated s ubjective category onto a larger social framework. Thus, the 23


term historical trauma designates and substitute s the psychical effects of traumatic effects onto the imaginary and symbolic framew orks of a collective social body4. Therefore, I am not interested in discussing the individual, subj ective components of traumatic experienced, but rather displacing the referent ial problems opened up by traumatic experience onto the symbolic category of historical production. Indeed my th eoretical framework will use the structural components of traumatic experience as a conceptu al model that helps to elucidate the process whereby historical trauma produces many of the e ffects related to the return of the repressed on the social field, through the Lacanian regist ers of the Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary. This particular schema of trauma would thus necessitate a construc tion of history as an ongoing signifying process, while the collective trauma, here September 11th, would be designated as an eruption of the Real, which w ould disrupt the stability of the symbolic and imaginary orders sustaining the social field. Slav oj izek has shown how history as a signifying process is in no way fixed into a stable framew ork of signification, but rather contends that every historical rupture, ever y advent of a new master-signi fier, changes retroactively the meaning of all tradition, restructures the narratio n of the past, makes it readable in a new way (izek 56). Under this formulation, September 11th, posited as a new master signifier into the signifying chain of history, would modify the mean ing of associated historical eventualities, since, according to Zizek, the pa st exists as it is included, as it enters (into) the synchronous net 4 My concept of collective trauma is largely lifted from Kaja Silvermans definition of historical trauma, which she delimits in her Male Subjectivity at the Margin. Tracing the modifications to dominant representations of masculinity in Hollywood films that immediately follo wed the end of World War II, Silverman defines the categorical specifications of hist orical trauma, here World War II, as a historically precipitated but psychoanalytically specific disruption, with ramifications extending far beyond the individual psyche (Silverman 55). Though Silvermans use of the co ncept is specifically situated in term s of collective traumas effect on categories of gender and sexuality particularly the functio n of masculinity as constitutive of dominant notions of ideology and social formationsthe essential theoretical implications Silverman delineates in her essay are also pertinent to this project: the capacity certain traumatic events have in disrupting the normative function of social practice; the distanciation from the ima ginary relation upheld by the social; and the fact that collective traumatic events not only have the potential to radically a lter facets of subjectivity but also cultural praxis. 24


of the signifier, retroactively giving the elemen ts [of the historical past] their symbolic weight by including them in new texturesit is this el aboration which decides re troactively what they [historical events] will have been (izek56). Zi zeks theory of historical processes, borrowed from Lacans emphasis on the signifiers perf ormative function in psychical phenomena, provides an effective means by which to explain how the recent proliferati on of historicizations is not merely defined by September 11ths topical si milarities to traumatic historical contexts. Zizeks statements also highlight how September 11th, as a historical rupture, enacts the hyperactive explosion of historicization as an attempt to integrate a nd neutralize this very rupture, altering retroact ively the symbolic contextual field of other historical events. Thus, Zizeks description of history ultimately mirrors the psychical aspect of traumatic experience through the belated return of symbolic meani ng, pointing to the way in which the past and present collide in uncanny and dissimilar ways. For if the rupture of September 11th initiates something like a reordering of history, this reorie ntation, I argue, reinscribes the memory of past collective traumas in to th e contemporary present. It is precisely, here, where Walter Benjamin s theories of allegory and history can be made useful in terms of both th e model of the return of the repr essed as well as this mode of temporal unevenness defining the present. In his Origins of German Tragic Drama Benjamin suggests that allegorical practice is essentially historical in characte r. The historical specificity of the allegorical mode is in stark contrast to the signifying modality of the symbol, which was valorized by the Romantics for its transcendent, ahistorical aspect. Indeed, it is significant to stress that the crux of Benjam in investigation on the baroque Trauerspiels allegorical mode hinges around the historical dimens ion of signifying practice: for th e allegorical tendency arises, according to Benjamin, through a certain relation and attitude toward history. As Jim Hansen 25


argues, Benjamins emphasis on symbolism and, subsequently, the teleol ogical unity of form and content erases the distinc tion between the transcendental and the material, appearance and essence, subject and object (Hansen 670). For Benjamin, the essentially undialectical interpretation of the symbol by the Romantics co nceals the socio-historical contexts by pointing toward moments of transcendence, in which both idea and material referent are recovered: thus, for the Romantics, the sign always precedes history. Allegory, on the other hand, which was regularly dismissed by romantic critics as fragmentary, anachronistic, and unpoetic, is reclaimed from the Romantics and exonerated by Benjamin for the way in which allegory mourns the failure of history, with its essentially ruinous aspect (H ansen 670). Therefore, one of Benjamins primary concerns is showing how the Baroque Trauerspiel implies a radically different view of history and subjectivity than the redemptive aesthetic components of tragic forms. While the symbol routinely inhabited tragedy as an expression of affirmation, where destruction is idealized and natu re is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in the allegorical moments of the Baroque trauerspiel the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as petrified, primordial la ndscape (Benjamin 166). The allegorical image, unlike the tragic which emphasizes beau ty, is a fragment or ruin; as Benjamin contends, allegory thereby declares itself to be beyond beautyallegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things (Benjamin 178). If, for example, aesthetic and historical production for Freud is always the expression of a sublimated working-through of traumatic experience, for Benjamin this producti on is one defined by melancholia, a return of the repressed of history into the present. As an expression of historys ruin, then, Be njamin suggests that if allegories become dated, it is because it is part of their nature to shock [italics mine]. In order to shock, 26


however, the allegorical represen tation must always be situated in a historically specific dimension; and what shocks is the way in which the allegorys indirect representation signifies an engagement with a historically uneven temporal order. Specifically, it is under the historical gaze of melancholy, Benjamin suggests, that th e allegorical object highlights and emerges in social contexts of transition and transfor mation (Benjamin 183). As Matthew Wilkins convincingly argues, the a llegorical tendency of the Trauerspiel results from the diminutive authority of the religious and sacred representation during th e Baroque period, in which the antagonism between secular, profane institutions and the decay of an existing sacred order begins to take shape (Wilkins 290). Accordi ng to Wilkins, then, the alternations in representational practice during the baroque pe riod areshocking in the way they defamiliarize objects even as those remain recognizable as th e understructure of what they were (Wilkins 290). The shocking aspect of the allegorical representation is engende red through the way in which, during the baroque era, its authors attempted to map out a new relationship between the sacred and the profane (Wilkins 290). This highlights the fact that, for Benjamin, the allegorical mode takes place during times of re presentation crises or social transformation: liminal historical periods in which the symbolic framework used to give cultural and political significance to this transf ormation is disrupted. Could we not suggest, then, that the allegorical tendency that has emerged is a result of an imperative to map out September 11ths impact on history, its relationship between past, present, and future? I would s uggest that, if these particular fictional narratives maintain a similar relation to history as to that which Benj amin designates as alle gorical, the dimension of history of these conservative political narratives is essentially tragic: it is tragic to the extent that these narratives utilize September 11th as a tragic fall that shelters the nostalgic opportunity of a 27


return to a time of patriotic affirmation and nationalistic unification. While both narratives modes look back to history for politically rede mptive means, these allegorical representations conflation of historical traumatic contexts harbors a more polit ically radical gesture. Both Triangle and The Road work to disrupt both the monopolizati on of historical memory and the unification of heroic nationalist se ntiment inaugurated by September 11th. If Benjamins notion of hi story is not tragic bu t allegorical, then I would suggest that, much like Zizeks formulation of history, it is also one defined by the psychical model of traumatic experience. As Hansen contends, the allegorical form itselfis produced by certain kinds of historical crises (Han sen 672). In his influential The ses on the Philosophy of History, Benjamin posits a conception of history that re futes the reified notion of history as continuous, progressive, or as one of homogenous, empt y time (Benjamin 261) Rather, history, for Benjamin, conforms closely to the psychoanalyti c model of traumatic experience, in which the past blasts open the continuum of history, a collus ion of temporality, of the past and present, in the allegorical moment he calls, jeitztzeit (261). Likewise, in The Origins of the German Tragedy, this language describing histor ical phenomena is foreshowed in a passage which deals with the transition from the symbolic to the a llegorical sensibility, as it is supersedes the mystical, religious paradigm of represen tation practice: The mystical instant [ Nu] becomes the now [ Jetzt] of contemporary actuality; the symbol b ecomes distorted into the allegorical (183). The allegorical moment, much like Benjamins notion of history, engenders moments of uncanny reconfigurations, in which the past and present gain retroactive significance as they relate to one another. Moreover, as Zizek contends, Benjamin is the only Marxist thinker ever to locate the traumatic kernel around which the very opening up historic al signification is located. It is this very formal structure of Benjamin notion of history that, for Zizek, analogizes the 28


29 Lacanian notion of the return of the repressed while reconceptualizin g Marxist theories of historical materialism as a revolutionary phe nomenon: Benjaminconceived history as a text, as [a] serious of events which will have beentheir meaning, their historical dimension, is decided afterward, through th eir inscription in the sym bolic order (Zizek 136). The important point to underline from this discussion of Benjamins notion of allegory and history is how the use of a llegorical representation in these novels mirrors this modality of historical temporality. The images of burning and ash in these novels function as the allegorical figures by which the past blasts open the contin uum of history, distor ting the narratives of history forwarded in these popular political discourses. In other words, as allegorical images committed to the ruins of history, the rhetoricity of ash and burning promotes a modality of history in contradistinction to the homogenous empty of the Bush administrations political narratives. Consequently, the conflation of Benj amins notion of history and psychoanalytic models of trauma that I have been delineating help s to show how the allegorical images are held in a suspended dialectic of disparate temporalities, and, at the same time, it reveals how this reemergent allegorical tendency, based on the sy mbolic repetition, thus gives new symbolic meaning to both traumatic events. The readings that I will forward will attempt to show how the modality of history represented in these novels, coordinated through the textual performance of these allegorical tropes, harbor s an addition ethical componentone which ultimately advocates the fidelity to the ruins of history.


