The Movement for an Appropriate 9/11 Memorial

May 31, 2002 9:52 AM   Subscribe

The Movement for an Appropriate 9/11 Memorial
    What is sacred space? The influence of spiritual leaders, philosophers, ethicists, psychologists, anthropologists and other scholars is notably absent in discussions about what to do with the former WTC site.
    Among advocates for a large WTC memorial, there is consensus that the site is "sacred." September's Mission wants victims families to take part in a process of determining what will serve the function of connecting people to sacredness. They want public money to be spent in this direction too. But how can people's feelings, behaviors and attitudes be planned? Can popular beliefs be incorporated into large-scale government decisions? (1, 2)
posted by rschram (18 comments total)
Speaking of 911... check out this:

It's a bit disturbing, how many Muslim youths in this Islamic message board are seriously and strongly supportive of Usamah Bin Laden and war against the "infidels." (via Paulo, via Tal G.)
posted by aaronshaf at 10:17 AM on May 31, 2002

Hey aaronshaf, nice segue. On the subject of monuments, I'd say it's time to call a nice 100 year moratorium on new monuments of any kind. My most vivid memory of a recent visit to Washington, D.C., is the sheer hideousness of the new Korean War memorial, and the ugly sculptural additions to the Maya Lin Vietnam memorial. And do I have to mention those idiotic chairs in Oklahoma City? Somewhere along the line, our culture lost the ability to create this type of thing. A small, modest plaque should do for the WTC (like the one that memorializes the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire), at least until a generation comes along that can memorialize with some grace, some timelessness and some dignity.
posted by Faze at 11:00 AM on May 31, 2002

Actually, I was going to mention Maya Lin here too. If you want a memorial done right - something that will be not quite what anyone expected, but heals those who visit it - give the commission to Maya Lin.
posted by anser at 11:02 AM on May 31, 2002

(Thanks for the link, aaronshaf, but I'm not sure how my blog entry relates to the upcoming WTC Memorial. :puzzled: Sometimes I worry that Bin Laden and Islamic extremism are the new Godwin's Law.)

I remember reading on MeFi a long time ago that the best kind of monument to this kind of thing is a list of names, like the Vietnam Memorial in DC. Wouldn't something similar be appropriate at the WTC site; a "monolith" of names on a sprawling peace park between buildings?
posted by brownpau at 11:30 AM on May 31, 2002

Personally, I'm totally weirded out by the idea of the site being a sacred space. I can understand people's attachment to existing "sacred" spaces, because they already exist as part of the culture and have a history behind them. But the sites' "sacredness" was nothing but a construct in people's minds, originally. Just how far along is human development when this concept persists into the 21st century as a reasonable way of thinking?
posted by gordian knot at 11:35 AM on May 31, 2002

Perhaps it's a sign of our advanced development as humans that we do maintain some kind of reverence for the memory of those who died at that place. By attaching special significance to the location, we remember the lessons learned from the horrors of 9/11, and the "sacredness" of the space gives us stimulus to look forward to something that transcends the fear, hatred, and violence of that day.

What would it say for "human development" if we just brushed off the memories of 9/11's victims and plowed ahead to build a new pair of phallic towers?
posted by brownpau at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2002

Good lord, why do so many people refer to them as "phallic?" Such references are far more indicative of the speaker's state of mind & politics than the buildings they are aimed at.

Anyway...while a memorial of some sort is certainly appropriate for WTC, sometimes I imagine a day about 1,000 years in the future...and wonder if the entire country (world?) is nothing but "historical sites," "famous landmarks," "memorials," and other such things. In other words, perhaps we ought not "memorialize" or otherwise enshrine TOO many places or buildings, lest we run out of space, or perhaps even trivialize the very sites we aim to memorialize.
posted by davidmsc at 11:51 AM on May 31, 2002

There's a book called "On This Spot," and it shows photos of famous and infamous places, the kind you might walk past every day and not know the history of.

A few I remember...the store where Emmett Till, a black teen, supposedly whistled at a white woman, later leading to his murder in a famous case; the spot where Jennifer Levin was murdered; where RFK was murdered; and even some peaceful places--where a truce was signed, for example.

The photos are generally of that spot years after the events, and it's somehow calming to see how these places have gently faded back into the earth. Obviously you're not going to be able to do that with the WTC spot and its prominent location, but the book is really worth seeking out.

I'm not seeing it on Amazon, maybe it's out of print. Damn.
posted by GaelFC at 12:11 PM on May 31, 2002

It's not a sacred site. It's a sacred hole. The rubble is gone. "Space" is the right word: where the towers once were is now air, even below ground level. Do we bless the bedrock? The concrete retaining wall that keeps back the Hudson? How far down does the blessed territory extend? How far up into the sky? Do we need to get family-approved easements from neighboring buildings when we construct the replacements?

