Hyperessay #2: The Collective Narrative

Sam Linkins was the first student to tweet during our #911thread collective history and, the way I see it, she struck at the core of the whole project.

In other words, “This is my memory and the image associated with it. How about you?” There were many themes in our discussion, but this reliving of personal memory and personal imagery during the attack was a dominant, reoccurring facet of the thread. (So much so, in fact, that it served as the inspiration for my own collective narrative project. See more examples there.)

Throughout the rest of the discussion, participants mostly limited their tweets to sharing some sort of information about themselves. Posts that mentioned someone else usually focused on a member of that person’s innermost circle; explaining terrorism to a son, for example.

That’s not to say this was a selfish exercise. It’s just that 9/11, whether or not you had an actual connection to its victims, is an extremely personal memory. When given a chance to talk about it, as we had in the #911thread, we chose to mostly talk about ourselves… where we were, how we felt, what we saw.

This is reminiscent of the Holzer reading and the idea of collective authorship, as well as the collaborative process, which Prof. Packer described as, “brief fragments of ideas, memories, stories, are written as part of a stream of writings emanating from multiple voices.” As individuals, we’re saying, “This is my truth, my memory.” As those individual memories start piling up, a narrative emerges. Most of us where in school. All of us were glued to the television. Many of us described the event with the word “shock.” And we all still have questions. This was the element of the discussion I found most interesting that day: For all our differences, our recollections of 9/11 are remarkably similar.

What’s more, we all have 9/11 imagery burned into memory. “The images most seared in my mind are the people jumping down,” tweeted Jenni Jarventaus. “The images of the people covered in dust were unreal,” said Theresa Sazama. Sharon Coviak was (and likely still is) “shocked at the enormity & awestruck at the sight of the massive towers collapsing.” She then shared one of the countless “too real to be real” images from that day, which many other #911thread authors did as well:

“The New York events have radicalized the relation of images to reality,” wrote Baudrillard. “the image consumes the event, that is, it absorbs the latter and gives it back as consumer goods.” 10 years later, all those images are more real, more present than the terrorists that caused them, the beliefs they died for, or the victims themselves. We turn to them to refresh our memory, not the victims families or the terrorist co-conspirators.

In my opinion, 9/11 in general and certainly the #911thread was an amalgamation of Bauldrillard’s notion of image radicalization and the themes of collective authorship we’ve been exploring in class. In other words, no one person can describe the event in it’s totality. Rather, it’s a cobblestoning of personal anecdotes… little imperfect bricks that tend to look alike that eventually build a wall of narrative. And the binding agent of this wall is imagery — pictures and screenshots that are personal but at the same time shared among us all, critical to our recollection of the event.

Is this story telling of the future? I’m not entirely convinced it is. I think our minds are more wired for linear narratives, and if I was looking to get “the story” on 9/11, I would look many places before Twitter hashtags about the attacks. But I think that is does serve a purpose. We’re social beings that crave connections with each other. By sharing our experiences this way, we’re all but forced to gain further perspective on the subject of our collective narrative, and that particular kind of perspective is harder to garner from a traditional narrative.

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