How will our public memory of the September 11 events be formed? Do the indelible images of destruction and mayhem seen on television and in newspaper photographs suffice? Will "the mastering of reality" (to borrow critic and novelist Gabriel Josipovici’s terms) be restricted to "the compulsive repetition of gestures and clichés"?
What we need are reflective, considered voices. And plenty of them. From two archives come calls for such voices, calls that capture the moral imagination.
The Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest such society in the United States, has solicited its elected members for written reflections on September 11. Given the vast record promised by print and video culture, what might this slender file of notes by distinguished academics, archivists, historically minded public servants, and public intellectuals add? Vital things we hope: A memorial written in the light of history, idiosyncratic no doubt, and probing, one would expect. More important, it represents an effort to appropriate the moral enormity of the September 11 events on a more human scale by the application of individual intelligence.
In England, the Mass-Observation Project at the University of Sussex has just asked 450 writers to keep a thematic diary reflecting on the attacks, as well as the unfolding political and military aftermath. Mass-Observation has been in this business for a while. Begun in 1937...