Toxic landfills, survivor trees, and dust cloud memories: More-than-human ecologies of 9/11 memory

The symbolic power of grass, trees, flowers, stones, water, and other everyday objects to evoke more-than-human experiences is a cornerstone of memorial practice. As survivors of traumatic events, nonhuman elements have long been preserved in, even added to, memorial landscapes for their representational capacities to “say what cannot be said.” Beyond their mobilization as passive symbols, the plants themselves also exert a “creative presence” that equally shapes memorial sites, wherein ecologies of memory are negotiated and coconstituted through human and nonhuman lives. In foregrounding ecologies of “9/11” memory and memorialization, this essay draws on more-than-human approaches that emphasize how both human and nonhuman matter and memory emerge from and transform each other in and around lower Manhattan. At the World Trade Center, both human and nonhuman experiences of violence and violation are implicated in the “ecologies of memory” preserved and curated at the site. Focusing on ecologies of 9/11 commemoration, we argue that spatially fixed narratives of trauma obfuscate the environmentally diffuse human victims of the September 11th terror attacks, as well as how nonhuman actors coconstitute, contradict, and transform these memorial spaces. We argue that these memorial spaces employ the affective power of nonhuman actors to reproduce exclusionary narratives of cultural trauma, while obscuring very real environmentally diffuse human victims and ongoing harms, domestically and abroad. As a result of these negotiations, divergent forms of “slow violence” are rendered visible within the memorial landscape.

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Volume 37 Issue 3

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