CHAPTER 3 FROM THE ASCH BUILDING TO THE ASHES OF GROUND ZERO Before the attacks on September 11th, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 held the notorious distinction of being the worst disaster in New York City history. Trapped on the 9th floor of the burning Asch building, one hundred a nd forty-two workers died attempting to escape from their workspaces, which had quickly become an inferno. Many of the workers, forced to leap from the windows, plummeted to their d eath to evade the intense heat and suffocating smoke, while others were either burned alive or trampled to death trying to escape through the one unlocked exit. Considering that the modern cityscapes of large metr opolitan areas had begun to proliferate all over the US, the specific hor ror engendered by the descriptions and first-hand accounts of the burning, falling bodies of these work ers surely must have severely haunted the collective imaginary of both New York City and th e nation at large. At the time, however, the event became a major catalyst for much needed reform to labor legislation, as the event was largely the result of poor work conditions, lack of proper fire codes, and c onsiderable negligence on the part of the business owners and managers So while the event had significant impact on legislation and reform nation wide, its larger national importance has largely been forgotten; rather it has been relegated to the collectiv e memory of New York City history. With the appalling conditions of the work place as well as the inhumane mistreatment of workers (many of whom having been newly settled immigrants), the event demonstrates yet another kind of political violence endemic to the 20th-century: the violence caused by the expansion of industrial labor. Both September 11th and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, I would argue, were underscored and produced by a particular relation to the circ ulation of American cap ital; both events, having occurred in the business district of New York, serve as traumatic book ends of the twentieth30


century, each illustrating differently the impact of the United States hegemonic influence over socio-economic relations. Of the various contemporary novels that have dealt with September 11th, several have made use of the memory of the Triangle fire as a way to come to terms with this more recent trauma. In particular, Michael Cunninghams Specimen Days (2005) alludes to the Shirtwaist fire without referring to it directly by name. C unningham nevertheless shows how the traumatic memory of the Shirtwaist Fire haunts the contemporary present of the post 9/11 milieu with its explicit images of falling bodies leaping from a turn-of-the-century burning building. In much the same manner as the narrative conventions used in the critically acclaimed novel The Hours, Specimen Days uses the history of the Shirtwaist fire as a trace of traumatic memory that transcends the temporality of its particular histor ical situation, erupting an d returning to the later thematic elements of the novel. But whereas Cunningham uses the Shirtwaist fire as an important trope, Katherine Webers Triangle (2005) places the event in the forefront of her narrative, which allegorizes its significance in relation to September 11th in productively unfamiliar ways. The novel, which details the traumatic experience of the last living survivor of the fire, Esther Gottlieb, not only traces the contradictions implicit between the processes of memory and the construction of history; it also demands a radi cally different understanding of th e interrelationship between past and present. As Cathy Caruth argues, the linking of traumas, or the possibility of communication or encounter through them, demands a different model or a different way of thinking that may not guarantee communicationbut may also allow for an encounter that retains, or does not fully erase, difference (C aruth 124). I would suggest that Webers conflation of the Shirtwaist fire and September 11th, which is constructed through the horrifying 31


descriptions of burning, falling bodies into an allegorical mode of representation, approaches upon Caruths ethical considerati on. This ethical consideration, how ever, also harbors a specific political dimension insofar as Webers decision to evoke the seemingly forgotten memory of the Shirtwaist fire traverses more popular histori cal contextualizations beset with militaristic connotations. Indeed, it would a ppear that Shirtwaist fires memory not only disrupts and defamiliarizes these historical configurations: it also underscores the politically violent aspect of industrial capitalism, while making a trenchant critique of reified constructions of history5. To return to theoretical i ssues discussed above, the erupti on of the traumatic historical context of Triangle Shirtwaist fire into the pr esent highlights the ways in which the allegorical mode of Webers novel signals the uncanny return of the past. Like the thematic dimensions of the return of the repressed, Triangles narrative strategies give si gnificant valence to the notion of history as a signifying construction. Simultaneous ly able to refer to both the falling, burning bodies of both September 11th and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the allegorical representation in Triangle achieves an ethical relation perhaps beyond the political context of memory the novel directly engages. To the extent that the signifying process of the allegorical moment never closes into a framework of totalized meani ng, the allegorical representation in Triangle remains ethically situated toward the impasse of the Real. Because while the Bush Administrations politics of memory have reinforced a trenchant polarization of September 11ths historicity, 5 Incidentally, Cunninghams Specimen Days also seems to suggest this critique insofar as the chapter containing the allusion to the Shirtwaist fire focuses on the horror and tr auma of instrustrialized labo r. The story, which conforms to the generic conventions of the gothic ghost story, utilizes the machine as a seemingly malevolent entity, which haunts the young protagonist, Lucas, after the death of his older brother, who dies in the opening of the narrative in a factory accident. If the memory of Shirtwaist fire b ears a trace of memory onto th e larger development of the narrative, it is, much like Webers, through the description of the disintegrated, ashen dead: The dead had entered the atmosphere...With every breath Lucas took the dead insi de him. This was their bitter taste; this was how they layashen and hoton the tongue (Cunningham 99). This description, I would argue, is also strikingly evocative of the days after September 11th, thus tying together the two events through the trope of ash but also the trauma related to capitalist expansion. 32


Webers narrative upsets this formulation through the triangulation of historical phenomena. In effect, through the collusion of these historical traumatic contexts, a new transformative configuration is developed. This collusion of historical traumas is furt her reinforced through the dyadic aspect of the narratives construction, both them atically and formally. While Triangle concentrates on the historical events surrounding the Triangle Shirtw aist Fire, the trajector y of the narrative is divided into multiple switch-points, as each ch apter vacillates between disparate character perspectives and narrative times. As the narr ative opens with the supposed documented account of Esther Gottliebs testimony recounting her experience of the fire from 1962, the novels temporal location rapidly shifts forward to the weeks immediately following September 11th. Punctuated intermittently by the formal accounts a nd interviews of Esthers traumatic experience over a period of decades, the narratives prim ary focus is on Esthers granddaughter, Rebecca, and her life long partner, George Botkin, an eccentrically famous co mposer of avant-garde classical music. The narrative uti lizes these two characters to reve al the ramifications of Esthers secrets regarding the fire, ones which drastically disrupt the very hist orical closure of the Shirtwaist Fire. Thematically, therefore, the narr ative is also divided: on the one hand, the novel is suggestive of the mystery genre, as the narr ative slowly chronicles Rebeccas and Georges discovery of Esthers memories surrounding the shirtwaist fire. On the other hand, this initial reading breaks down and runs parallel to a sec ondary thematic strand whic h is indicative of the historical novel, as it documen ts the conflicting first-hand a ccounts of Esthers traumatic experience. As the narrative progr esses, the final historical closure of the fire is continually deferred, since Esthers personal memory of the event implicates not only the history of the 142 victims who died, but it also effect s and destabilizes the very cons truction of history itself. By 33


