Lecture Hopping: That one day, at NYHS

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Bwog newbie Lindsay Griffith sobers up at a talk on how to remember September 11.

sdfsHere is New York: Remembering 9/11
opened on September 11 of this year at the New York Historical Society as a collection of photographs, artifacts and recordings to begin to place the events of 9/11 within the fabric of New York City cultural history. To discuss the display this past Wednesday, the Historical Society gathered a panel of speakers including author Don DeLillo and moderator Kenneth Jackson (a Columbia professor and former Historical Society president). The discussion was as diverse in subject matter as the photographs on display, as the panelists ranged from modern media coverage to 9/11 within the context of New York’s cultural past.

DeLillo opened with two passages from his most recent work Falling Man, a novel that describes the aftermath of 9/11 on a human level with decidedly imperfect characters. The first depicted the protagonist of his novel blindly walking down the stairs of the towers on the morning of the attacks, and the second described a more private moment depicting two characters connecting while watching news footage—both scenes drawn from images seen in photographs displayed in the exhibit. In their differences, they also showed the dichotomy present in the memorial – one moment is set publicly among thousands and one is a private moment familiar to anyone who watched television following the attacks. And similar to the images hanging on the walls, DeLillo characters in the novel struggle to return to their lives and reconcile the event in their memories.

Following the readings, a panel considered how best to memorialize so momentous and tragic a day. Panel members–including Ann Nelson, author of the acclaimed 9/11 play “The Guys”; current FDNY fire chief Salvatore Cassano; and war memorial specialist Cal Synder–all reflected on their memories of the day and how they used their own memories to cope following the events. Ms. Nelson discussed how she believes art could be used to heal wounds by providing a new narrative through the voices of those involved intimately historical moments. Her play “The Guys” rose from both her feeling that a story was needed beyond the voice of the media, and her feeling that the experiences of firefighters on 9/11 needed to be heard in their own words.

Cal Snyder is currently working a book discussing the over 750 memorials that have been constructed in New York City alone in the six years following the attacks and stressed the unique quality of these memorials. He believes that these memorials are the first time that personal remembrance has been fused with patriotic notions of national tragedy to form a new kind of living history. Snyder stressed that images have become the principal way of remembering tragedy as they are burned into our minds moments after events occur in the modern era (think of the image, for instance, that the title Falling Man evokes). The discussion closed with remarks both poignant and ominous from Chief Cassano describing his memories of the day and his current work in the department to prepare the city for another attack. Remembering 9/11, as exhibited by the speakers of the night, has many facets: from beginning to separate the historical from the emotional to moving forward into the future with a deep seated awareness of the lessons of the past.

Here is New York will be showing at the New York Historical Society until December 31.

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  1. just had to say  

    Lindsay Griffith, what a lady!

  2. Who's that lady?  

    I second that one!

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