1: Falling / September 11th

Anna Walker

I thought I’d make a couple of entries in preparation for presenting to you all next week. Today is September 11 and no matter how much healing and work I do to lay the ghosts to rest, this day continues to bring outpourings of grief. (Indeed, it is a probably a good thing I am not presenting today). When I started PhD research, my intention was to look at trauma in someone else’s body, not mine. But early on in the research, it became apparent that I couldn’t avoid my body, my memories, my relationship to the past. Auto-ethnography was a way to give voice to the ghosts that spoke through me, an exploration of the interstitial space, a deconstruction of in-betweenness.

I have been revisiting the ghosts a lot over the past month, delving into PhD research for a conference at the University of Hertfordshire last month, Aalborg in Denmark a couple of weeks ago and one to come this weekend in Northampton. As I write, I wonder at the need for yet another reason to remember. Is this a deeper layer of trauma at play? Am I acting out Freud’s repetitive cycle to forget another layer? How important is this reenactment through writing to the larger scheme of what is unfolding around us?

The presentation this weekend is particularly challenging. I’m talking about the towers falling. I’ve included the text, which I will be attempting to read without tearing up.

There is violence at play through the words, a matter of factness that is both shocking and traumatic. 9/11 changed me 18-years ago, and the world changed in response to the attack. In Perception Attack: Brief on War Time, Massumi writes about remembering 9/11:

Memory and perception share the moment, entering into immediate proximity, while remaining strangers. Their disjointed immediacy syncopates the instant from within. We do not see now what we can never have seen, even as we watched: the enormity of the event.

Maybe it is about making friends with the strangers.

Falling [Slide]
A one-ton beam dropped from a height of 1312ft will fall for 9-seconds and hit the ground at around 200mph. It will expend a noise, vibration, and heat twice the energy of a stick of dynamite. How long does a body take to fall? What noise does it make when it hits the ground? In the nights that followed 9/11 these were the questions, I asked, wanting to know whether the falling people died before they hit the ground or died on impact, whether they saw the ground looming up towards them or closed their eyes. Their stories flowed through New York in the days after the towers fell. Most of the falling jumped alone, although eyewitnesses talked of a couple that had held hands as they fell. One woman was reported, in a final act of modesty to hold down her skirt. Yet others tried to make parachutes out of curtains or tablecloths, only to have them wrenched from their grip by the force of their descent. The fall took about ten seconds at 125mph varying according to the body position, those that fell headfirst as if in a dive, fell at 200mph. [Slide]

When they hit the pavement below, their bodies were not so much broken as decimated. Unofficial estimates put the number of jumpers at around 200, but it is impossible to say because their bodies were indistinguishable from any others after the collapse of the Towers. The first jumper is recorded plunging from the North Tower’s 149th window of the 93rd floor on the north face of the building at 8.51am, 3-minutes after it was hit by the first hijacked plane. At times the fallers were separated by an interval of just a second. At one point 9 people fell in 6-seconds from 5 adjacent windows, at another, 13 people fell in 2-minutes. The last jumper fell just as the North Tower collapsed 102 minutes after the building had been hit. [Slide]

A witness watching from the South Tower’s 78th floor as people started to fall from ‘the hole’ the aircraft had ripped in the North Tower, told reporters that it looked like the falling were disorientated and blinded by smoke, they would just walk to the edge and fall out. Another witness watched with stunned colleagues unable to comprehend the falling as human. For those down below, the bodies landed with sickening, and explosive thuds. A firefighter reported she felt like she was intruding on a sacrament as the bodies fell. ‘They were choosing to die and I was watching them and shouldn’t have been. So me and another guy turned away and looked at a wall and we could still hear them hit’ (Schulman, 2011). [Slide]

 

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