continually escaping the omnipres ent inscription of historiographer Ruth Zion, the clandestine nature of Esthers memory eludes the crystallizing capture of obj ective history, thus leaving the event open for further translation. These ruptur es and destabilizations, caused by Esthers emerging memories, highlight the wa y in which traces of the pasts return to haunt the present, subtly altering it in the process. Before moving on to a more detailed account of these allegorical moments, it is important to stress the thematic significance of this dyadic formal structure. As the text reiterates Esthers narrative at three different point s of the novelwhich references the thematic focus on the figure of the triangleeach of the accounts offers a new, conflicting piece of Esthers traumatic experience. Alternating between past and present, the novels fr agmented structure mirrors the way the novel makes use of the Shirtwaist fire as an allegorical figure of September 11th, that is, as a moment of the past which blasts open th e continuum of history (Benjamin 261). The reiteration of Esthers memory, then, along with the eruption of the past into the narrative space of the novel, is analogous to the psychoanaly tic notion of belatedness, or the repetition compulsion that results in the aftermath of tr aumatic experience. In effect, the temporal fragmentation of the novel postpones and defers the final narrative closure of meaning; but it also stresses the essentially recu rsive nature of histor ical construction, such that the repetition of Esthers various accounts, over several decades, continually circles around the limit of what resists historical foreclosure. As Lacan s hows, in his reformulation of Freuds essay Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through, the dis tinction between Wiederholen (repeating) and Erinnerung (remembering) is structured by a certain relation to a limit: the subject in himself, the recalling of his biography, all this goes only to a certain limit, which is known as the real (Lacan 49). The Real as a m issed encounter is, th en, that which always 34


comes back to the same place (Lacan 49). The lim it Esther keeps returning to, and thus repeats, is found in the reoccurring phrase which begins the novel: This is what happened (Weber 1). As the novel opens with this incipient phr ase, Esthers account introduces a more quotidian description of early 20th-century factory labor, in wh ich she recounts the threading process by which she and her sister manufacture the shirtwaists: I was working at my machine, with only a few minutes left before the end of the day, I remember so clearly I can still see it, that I had only two right sleeves remaining in my pilemy sister, Pauline, she did the left sleeves and I did the right sleeves and between us we could fi nish sometimes as many as twenty-four shirtwaists in an hour, three hundred shir twaists on a good day, if the machines did not break too often, and if nobody put a needle through her finger, which happened all the time (Weber 1). This passage, with its colloquial element emphasi zed through the run-on sentence structure, alludes to two important thematic elements. On the one hand, the verbosity of Esthers accounts, which are always transcribed as a series of fr ee-flowing, run-on sentences, points toward a fact that will be illuminated gradually throughout the novel but is only fully re vealed in the novels conclusion: the fact that Esther is really her sister, Pauline, since Esther has appropriated her dead sisters identity to hide the fact of having been raped and impregnated by her boss, Mr. Jacobs. Esthers account of this threading process, which invariably shifts from the right sleeve or left sleeve depending on the spec ific account, attests not only to the precarious complications of her memory. This slippage of memory also indicates how Es ther herself has taken on a kind of allegorical identity, as she incorporates the memory of both herself and her sister. Thus, the run-on sentence structure performatively conflates the memory of both individuals insofar as Esthers first-hand accounts also inscribe the testimonial memory of Pauline, who eventually merges and is subsumed under the designation of one identity. Again, while this dyadic structure forecasts the later allegorical relationship achieved through the descriptions of the burning, 35


falling bodies, it also reinforces the larger motif endemic to the novel, which is the accordant interplay structured by combina tions of disparate phenomena. Secondly, this opening account of the seemingly banal facts wh ich detail the two sisters threading process modify and become distorted th roughout the narrative, attesting to how this slight mnemonic distortion is connected to the very impossibility of ev er saying exactly what happened. Or, to put it other way, it reveals a certain impossible possibility of saying the event. In his published lectur e that goes by the same name, Jacques Derrida expounds upon the paradoxical element of alterity or secrecy whic h ineluctably occludes the epistemological and ontological constitution of eventual ity. For Derrida, the eventas that which comes, or as that which comes to happenalways conceals an elem ent of impossible singularity that ultimately resists capture, a singula rity not appropriated by the movement from the events occurrence to its index, or through the saying of the event (D errida 443). While Derrida maintains that, to a degree, one produces the event through the very processes of mediation that register a happening or event, he insists that, in fact, the saying of th e event or the saying of knowledge regarding the event lacks, in a certain manner a priori the events singularity simply because it comes after and it loses the singularity in generality (Derrida 443). Derridas concept of the event helps to bring the repetitive, elusive nature of Esthers experience of the fire come into view. Esthers inability to qualify her experience not only necessitates the repetitio n of a narration, which is always st ructured through the phrase this is what happened, but each telli ng also coordinates the emergence of a new formation of the event, either by losing or gaining specifics pertaining to it. This si ngularity of the event, or the limit to which experience can not penetrate, approaches upon the ethical dimension that the allegorical mode harbors As De rrida argues, there is iterabi lity and return in absolute 36


uniqueness and utter singularity, so that the arrival of the even t is always a coming back, a spectral revenance (Derrida 452). Although the reiteration of the past, through the allegorical mode structures a non-totalized element which re sists a complete saying of the event, it nevertheless produces new combinati ons and configurations that recal l this spectral return. This spectral revenance not only describes the haunting of Es ther memory that repeats itself throughout the narrative, but it also points to the uncanny spectral relation that is maintained in and through the allegorical moments of the novel. And it is at this point that the allegorical moments of the novel need to be discussed in order to illuminate the ethicopolitical dimensions alluded earl ier. The opening chapter of the novel moves from Esthers description of her ar duous workday to her account of the fire, an account which slowly begins to culminate in uncanny allegorical moments recalling the falling bodies of September 11th. As Esther recalls the very aw ful smell of burning hair and flesh, along with the horrific sounds of women burning a live, the testimony shifts to a concentrated focus on the traumatic experience of w itnessing the women jump from the 9th floor of the building to their deaths (Weber 7). The images of the chaos inside th e burning building, where all the women were pushing at once so that gir ls in front maybe even got squeezed to death, are eerily evocative of the mayhem told by survivors of 9/11. Yet it is precisely Esthers extended descriptions of the falling bodies th at offer the greatest allegorical impact: There were girls with their hair on fi re and their dresses on firescreaming, screaming like you cant image, like anim als, not like people anymoreany they were standing in the windows screaming and then they were jumping and the girls watched the ones who jumped, and then they were in the win dow after them, and they jumped, in rows, it was like they waite d their turns, it was just so terrible (Weber 8). 37


Above and beyond the uncanniness of this account, it is also significant to highlight the particular verb tense of this description: it changes from past tense to an emphasis on the repetition of screaming and jumpi ng in the present perfect, and then back to the past tense, for the verbs screamed and jumped. The shif ting of tense not only indexes the immediacy of Esthers memory of the event; it also gestures toward a synchronic register of the eventone which is, for the reader, all too fa miliar to the present. Later in the description, th e perspective of the falling bodies changes to Esthers viewpoi nt from the ground, who has inexplicably escaped from the rooftop. This perspective from the ground receives the most detailed elaboration, wherein the description of the bodies hitting the pavement is described by Esther as an inassimilable experience: So I crossed the street, and there were all these people looking up and so I looked up, and what I saw was so terrible, the girls jumping, jumping, jumping up from so high up, they werent like people any longer, it was like watching insects or animalsSome people on the street, they said afterwards, thought they were throwing out the goods to save them, in bundles, when they saw the falling girls, but it wasnt bundles of goods falling and making that terrible soundsome of the girls I knew only a few days but othe rs I knew for a while and it was such a big shock, on would be burned black like a cinder but I would know the boots or dress, and then another would be perfect and still beautiful expect dead from the fall (Weber 10-11). Not only does the thrice repeated word jumping correspond to the thematic of the triangle, but it also functions as the repetition which is inscribed into her very language. Again, the traumatic experience is displaced from that of a seeing to a hearing, creating a gap in experience as a result of a shock that can not be integrated into her symbolic framework. Furthermore, notice how the metaphorical connection to the bag of wet laundr y has shifted from her description to that of others. To fully understand how this descripti on also functions as an allegorical moment signaling the imaginary of September 11th, consider a fictional account of September 11th falling bodies. In Don Delillo Falling Man Delillo offers a similar description of the main characters 38


experience of watching the falling bodies plumme t from the Twin Towerssimilarly the trauma of 9/11 is also registered in the very failure to integrate the experience into a symbolic framework. Incidentally, it is the description s focus on the shirt, not the body, which provides another uncanny correlation to the Shirtwaist Fire: then he saw a shirt come down out of the sky. He walked and saw it fall, arms waving like nothing in this life [italics mine] (Delilllo 246). As this stands as the last line of Delillos novel, it is important to stress how the narrative leaves the reader with a moment of the Real, attesting to, in much the same way as Webers description, the inassimilable experience of the watching the falling, burning bodies plummet from the sky. Able to simultaneously maintain disparate si gnifications under the proximity of a single trope, the allegorical moments here remain faithfu l [to] history in the ve ry indirectness of this telling (Caruth 27). It is here between the rhetoricity of the bu rning bodies and its correlation to historical traumatic contexts that the ethical dimension is coordi nated, a particular ethical domain structured through its relation to the impasse of the Real. My interpreta tion of Lacans Real, though still understood as that which resists symbo lization, nonetheless will locate its theoretical impact by shifting its implication from an ontolog ical and epistemological domain to that which Lacan situates in the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis in terms of an ethical relation. As Cathy Caruth shows, Lacans reformulati on of Freuds interpretation of the famous dream of the burning child resituat es the effect of trauma expe rience in terms of its ethical relation to memory: Lacans reading shows ustha t the shock of traumatic sight reveals at the heart of human subjectivity not so much an epistemological, but rather what can be defined as an ethical relation to the real (Caruth 92). The dream in question involves one that Freud discusses in his Interpretation of Dreams in which a mourning father who, ha ving just fallen a sleep while 39


