Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Barbara A. Biesecker
This project examines the rhetorical work done by the list of names of the dead in discourses of 9/11 memorialization. I argue that the use of the proper names of victims in national memorialization efforts, though often described in popular reports as the symptom of a timeless human impulse, a gesture so obviously appropriate that it requires no explanation, nonetheless does the work of constructing a particular vision of the event it would seem to record transparently. In an effort to understand the kinds of rhetorical force that has been attributed to the names by scholars, the study begins with a brief history of U.S. memorials featuring lists of names. Scholarly commentary about The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and The AIDS Memorial Quilt is central to the history constructed here, though critical readings of memorials to the dead of the Civil War, World War I, and Pearl Harbor are also considered. Turning to the case of 9/11, the study explores the first emergence of the names of victims after the attack, tracing in news reports the figuration of the names as indeterminate signifiers which functioned to ground a short-lived rhetoric of hope. Analysis of this discourse allows for a rethinking of rhetorical concepts including haunting, synecdoche, and the subjunctive. The study then turns to explore the impossible process by which the collected names of the dead were transformed into an ostensibly objective number, a death toll, as part of an effort to resecure the extradiscursive facticity of 9/11's magnitude. The project then turns to consider heated public debates about the way the names of the dead should appear on the World Trade Center memorial, debates which, I argue, by pitting a familial vision of 9/11 against a depersonalized civic perspective served as a safe discursive space for working through difficult questions about the nature of the event and its memory. Finally, the dissertation considers the importance of studying those texts that present themselves as extrarhetorical, and suggests ways in which this approach supplements the work already offered by rhetorical scholars in their attempts to make sense of 9/11 discourses.
Copyright 2009 Michael Alan Lawrence