Architectures of Memory and Defense: American Empire and Post-9/11 Visual Culture

I am currently working on a book manuscript that examines the cultural responses of the post-9/11 era in the United States. This project, which builds on my previous book Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (2007), explores the consequences of the US response to 9/11 within the framework of vulnerability and defense. The post-9/11 era is defined by defensive security apparatuses, wars of empire, political dysfunction, economic strife, and loss. How to make sense of all that emanated from that day, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the spread of global terrorism, the deep trauma of veterans and families of the dead, the propagation of secret prisons and torture, the massive surveillance of citizens, the emergence of the drone wars, and the increased securitization of everyday life? I believe that understanding this era and how its political valences are extended in the realm of culture is one of the most crucial tasks of humanities scholarship in our time.

This book intervenes into these broader questions and conundrums through an examination of the visual culture, art, architecture, and forms of cultural memory that have emerged in the wake of 9/11 in relation to the modes of defense and security that have undergirded the wars and the transformation of the homeland as a security state. This project thus aims to develop insights through its synthesis of different elements, to open up their meanings through comparative analysis and linkages that can reveal the intersecting structures of feeling that define this time. One of the challenges to social change is resisting the kind of compartmentalization that seemingly “naturally” separates certain social realms. What does it mean for us to think of the prison in the same context as the memorial, the site of torture in relation to the museum, and so on? The broader aim of the book is thus to see the practices of cultural memory of 9/11 (such as the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York) in relation to the post-9/11 conflicts, and to see so-called “domestic” practices in the post 9/11 era (memorialization, consumerism, financial crises) in relation to the long war of American Empire, largely disavowed by the US public, being waged by the US in the post-9/11 era.

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