keeping vigil over his dead sons body, dreams that his recently deceased son attempts to wake the man from his dream by asking the chilling question, father, dont you see that I am burning?. The uncanny nature of this dream is compounded by the fact that, just before falling asleep, the father leaves a family friend in charge to watch over the childs body. After the family friend falls asleep along with the father, a nearby candle accidentally falls onto the corpse of the child just as the child in the dream reproaches the Father. It is here that dream and reality coincide. Lacan, however, reversing the logic of Freuds analysis, asks a more radical question: is there not more reality in this message [the child s chilling address] than in the noise which the father also identifies the strange reality of what is happening in the room next door? Is not the missed reality that caused the death of the child expressed in these words? (Lacan 58). Reading the dream as an act of homage to the missed re ality, Lacan argues that the Real traumatic kernel of this dream exists precisely between reality and fiction, between the address and the response, at the suspended moment between the dream and awaking (Lacan 58). The ethical relation to this missed encounter with the real is opened up by th is very gap, this non-place of relation, to that which cannot be symbolized or addressed. While, obviously, this rhetoricity of burning provides a precise figural analogue to the allegorical moments in Triangle, it is moreover important to emphasize how the structural impasse of this inaccessible gap in Lacans read ing of the dream transforms the epistemological and ontological problems of th is circumstance to an ethical relation implicating the gap in experience. For it is precisely this fidelity to the impossibly of response, to an missed encounter which nevertheless structures a te lling that is no longer simply his [the father] own, but tells, as a mode of response, the story of the dead chil d, that approaches upon the topology of allegory 40


not only from an ethical memory which speaks the other of another trauma through the nontotalizeable sign, but also from the suspended dialectic of the allegor ical construction. The allegorical construction, whose et ymological roots litera lly denote a saying of the other, is an act of referentiality which modifies and transf orms its meaning through the very act of its signification. It is precisely the undecidability of its signification that stru ctures the allegorical way of seeing (Lowenstein 13). Just as it is the very structural impossibility of the gap between waking and dreaming which forecloses and modifies the fathers relation to the child as an ethical relation to memory, so too, as Lowenstein argues, does Benjamins allegorical way of seeing transform the objects meaning through the way in which meaning is not presented as a fixed quantity (Lowenstein 13). Rather, the objects meaning exist[s] in the allegorical moment between being and appearance, between subject and object, between life and death (Lowenstein 13). It is through the very suspension of signification that the dialectical relation of the allegorical moment is achieveor, as I woul d argue, through the very impasse of the Real. For if the allegorical moments in Triangle achieve an ethical relation to history, then it is through this very structural gap that does not foreclose the hist ory of either traumatic context. Rather it intensifies the historical specifi city of each historical contex t through their relation. To put it differently, Triangle allegorical representation is ethical to the extent that, through the very failure of allegorys referentiality, the undecida bility of the allegorical moment nevertheless structures a new way of seeing th e past and the present. Ultimate ly it provides the foundation for a transformative politics of history and the future. This process of historical transformation is further envisioned in Webers project through the efficacious quality of music, one which corres ponds to this allegorical way of seeing. To the extent that the allegorical figures of ash and burning coordinate the conflation of disparate 41


historical contexts, in Triangle it is the ability of music to forgo its dependence on the symbolic order towards an unrepresentable Real that fully reveals Webers project of translating historical memory. For it is precisely musics ability to combine singular tonal qualities into new combinations of chords and harmonies that mirro rs the allegorical performance located in the text. So although Webers project in the Triangle appears to be an atte mpt to resurrect the memory of the Shirtwaist fire while simultaneously allegorizing its relation to September 11th, the novel does so through a very specific function of representation: mimesis. In effect, the novels focus on the mimetic quality of music sugge sts that the dynamic affectation of mimesis more effectively translates the rupture of trauma than accounts of objective history. While Triangle appears to use the concept of mimesis as a signifying operation through which the past and the present become interrelated, it neverthe less does so, not by conceiving of mimesis as the reproduction of the same, but by emphasizing th e relational interplay between the past and present. Mimesis, in Webers novel, achieves its efficacy through the very synchronicity of disparate phenomena, a synchronici ty that recalls the interrelationships maintained in musical tonalities. It is thus the character of George Botk in and his eccentric use of music that best demonstrates the implications of Webers specifi c notions of mimesis, one which, I would argue, corresponds to the allegorical wa y of seeing. Botkin, who we are told was a duel chemistry and music major in college, utilizes the ingenuity of his musical sensib ilities to map strands of human DNA into award-winning symphonies. These sy mphonies, built off the combinations and structures of genetic materials, produce a visceral response in his listener s, even conjuring the scent and presence of the dead w ith the sound of music. While the fantastic element of this plot point perhaps diminishes the verisimilitude of the narratives content, it does nevertheless 42


coincide with the continued thematic of mimesis that resonances throughout the novel. Much like the aspect of the Real which de fines the Shirtwaist trauma, Botkins extraordinary music talent and compositions are characterized as something beyond language: Genius flowed from George Botkin, or rather, everything in the world somehow flowed through him and came out transmuted into sounds that were unlike any music, unlike anything anyone had heard befo re. If what Flaubert said is true that language is like a cracked kettle on which we hammer crude rhythms to make bears dance, while we long with our music to move the starsthen George Botkins music was what all of huma nkind longed for with every spoken word (Weber 17). Moreover, Botkins musical genius is further described as having the uncanny ability to see connections and anticipate conseq uences that eluded others; that he is able to see and hear patterns, to perceive sameness and the differenc es that other people di dnt notice, and to transpose those patterns and contrasts into musical forms (Weber 19). Nevertheless, it is this telling quote by Botkin that most evocatively describes the way in which mimesis differs from the allegorical function, one wh ich is situated toward differe nce and alterity rather than sameness: its not just two pure pitches, but th e relationship between them that gives it musical meaning. The leap is where we feel the signi ficance (Weber 216). Now while this passage provides an effective description of the allegorical tendency found in Triangle, this quote also, through the way in which it plays off the word l eapwhich is, of course thematically located all throughout the novelattests to the fact that it is through the figure of falling bodies that most precisely registers the impasse of the Real. In Triangle, the dynamic affect of musicality transcends the realm of the symbolic and draws clos er to the register of the Real. Moreover, it is through this very dimension of musicality that Weber transcends the temporal and traumatic distances between September 11th and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. 43


This element of musicality is then trenchan tly contrasted to the discursive operation of historiography. For it becomes a pparent through Webers tenden tious representation of the historian Ruth Zion that Weber pr ivileges the emotive affect of artand, above all, musicas the mode of representa tion that more effectively communicat es the trauma of history. As the character Ruth Zion persists in excavating the t ruth from Esthers memory, the historiographic operation is represented in the novel as diamet rically opposed to the function of art, both ethically and pragmatically. While this ideologica lly loaded binary reveals a salient limitation in Webers vision, it nevertheless points to the main object of Webers project For just as the novel depicts Georges translation of the traumas of September 11th and the Shirtwaist fire into music as both an ethical and effective operation, so too does it become apparent that Webers goal is to achieve a process of translation by bringing these two hi storical events into a correspondence. As Botkin suggests in a fictional magazine inte rview later in the novel, ultimately music plays with the connection between tension and rel ease can render a very specific appealing patternand I think thats what we remember bestour emotional reaction to the interplay (Weber 221). But while this quote registers the overall project of Webe rs novel, I would also argue that it also high lights the way in which the allegorica l interplay between the two traumas are joined. It is this emphasis on musicality as a moment of the Real which structures a response to historical trauma that reveals the very efficacy of Triangles configuration of historical temporalities. This thematic motif of musicality in Triangle thus serves to reinforce the thematic of allegorical relationship between the two traumas, such that something like a harmony of traumatic experience is proposed. The trope of mu sicality shows the way in which two disparate traumas are able to simultaneously speak, without eliding the specificity of each event 44


