It was a hot afternoon. I was sitting on a bed in a small white room in North Africa, watching CNN when the storm broke. I switched on the television in time to see a plane hit a skyscraper. Another disaster movie. It took seconds to realize - from the shaking images, the silences broken by the clattering of the cameras and exclamations of bystanders, then the shocked and shocking commentary - that this was not a film. I called to my companion sitting outside on the terrace, who arrived just in time to see the second plane, in 'real time' impact on its target. The image then changed to the Pentagon, where smoke was billowing from within. For those few moments, America was under siege, and no one was quite sure what would happen next.
08.46 a.m. A hijacked passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center, tearing a gaping hole and setting the building afire.
09.03 a.m. A second hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center and explodes.
09.17 a.m. The Federal Aviation Administration shuts down all New York City area airports
09.21 a.m. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey orders all bridges and tunnels in the New York area closed.
09.40 a.m. The FAA halts all flight operations at U.S. airports, the first time in U.S. history that air traffic nationwide has been halted.
09.43 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.
10.05 a.m. The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses, plummeting into the streets below. A massive cloud of dust and debris forms and slowly drifts away from the building.
10.10 a.m. A portion of the Pentagon collapses. United Airlines Flight 93, also hijacked, crashes in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh.
10.24 a.m. The FAA reports all inbound transatlantic aircraft flying into the U.S. are being diverted to Canada.
10.28 a.m. The World Trade Center's north tower collapses from the top down as if it were being peeled apart.
The events of September 11 2001 impacted significantly across the discursive formations of our culture, effecting what might be described as a seismic shift in terms of our construction and understanding of fantasy: on that day, the world of the possible expanded in directions which had previously only existed in imagination, delivered to a global audience through the medium of television. This was not fantasy. These were real events, happening to real people, affecting real lives. The scale of the devastation was, for some time, beyond the imagination, and beyond speech; and until it could be reconciled - in Lacanian terms - from the Real to the Symbolic, it was beyond words, existing in a visceral realm of shock and pain.
In the context of an aesthetics of reception with regard to theatre audiences, Susan Bennett explores the notion of a 'horizon of expectations', noting that '[a]vant-garde texts are [...] never completely "new" - if they were they would be incomprehensible - but merely contain instructions to the reader which demand revision of the horizon of expectations of earlier texts' (1997: 49). In the instance of the initial images of the events of September 11, however, the spectator's 'horizon of expectations' became irrelevant, as what was taking place was unprecedented; it was the spectator's horizon of imagination which was transgressed. The occurrence of these events in reality was beyond imagination. This was an audience that recognized, in those first and momentarily unmediated moments, that this was not a Hollywood blockbuster, but something quite different. The televisual frame was recognizable, but only served to further alienate that which was taking place within it; and this, in its difference, required and elicited a different intellectual and emotional response.
_ This was an event formerly confined to representations of fantasy, mainly within oc the genre of 'action' or 'disaster' movie, and the future experiencing of fictional
£ representations of such a trauma, for the spectator, was fundamentally changed by
° this event. Such an event challenges accepted notions of pleasure in fantasy, and
"ü gives rise to questions concerning the allure of representations of disaster: why are t¿ fictional representations of disaster, 'disaster movies', pleasurable; do we respond
^ differently to representations depending on whether we understand (and therefore
¡E frame) them as 'fantasy' or as 'reality'; and, for the spectator, how does the
8 experience of watching 'fantasy' differ from that of watching 'reality'? Shoshana
Felman would argue that trauma can be accounted for only in a fragmented manner, that '[i]t is in the very nature of trauma to resist being accounted for in a completely coherent or easily comprehensible way' (Buse 2001:181). This paper attempts to engage with this moment of rupture in culture, considering the response of a global audience, an audience reading televisual rather than embodied images; and in doing so, to give account (albeit fragmented) of the economy - during those few moments of mesmerized paralysis - of the likely psychical relation of the audience to this event.
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