And here's where I piss off millions: Any move to get the families involved in refilling that hole is a mistake, unless they are architects, urban planners, zoning officials, contractors, bond holders, Port Authority employees or neighborhood residents. The only people that should be involved with planning a memorial should be those who would be involved in the planning of any building, because there's no place for those families in deciding what goes on that site. It's none of their business: they are not entitled to that space. While I don't want another corporate tower of greed, neither do I want a tacky, maudlin, space-wasting, futile, irrelevant, jingoistic, crap-laden burden placed on this city. What should go up on that site is another building that allows a living, active, lively city. The memorial should be secondary.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:18 PM on May 31, 2002

PS: I'm responding mainly to those who believe that *only* a memorial should go on that site. I see the new building *as* the memorial.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:20 PM on May 31, 2002

brownpau, I don't remember saying there shouldn't be any kind of memorial. I was talking about the concept of "sacred" spaces. It seems to me half the arguments on MeFi are caused by people responding to what they *think* was said, instead of what was actually said.
posted by gordian knot at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2002

rebuild the towers. this time bigger. that'll show em.
posted by jcterminal at 2:47 PM on May 31, 2002

No criticism from me, Mo -- I think you're right.
posted by davidmsc at 5:19 PM on May 31, 2002

It's none of their business: they are not entitled to that space.

Therein lies the controversy. I'm inclined to agree with you. Yet, the memorial debate is a cover for a struggle over who controls the symbols of a national tragedy whose significance reaches far beyond the lives of the families of people who died. People aren't debating the memorial; they are debating 9/11. There has already been a minor controversy over who should get publically-funded payouts to victims spouses: gay partners or no. This issue cuts to the heart of who is a 'legitimate' victim or not, which some think depends on who has a 'legitimate' family. The memorial could turn into a redux of the debate over the significance of 9/11. Bronze FDNY Rainbow + GLBT + "Sacred Space."

If victims don't control the process, maybe FDNY/construction unions (who were front and center to take credit for clearing GZ yesterday), or maybe Maya Lin.

Here's where I piss off millions: If firefighters can argue that there aren't enough balck people in the FDNY to merit crediting their contributions, maybe victims' families can say there aren't enough Muslims (etc.) to merit making the memorial actually a secular, truly public memorial.

Raising Lin's memorial is interesting because now (almost 20+ years), the "list of names" memorial is the paradigmatic form of war memorial. At the time she won the contest, the idea of a "mere" list of names was considered in some quarters to be disgraceful and unpatriotic. Lin, for her part, envisaged a marble "wound" as a more fitting memorial than a heroic DC-style Greek temple of statues. Today the lesser features of the monument are the most celebrated and moving aspect. People hated it, then grew to love because they could incorporate it into their own personal notions of "sacredness." Hence, I argue, we should not fight publically over private beliefs. We should not make a public agency respect one person or one lobbying organization's view of what is sacred. Just preserve the simple, handmade, "MISSING" posters for posterity.
posted by rschram at 7:14 PM on May 31, 2002

Good lord, why do so many people refer to them as "phallic?" Such references are far more indicative of the speaker's state of mind & politics than the buildings they are aimed at.

Didn't you know we live in a phallocracy?

Anyway, the fact is, Silverstein has a contract requiring him to rebuild the World Trade Center (with as much of the original office space as possible), and he has over $7 billion in insurance alone to fund the project. Barring some huge political coup de tat, the families, at best, are going to get some kind of small memorial. I think it is appropriate that they have some say in the building of the memorial itself, but not about the rest of the space.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:12 AM on June 1, 2002

I would like people to remember this day for what it is worth and stop stroking their dicks about it.

It is what it is - a fucking hole in the ground. Remember those who are not with us. Honor their memories. Honor their existance. Remember them.

All this wanking...and I do mean wanking....about what is the appropriate "memorial site" makes me want to puke. Or shit. Or whatever. It is like a bullshit piling on of "gee, I want to have something to do with this".

Let it go people. The hole means nothing. Your memories of the people mean everything. Just remember them. It will be the best memorial site. A hell of alot better than any sculptor can com up with.
posted by lampshade at 10:08 AM on June 1, 2002

Sheesh, of course they should build new buildings. Personaly, I'd like to see nice tall ones, but whatever. It's not like we can turn the whole thing into a giant memorial. I mean, its the middle of lower manhatten for god sakes!
posted by delmoi at 9:23 PM on June 2, 2002

You know, that annoying Java rendering lacked one salient feature: a big bullseye painted on the side.

I don't think it's going to be safe to put up a landmark tower like that for fifty years. My bet is that's the maximum time it will take Islamic fundamentalism to collapse.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:54 AM on June 24, 2002

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