actuality. Rather, it is precisely th e very interrelation of the two memories which inaugurates and registers the transformative aspect of its textual performance. Perhaps the most significant section of th e novel is located in its conclusion, where Botkins latest symphony is dedicated to the me mory of the Shirtwaist fire and September 11th. Here Weber attempts to transcribe the formal el ements of musicality into the materiality of the text, to go beyond language in order to utiliz e it as a tool emphasizing the rhythms and movements of the symphonic orchestra. To do so Webers use of rhythmic language becomes coextensive with the repetiti on compulsion, thus giving the la st allegorical moments with September 11th: At once the chorus of 146 voices rages a nd begs and pleads and rages again, and the glorious, terrible, destroying music so ars around them and lifts them up, and the chorus pulls the music down, and down, and down, and the timpani and the untuned bass drums crash together with a boom, boom, boom for each body as it falls, and the bodies fall, down and down and down, and the despairing music darkens the Stern Auditorium (Weber 229). Through this description, one can see Weber attemp ting to push representation to its very limit, not only because of how the quality of the prose mimic the rhythmic nature of music, but also because it attempts to find a limit language that adap ts to the excess that is the limit of the Real. Simultaneously commemorating the memory of the Shirtwaist fire and September 11thboth inside the narrative through Botkins dedication, and outside the narrative since it continues the allegorical projectthe final, most devastating, passage conflates the two horrifying images of the trauma with the musicality of Webers prose, while also referring back to the opening phrase of the narrative: Underneath the noise of it all is the relentless boom, boom, boom, of the bodies hitting the pavement one by one, the terrible stopping short of life is there in the dull weight of each impact [of the timpani drums], it repeats and repeats, the swoop of the falling bodies and then the fi nality of that resonant impact, the 45


terrible stillness that ends each fall, ag ain, and again, and yet again, the crashing bodies hit the ground, the overload fire es capesthe fire burns in diminishing ripples now, with nothing left to consume, no more lives to be lost, Asch Building to ashes, dust to dust, there is nothing now but the looking back and the remembering, the sifting of ashes that will continue for decades, this is what happened, this is what happened, this is what happened, this is what happened (Weber 230). Here, ash serves as the penultimate allegorica l image of the novel, recalling both historical traumas while attesting to the remainder of the R eal that will continue to burn through the symbolic texture of history. It is here that We bers project can seen as an attempt to correspond to Botkins: both work to bear witness to a notion of posterity that embraces the singularity of each historical trauma, and both works ultimately find allegorical resonance in the accordant interplay between the two traumas. But the figur e of ash, as that which endures and retains the memory of September 11th, also bears witness to the impossibili ty of closurethe sifting of ash that will continue for decades. Ash is used, he re, as an allegorical sign which bears on the ethical relation of the Real, a relation that, a lthough structuring the ve ry impossibility of a totalized closure, nevertheless constitutes the imperative to engender a continued call to historical memory. With the final repetitive flourish of the phr ase this is what happened, the narrative shifts once more from the symphonic performa nce to a first person narrative of Esthers experience. This time, however, the full story of Esthers memory of the fire is told, while Esther, revealing her secret relation to Pa uline, becomes unequivocally her self. This overturning, which is punctuated in th e narrative through th e musical term da capo, ends the repetition, pointing to a possible working through of the trauma. Instead of watching her fianc Sam and Pauline jump from the burning buildin g, Esther takes her place alongside them and 46


imagines a new history: we are together, I am not alone, they are with me, we will always be together, and then we jump (Weber 242). Indeed, while the novel appears to close in a simplistic and redemptive fashion, I would suggest that, if read closely, it actually forwards a series of unanswered questions rather than definitive answers. Each of these alternatives avoids the capture of a historical closure, gesturing toward an opening of history rather than a closur e. Insofar as the novel si gnals the return and the assumption of Esthers original identity through a final, comprehe nsive recollection of the event, this realization culminates in an other, more fundamental repetition: not simply the repetition of a suicidal tendency recalling the opening of the novel, but also, and more broadly, the closing sequence returns to the scene of history, as it were, in that the novels ending suggests a cyclic series rather than a definitive cl osure. More radically, however, Esthers final recollection also points to the emergence and possibility of a new historyone that is not a simple workingthrough of the repetition compulsion of a traumatic history, but rather one which gestures toward the opening of an alternative history through the very trauma of a fall. As this alternative history is constituted through the bifurcation of Esthers identity, whic h ultimately brings into view the specificity of both Pauline and Esthers memory, it provides a way to read the larger implications of Webers project. This alternative history, then, should not be thought of as a dislocation or absolute beginning, from the prospect of a work ing through. Rather, structured through the very impact of a fall, it demonstrates that it is pr ecisely the figure of the falling body by which the histories of September 11th and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire collide. It is precisely between these two historical traumatic contexts that an altern ative history can be constructed. In other words, the falling bodies of September 11th bring near the specificity of the falling bodies of the Triangle Shirt waist fire, and vice versa, through the way in which this allegorical figure draws 47


closer to the zone of proximity that exists between the two histories. Remember, as George Botkin suggests, that the leap is where we feel the significance (Weber 216). Finally, these historical traumatic contexts ma p out a different relation to hist ory: one which remains ethically situated toward the Real history, and from whic h ultimately a transformative response can begin. 48


CHAPTER 4 ASHES OF AMERICAN FLAGS It is significant to note that Cormac McCa rthys fiction has intent ly focused on the long history of American violence. Si nce the beginning of his literary career, and most notably with his critically acclaimed Blood Meridian (1984), McCarthys fiction has dramatized the bloody advance of American imperialist expansion. In particular, Blood Meridian which fictionalizes the violent conquest of North American fr ontier along the tenuously drawn Mexican border during the post-Civil War era, most effectively demystifies the ideology of Manifest Destiny and the heroic ideal of the West. Mu ch like the 9/11 novels that ha ve offered incisive criticisms engaging the Bush administrations idealizat ion of World War II, McCarthys fictional concentration on the American west has similarly attacked the mythic conceptions of westward expansion. Remarkably, the historically specific aspect of McCarthys novels have too often been neglected by McCarthys critics, replaced instead by a more ahistorical approach that collapses McCarthys emphasis on violence into a homogenous ly framed focus on represented violence. While the ubiquity of violence is most definitely a central aspect of Mc Carthys vision, ignoring the ways in which the depiction and intensity of this violence changes with each historical contextalong the various narra tive modes that represent th is violenceobfuscates the particular political dimensions that underwrite this emphasis on violence. Instead of reading McCarthys use of historical violence as a critique of contempo rary political brutality, this thematic is usually ignored for a more existe ntial interpretation, wh ich views McCarthys violence as a transhistorical ph enomenon that runs throughout the trajectory of his canon. Critic Vince Brewton, however, persuasively argues that McCarthys emphasis on violence is not only historically contingent but also politically fo cused on the historical present. Furthermore, 49


Brewton maintains that McCarthys early novels Children of God, Suttree and Blood Meridianall concurrently critique th e imperialist violence of 19th Century American while also creating a clear and discernable correlation to the era of Am erican history defined by the military involvement in Vietnam (Brewton 121). Likewise, by focusing on the modification to aesthetic violence in McCarthys fi ction beginning in the heralded Border Trilogy Brewton further contends that this shift can be seen as an allegorical engagement with the United States role in the Gulf War (Brewton 129). So, according to Brewton, while the nature of violence in Blood Meridian allegorizes the heart of darkness that was the American experience in Vietnam, its transformation in the 90s conti nues this politically ch arged gesture by mapping the continuation of this violence into anothe r historical horizon (B rewton 121). What Brewton makes clear is that McCarthys fi ction has used history in much the same way as several of the 9/11 focused fiction: that is, Mc Carthys fiction similarly suggests that only with an engagement with the violence of America past can one significantly confront or understand the present historical situation. But while Brewton focuses on the changes in McCarthys representati ons of violence, it is also significant that McCarthys stylistic ap proach modifies with each different change to aesthetic violence. Indeed, Mc Carthys two post-9/11 novelsNo Country for Old Men and The Roadare, in many ways, drastic stylistic departur es from his earlier work. Whereas his prior work was historically located in the distant pa st, with an often prolix style reminiscent of Faulkners florid prose, hi s recent novels have be en set in the present ( No Country for Old Men) and the near future (The Road ). Similarly, McCarthys prose has b ecome increasingly privative and sparse. The Road s narrative structure, in particular is broken into distinct diminutive fragments, each chronicling a specific moment of narrative time, with little to no dialogue 50


between its characters. Contrary to his effulgent style in Blood Meridian McCarthys prose, no longer redolent with ornate descriptions of the vi rginal American west, transforms the American landscape into one of ruin and decay, drawing a discernable correlation to Benjamins critical focus on the moribund aspect that defined the German Trauerspiel That McCarthys fiction has taken another drastic stylistic turn with the inauguration of another military, political conflict seems to suggest that this departure responds, in various ways, to the hist orical context defined by September 11th. In The Road the expanse of American west has give way to the ashen landscapes of Americas destruction. Rather than a style reminiscent of Faulkner, The Roads minimalist style has become strikingly similar to the sparse style of Samuel Beckett. Indeed, if Becketts oeuvre can been read as the desperate attempt to respon d to the historical demands of World War II and the Holocaust through an engagement with the representational limits of language, it would appear that McCarthys post-apoc alyptic vision of America, wh ich is described in a broken, exhaustive rhetoric, is the vision of anot her radical break in historySeptember 11th. For both authors, it would appear that it is precisely through the very br eakdown of language that disaster is written. As Blanchot hauntingly maintains, the disaster is what escapes the very possibly of experience: the disaster de-scribes, for it is precisely beyond the pale of writing (Blanchot). Through a literary language that omits more than it inscribes, The Road narrates the collapse of the American project. Withdrawing his language to ward literary silence, McCarthy imagines the impact of September 11th as the culmination and re sult of its violent past. Insofar as The Road engages the sociopolitical ramifications of the post-9/11 milieu, it is precisely the narratives uncanny a llusions to traumatic moments of 20th century history that most effectively signal this confrontation with the present. While th e violent depravity of No 51


Country for Old Man tackles the seemingly hopelessness of th e present, the ashen landscape of the Road, which simultaneously recalls the ashen afte rmath of 9/11 and Hiroshima, squarely positions itself as the result and continuation of No Countrys ambiguously scripted denouement. In effect, No Country for Old Mens irrational trajectory of interpersonal violence functions as the necessary prologue to the impoverished, inhumane dimension of the blood cults and cannibalism that inhabits The Road The ethereal, ahis torical setting of The Roads narrative which, incidentally, is the only work of McCarthys to depict a fictional world outside of historyis engendered through the a represented pastiche of historical traumatic contexts. Though the novel makes no explicit refe rence to either September 11th or Hiroshima, the abundance of imaginary that corresp onds to the aftermath of both th ese historical events is too prominent to ignore. In effect, in The Road the whole of the American landscape has become a veritable Ground Zero. Therefore, the political and ethical dimens ions of McCarthys narrative are maintained through these allegorical recoll ections of both September 11th and Hiroshima. Much like in Webers Triangle it is the collusion of hi story through the allegorical tropes of ash and burning that coordinate the uncanny eruption of the past. This return of the repr essed of history is analogously directed toward the re al of history, as it s ituates the present as a tenuous site that must negotiate the traumas of two distinct historical moments. It is, however, this very collusion of temporality that modifies the presents relations to the past while, at the same time, maintaining the specificity of each historical phenomenon. Ethically situated toward the Real of history, the figure of ash makes manifest, rather than occludes, Americas own violent past. Instead of valorizing the heroic memory of World War II, The Road upsets the viability of this political narrative by imagining Hiroshima as the real Ground Zero of American history, 52


reinscribing the memory of this atrocity b ack into the national imaginary. Signaling both Hiroshima and September 11th, ash becomes the only thing that holds sway in McCarthys postapocalyptic world, where all was burnt to as h (McCarthy 15). Thus I will attempt to circumscribe this ethical dimens ion of historical memory through the allegorical figure of ash, which draws analogous figurative features to Benjamins notion of the ruin. The Road follows the travails of an anonymous Man and Child, rummaging alone in the blacken landscape of post-apocalyptic America. Remaining nameless while shuffling through the ash, with each the others world entire, the two characters wander desperately, often without provisions, across the only thing that stil l enduresthe interstate and country roads of scorched America (McCarthy 6). Equally nameless is the event that caused this massive devastation: while the narrative gives flashes of indication th at perhaps the disaster was a result of global nuclear war, much like Becketts derelict imagined worlds in Waiting for Godot and End Game the narrative never reveals the explicit causa l factor which lead to the destructive event. And it is precisely this omission which st rengthens the allegorical aspects of the narrative, insofar as this omission reinforces the ahistorical nature of the post-apoc alyptic: the flashes of memory the man experiences throughout the na rrative highlight the dilemma of a boundless present which is nevertheless haunted by the ghost s of the past. The efficacy of this connection between Beckett and McCarthy is stressed here again, because, beyond the nameless act of destruction, both authors confront th e very limits of historical expe rience, limits enacted from the results of historical trauma. Mc Carthys dystopic world, much like Becketts, is barren, silent, godless, without hope for a future (McCarthy 2). E ach author deals with the dilemma of how, in a world severed absolutely from history, to main tain a fidelity to the past and future: both authors work struggles interminably with the que stion of how to confront a limit that imposes an 53


obstacle to future horizons. Indeed, just as Beckett emphasizes the atemporal modality of apocalypse, dramatizing the contradictions and limitations of modernity, so too does The Roads narrative discard a coherent trajectory: each of th e narratives segments flashes and cuts at random, disorienting the readers awareness of time or place. For at the end of the world, time is of no concern: he thought the month was October but he wasnt sure. He hadnt kept a calendar in years. They were moving south. Thered be no surviving winter he re (McCarthy 2). Though McCarthys earlier novels followed the impending destruction of the indigenous cultures and lands of the west, here, the devastation has alre ady occurred; and the Mans and Childs course south metaphorically suggests a de scent into the bowels of hell. Whereas, in Becketts work, the recursive meaningless of existence is forever deferred, in The Road meaning fully arrives at its destination through the very collapse of all mean ing: he walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute tr uth of the world. The cold relentless of the interstate earth (McCarthy 130 In McCarthys post-apocalyptic America, wher e time and history no longer exist, there is no later: this is laterall th ings of grace and beauty such that one holds them to ones heart have a common provenance in paintheir birth in grief and ashes (M cCarthy 56). Here, a salient connection is made to th e notion of the present as boundle ss, over-determined by the very lack of a future horizon, which was ruptured by a co llective traumatic event. It is interesting to note, however, that a very similar sentiment is held by a character from Delillos Falling Man, using almost the same rhetoric to describe th e sense of time and movement of history following the attacks of 9/11: nothing is next. There is no next. This was next. Eight years ago they [terrorists] they planted a bomb in one of the towers. Nobody said whats next. This was next. The time to be afraid is where theres no reason to be afraid. Too late no w (Delillo 10). The 54


connection here is a significant one. While the figurative use of ash has been a prominent trope in these post-9/11 novels, another po pular narrative strategy has been to highlight the change in temporality opened up by the event: either narrativ es defined by a uncertainty of the future, or narratives, such as the Delillos quote, that s uggest a perpetual deferra l of meaning, where the impact of the aftermath is suspended indefinitely. Likewise, McCart hys dystopic world is defined by hopelessness for the future, from an event that not only liquidates all meaning but also emphasizes the limitations of continuing on into the future. Ne vertheless, the two characters endureattempting to struggle toward the Gulf of Mexico in the hopes of reaching drier, warmer land, which is again suggestive of Becketts Unnameables closing line: I cant go on, Ill go on (Beckett 414). Although this shared narra tive thread attesting to the uncertainty of the future could be seen as validation of the rhet orical position that everything has changed, I would argue that these narratives fully indicate the dangers of adopting this rhetorical position. In terms of McCarthys narrative, this narra tive trend allegorizes the way in which the contemporary present is, simultaneously, over-dete rmined with historical significance while remaining unable to situate the event of September 11th into a coherent context of meaning. Strikingly reminiscent of Lacans readi ng of the dream of the burning child, The Road thus begins with an awakening that initiates the r eader into its post-apocal yptic world, one which omits an encounter with this very di saster. This awakening, then, opens The Road and similarly depicts a Man having awakened into a traumatic realitythe trauma of the worlds collapse. Much like the narrative of Freuds dream, the Ma ns awakening corresponds to the impossibility of responding to a child: when he woke in the woods in dark and the cold of the night hed reach out to touch the child sleeping beside (McC arthy 1). For this impossibility of a response to the child is related to the Mans own missed encounter, to the trauma of his loss which can no 55


longer be communicated by a direct telling: he could not construc t for the childs pleasure the world hed lost without constructing the loss well that he could not enkindl e in the heart of the child what was in ashes in his own (McCart hy 154). While the Man must let go of the loss of his prior history and memory, he remains unconditionally motivated to protect the Child, an individual who completely missed the apocalyp tic event before his bi rth. It is as though McCarthys decision to begin his narrative after the f act of the event is a metaphorical signal pointing to the aftermath of Americans own di saster on September 11th. The catastrophe, left unnamed and unrepresented in the narrative, remain s a moment of the Real; as Blanchot argues, one cannot encounter or experience the disaster, but is that whic h is most separate, for it isalways already past (Blanchot 1). Awakening from a dream where he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand, the Mans dream corresponds to an a pocalyptic reality, which is described by the narrator as one where the Man and the Child ar e pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of a granitic beast (M cCarthy 1). Thus both dream and reality become reminiscent of a nightmare, in which the gap that structures their differentiation constitutes the trauma of an impossibility to respond to either de mand. It is this very inability to escape the Real of history and the nightmares of the imagin ary realm that inaugurates the limit experience that the Man continually experiences throughout the novel. Beginning from this moment of awakening, then, is the continued problem of an et hical relation to the past, a past that no longer exists, to one that is now rende red insignificant but nevertheless endures in the memory of the Man without a possibility of communication: h e thought that if he li ved long enough the world at last would be lost. Like the dying world the ne wly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory (McCarthy 18). Because whereas the Man keeps tight to his memories, with an 56


impossible ethical demand to somehow not betray a memory of the pre-ap ocalyptic, of memories which no longer bear any practical significance, the Boy is completely separate from this prior world, a civilized world he has never known: he [the Man] thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its originswhat you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not (McCarthy 131). Much like the ethical relation to historical me mory Cathy Caruth treats in her reading of Hiroshima Mon Amour a similar narrative which concentrates on two traumatized individuals who inhabit an apocalyptic citythe Man in The Road ultimately faces a deeply ethical dilemma: the unremitting problem of how not to betray the past especially when the past has no possibly of shaping the future (Caruth 27). For as the narrative suggests, the past and the future are irreparably lost, especially their imag inative meaning in dreams: what he could bear in the waking world he could not by night and he saw awake for fear that the dream would return (McCarthy 130). A similar problem occurs in The Road wherein the fidelity to a past that no longer exists highlight s a paradoxical structure of historical memory. Passing through a burned, abandoned city allegorica lly reminiscent of New York after 9/11, where cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust, the Man, attempting to protect his child from the overwhelming horror of a corp se in a doorway dried to leatheran image which suddenly switches to the depraved bodies of Hiroshima offers the Child a warning, stating that the things you put into your head are there forever (McCarthy 12). To which the Child replies: you forget some things, dont you (McCarthy 12). The Father, immediately responding with this chilling paradox of memory, responds thus: yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget (McCarthy 12). Elucidating the paradoxical slippage between memory and forgetti ng, the Fathers reply attests to the burning 57


necessity of remembering all that which is ruinous and petri fied by historical eventuality, whereby a fidelity to the past is located within the ve ry interstices of this gapnot only to the tenuous gap between memory and forgetting, but also to the gap of the missed encounter with the Real of their trauma. As the narrative progresses and the struggl es against memory and forgetting become more precarious for the Man, the last refuge of memory becomes allegorical connected to the fragile quality of ash, while the ethical relation to the past brings memory closer to the Real: The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referent and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying preserve heat. In time to wi nk out forever (McCarthy 88-89). It precisely this imperative to keep the memory of history burning alive as well as the notion of the future emblemized in the figures of the child and ash that emphasize th e political stakes of McCarthys critique. Not nearly as pedantic as the tired old idio m, he that forgets history is doomed to repeat it, this injunction to memory and history in The Road seems to suggest that only with an adamant dedication to and remembran ce of the failures of hist ory, to the memory of its ruin, will any type of rede mptive historical moment occur. Just as the ruin for Benjamin remains the transformative, allegorical figure of history, so too, for McCarthy, does the reminder of ash become the remnant of the Real of hist ory. In short, the figure of ash, as that which remains of the memory of history, serves as th e reminder that the future demands a necessary obligation to the memory of a traumatic past. It is precisely this figur e of ash which blasts opened the continuum of history, shocking the hi storical present with an allegorical image linking Hiroshima and September 11th. By placing disparate historic al traumatic contexts into a 58


backdrop of American apocalypse, The Road acknowledges the dangers of too quickly domesticating the trauma of 9/11 in to a historical closure. Indeed, The Road asks a more pressing question as well, one which is allegorized again through this in tersection between historical memory and the dystopic world of the novel: wha t do the dying bodies of the pasthave to do with living bodies of the present (Caruth 26)? Only th rough a confrontat ion between the violence of Americas past and the present will any type of polit ically responsible future begin. The imperative of this question is precisely registered by the impossibility of a direct response, but it nevertheless demands a fidelity to a historical memory which can not be fully comprehendedan ethical memory to the Real of history. In returning to the opening sequence of The Road one also finds a significant relation to this moment of awakening and the etymological roots of apocalypse, a relationship which informs an important thematic st rand of the novel. In his book American Apocalypses, Douglas Robinson shows how American apocalyptic na rratives present an ongoing challenge to dominant American ideologies a nd to our contemporary ways of th inking (Robinson xii). It is, however, through the philological inve stigation of the word, apocalyps e, that fully highlights this thematic strand in McCarthys novel: The meaning of the eschaton however, is not in fact the last things but the furthermost boundary, the ultimate edge in time or spaceIf the apocalypse is an unveiling ( apo [from or away], kalupsis [covering] from kalupto [to cover], and kalumma [veil]), then clearly the veil is the eschaton that which stands between the familiar and whatever lies beyond. In this sense the apocalypse becomes largely a matter of seeing ; and what one sees by imagining an apocalypse depends chiefly upon how one c onceives the veil. (Robinson xiii). Directly following the Mans awakening, which opens with the touch from one generation onto anther, the novels next sentence concerns itself with the limits of sight, with a mode of seeing that gradually fades away into the complete darkness of the eschaton : nights dark beyond 59


darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world (McCar thy 1). The tripartite arrangement of sight, limit, and burning follow the chaotic trajectory of each characters journey to the material end of the world and, ultimately, to the absolute end of existence: the fathers inevitable death. The unveiling of the apocalypse ha s stripped away every limit a nd boundary which, embodied in the trope of the ashes of the late world, carrie[s] the bleak and te mporal winds to and fro in the void, where everything is uncoupled from its shoringunsupported in the ashen air (McCarthy 11). And, even though the blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable, (McCarthy 15) where waking in the cold dawn it [dreams] all turned to ash instantly, (McCarthy 21) the burning of memory remains: A forest fire was making its way along the tinderbox ridges above them, flaring and shimmering against the overcast like the northern lights.the color moved something in him long forgotten. Make a list. Recite a litany. Remember. (McCarthy 31). It is here that the tripartite rh etoricity of sight, boundary, and burning coalesces into the allegorical image of ash: ash as the trope which alludes to the remains of memory; as that which clouds the field of vision; as that wh ich has no formal structure but skatters with the vagaries of the wind. If the novels only characters, the Man and the Boy, intrepidly travel down the limitless boundary of the road, it is the additional figure of ash that functions almost as an additional character in the novel, continually following the misfortunate pair. Moreover, it is the figur e of ash that, on the level of the narrative, functions as the metaphorical remnant of memoryas that which continues to burn in memory; as that which points to the allegorical moment s of the novel where historical memory and fictional space collide. If the apocalypse concerns a certain limit of experience, this limit is precisely situated in 60


the figure of ash which, located between the two historical traumas, allegorically points to the very limits of experience and comprehension. Of the numerous descripti ons which recall these two events, one of the most salient allegorical moments is the evocative descrip tion of the grainy air, whose ashen quality becomes so inescapable and pervasive that the ma n and the child are forced to wear protective masks. Moreover, the narrative tells us, the taste of it never left your mouth. This allegorical moment recalls the enumerable refe rences to ominous fog of ashen air that enveloped the city of New York after 9/11, along with terrible notion that this air actually contai ned the remains of the dead. As was seen in an earlier quote from Cunninghams Specimen Days that I quoted earlier, this focus on the sensual sensat ion of the ash has been an eff ective trope of post 9/11 fiction. Consider Jonathon S. Foers use in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in which a young child, Oskar Snell, struggles to cope with the realization that his father, whose body was never found, is part of this ashen air. Oskars diffi cult process of mourning is compounded by the very act of breathing: he [his father] had cells, and no w theyre on the rooftops, and in the river, and in the lungs of millions of people around New Yo rk (Foer 169). Whereas the trope of ash is utilized in Foers novel as a problem connected with the missing body, in The Road the figure of ash becomes another character: ash, much like Be njamins ruin, becomes the figure which is suggestive of all that is mournf ul about history. One could ma ke the argument that, if for Benjamin the ruin and the deaths head are the allegorical objects par excellence for the Baroque period, then the 20th centurys equivalent may well be that of ash, which not only recalls Hiroshima and September 11th but also, and perhaps most saliently, the Holocaust.6 As a 6 Indeed, While Derrida does not theorize the figure of ash in terms of allegory, his emphasis on ash, or the cinder, has been a significant point of reference to the trauma of the 20th century, which is seen most prominently in Cinders but also referenced in The Post Card and Dissemination For Derrida, the cinder, as the ineffable remainder of 61


mournful trope of history, then, the figure of ash also points to the ashen ground zero of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Immediately following the passage describing the grainy air, the descriptive focus shifts to the landscape, one which, I would argue, recalls the devastation of nuclear holocaust: on the hillsides old crops dead and flattened. The barren ridgeline tress raw and black in the rain (McCart hy 20). Too numerous to quote, The Roads descriptions of the derelict landscape, rather than a focus on di alogue, overwhelms the narrative space of the novel. In effect, the novels emphasis on the lugubrious landscape, which at times seems to conform to the generic conventions of the travel narrative, reinforces the historical references to the collective trauma of Hiroshima. Though never re vealed, the aftermath of the apocalyptic event becomes so reminiscent of nuclear devastation that one is tempted to privilege this interpretation, regardless of other scenes which subtly imply an act of a malevolent divinity. Perhaps the most apparent allegorical mome nt referring to 9/11 occurs during one of the mans many flashbacks. These flashbacks recall the Mans memories which immediately follow the aftermath of the apocalyptic event; more impor tantly, however, these flashbacks allegorically recall images of September 11th, when escaping survivors fled the burning Twin Towers: People sitting on the sidewalk in the da wn half immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides. Others would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges an d deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it (McCarthy 32-33). What is particularly interesti ng about this extended quote is th at, if read a llegorically, the trajectory of the passage chronologically summarizes the aftermath of September 11th: the sectarian violence caused by the war on terror, while the screams of the murdered who are signification, becomes another figure among others in a long chain of privileged signifiers that point to the theorization of difference and the trace. 62


impaled on stakes could metonymically refer to the massive violence inaugurated by the event. The final line, however, could be read, much lik e the rest of the novel, as an elegy for the unquantifiable violence of th e twentieth century. As the Man and Child stagger th rough the ruins cities and towns of America, the images the novel depicts similarly find allegorical moments signaling the aftermath of both 9/11 and Hiroshima. When the two make it further south ou t of the mountains, the Man sees something he had not seen in some while, common the north, l eading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead (McCarthy 181). Immediately following this passage alluding to the innumera ble messages left on the streets of NYC after 9/11, we get a image of the city which, I would argue, recalls both, through the sa lient figure of ash: the soft black talc blew through the stre ets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came earlywith their torches tr od silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes (McCarthy 181). In one of the more brutal moments of the novel, the aftermath of Hiroshima can no longer be igno red, as the description remarkably collapses historical trauma and represented image into a devastating allegorical moment: In two days time they came upon a country where firestorms had passed leaving mile on mile of burn. A cake of in the roadway inches deep and hard goingA mile on and they began to come upon the dead. Figures half mired in the blacktop, clutching themselves, m ouths howlingthe black skin stretched upon the bones and their faces split and shrunken on thei r skulls. Like victims of some ghastly envacuuming. Passing them in silence down that silent corridor through the drifting ash where they struggled fore ver in the road does cold coagulate (McCarthy 190-191). Consider the imagery of this description with one of the more vi vidly horrifying sections of John Hersheys journalistic tour de force Hiroshima, which provides Japanese eyewitness reports of the aftermath: from a busy city of two hundred and forty-five thousand to a mere pattern of 63


residue in the afternoon. The asphalt of the streets was still too so soft and hot from the fires that walking was uncomfortable. They encountered on ly one person, a woman, who said to them as they passed, My husband is in those ashes (Hersey 40). Referring back to the Fathers admonition signaling the paradoxical nature of memory earlier, the Child, upon seeing the gruesome scene, forwards a question directed to the imperative of memory: What you put in your head is there forever? (McCarthy 191). Repl ying in the affirmative to the Childs question, the Man demands that the Child not look at the char red corpses, to which the Child replies: its okay PapaTheyre already here (McCarthy 191). The invocation of memory here, which immediately follows the most allegorical images of Hiroshima, points to the fact that, while the urge to forget the atrocities of history is in one sense necessary to any continuance, to remember that they already there (historys ruin) is to in sist on the fact that theyll still be there (the trace of history) to affect th e course of history, regardless of our decision of sight and understanding. It is significant that McCarthy pl aces all three rhetorical coordinates of the novelash, sight, and the limit of the roadas it insists on the point that the negotiation of traumatic memory demands a seeing (an understanding) that must necessary fall shortan ethics to the Real, or an ethics to that which surpasses knowledge. While ultimately it is the figure of ash that brings together the dialectical moments of history, it is its intimate connect ion to the road that effectively politicizes the memory of September 11th. Because insofar as everything else p al[es] away into the murk, where soft ash blow[s] in loose swirls over the blacktop, the figure of the road, as an allegorical figure of Americans open frontier, harkens back to McCart hys earlier fiction deali ng with the violence of Americas western expansion. Bringing together images of Hiroshima in the context of American while also using common tropes of September 11th, The Road works to place each 64


65 historical trauma into an unfamiliar context. Much like the trope of ash as figure of residue or remainder, the road in the novel becomes met onymically suggestive of the same qualityit is that which endures beyond the destruction of Am erica as an event or ideology. When the child questions his Father about the significance and origin behind the state roads, then asks him how the destruction of the states came about, the fa ther is unable to give a definitive answer: I dont know exactly. Thats a good question. (McCarthy 43). As Benjamin suggests, the allegoricalis at home in the fall (Benjamin 234). Similarly, here, in The Road McCarthy allegorizes the eventuality of a fallthe fall of America itselfsuggesting the way in which the dying bodi es of the past directly implicate the dying bodies of the present. Awakening once again one morning to an ashen American, the Mans relation to the apocalypse finally begins to become his own unveiling unto knowledge: hed come to see a message in each such late history, a message and a warning, and so this tableau of the slain and the devoured did prove to be (McC arthy 91). Ultimately, it is this dedication to the tableau of the slain and de voured of history that works to upset both the heroic idealization of World War II as well as its po liticized connection to September 11th. For it is precisely this dedication to an ethics of a traumatic history that harbors the promise of a foundation developed from an ethically sutured politic al stance: one deeply concerned with the failures of history, rather than the barbarity of th e victors history, as the nece ssary condition for its redemptive articulation in a future horizon.


LIST OF REFERENCES Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. ---------. The Origins of German Tragic Drama. Trans. John Osbourne. New York: Verso, 1998. Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. Brewton, Vince. The Changing Landscape of Vi olence in Cormac McCarthys Early Novels and Border Trilogy. The Southern Literary Journal 37.1 (2004): 121-143. Bush, George W. Were Fighti ng to WinAnd Win We Will. Remarks by the President on the USS Enterprise on Pearl Harbor Day December 7, 2001: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news /releases/2001/print/20011207.html Butler, Rex, and Scott Stephens. Slavoj i eks Third Way Introduction. Slavoj iek The Universal Exception Volume I. New York: Continuum, 2005. 1-12. Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Traum a, Narrative, and History Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1996. Cunningham, Michael. Spectral Days. New York: Picador Press, 2005. Delillo, Don. The Falling Man New York: Scribner, 2007. Derrida, Jacques. A Certain Impossibl e Possibility of Saying the Event. Critical Inquiry 33.4 (2007): 441-461. Derrida, Jacques, and Giovanna Borradori. A Dial ogue with Jacques Derrida Trans. Pascale-Ann Brault and Michael Nass. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Di alogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida Ed. Giovanni Borradori. Chicago: Un iversity of Chicago Press, 2003. 85-136. Foer, Jonathon S. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close New York: Mariner Books, 2005.


Hansen, Jim. Formalism and its Malcontents: Benj amin and de Man on the Function of Allegory. New Literary History. 35.1 (2005): 663-683. Harootunian, Harry. Rememberi ng the Historical Present. Critical Inquiry 33.2 (2007): 471-494. Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York: Vintage, 1985. Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho analysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. .Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representations: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film New York: Columbia Press, 2005. McCarthy, Cormac. The Road New York: Vintage, 2006. Newman, Saul. Specters of the Unca nny: The Return of the Repressed. Telos: A Quarterly Journal of Radical Social Theory 124.4 (2002): 115-130. Robinson, Douglas. American Apocalypses:The Image of the E nd of the World in American Literature. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1985. Rothberg, Michael. Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins New York: Routledge, 1992. Weber, Katherine. Triangle New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Wegner, Phillip. Life Between Two Deaths: US Culture, 1989-2001 Durham: Duke University Press, Forthcoming 2008. --------. October 3, 1951 to September 11, 2001: Periodizing the Cold War in Don Delilllos Underworld Amerikastudien, 49.1(2004): 51-64. Wilkins, Matthew. Toward a Benjaminian Theory of Dialectical Allegory. New Literary History 37.1 (2004): 285-298.


Zehfuss, Maja. Derridas Memory, War and the Politics of Ethics. Derrida: Negotiating the Legacy Ed. Madeleine Fagan and Ludovic Glorieux. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2007. 97-112. iek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology New York: Verso, 1989.


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Christopher Cowley received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Psychology from the University of South Alabama in 2005. While th is thesis represents the culmination of his work toward the Master of Arts Degree re ceived in 2008, Christopher plans on focusing his PH.D. studies on American literature and critical theory. His plans for doctoral work are to expand his interests in historical trauma and politi cal violence into a larger historical framework.

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