“The experience of falling to one’s death—that is utterly unimaginable… Only the jumpers who have fallen to their deaths have experienced it; all writers have is language and their imaginations to tell this story. But now the image is also fraught with the weight of history, morality, and politics,” said Dr. Aimee Pozorski on the subject of the iconic photograph “The Falling Man.” This photo by Richard Drew of the Associated Press depicts a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It inspired many of the first literary responses to 9/11.
In her new book “Falling After 9/11: Crisis in American Art and Literature” (Bloomsbury, 2014), Dr. Pozorski, a professor of English at CCSU, examines some of these literary responses, many of which were lambasted by critics upon release. Pozorski writes about the novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Falling Man by Don Delillo, and Windows on the World by French author Frédéric Beigbeder. Other works discussed include Graydon Parrish’s mural The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy and Diane Seuss’s poem “Falling Man.”
Dr. Pozorski specializes in trauma studies—a way of reading that looks at how traumatic events are represented. “I’ve always been interested in how certain stories can be told—in the magic of language, or words on a page, to bring the past alive. But when dealing with the history of trauma, authors seem to have to find new or experimental ways to discuss historical events that are unimaginable to begin with,” said Pozorski. Many authors fail in their experimentation. “One of the things trauma studies asks is, ‘How can authors, even in their failures, say something true about the trauma in our collective pasts?’”
Many of the works featured in the book faced severe criticism upon their release. “Critics lamented that the authors published them ‘too soon’ and thought they were unrealistic, or worse, capitalizing on a horrific event to earn revenue. It turns out these works do have something very immediate to say about an event many of us failed to fully grasp in the first place. I believe time passing will actually help our ability to appreciate the works,” said Pozorski. She pointed out that her students have always had a positive reaction to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close despite being critically dismissed as too sappy and too soon.
Pozorski also considers the court testimony of Mary Fetchet, who lost her son Brad in the attack and later co-founded the charity VOICES of September 11th. The use of Fetchet’s testimony in Pozorski’s book was inspired by the landmark poetry collection Holocaust by Jewish-American author Charles Reznikoff. “People read [Holocaust] as this gritty poetry at first, but then realized it was court testimony from the Nuremberg Trials. It’s printed verbatim with line breaks,” said Dr. Pozorski.
Writing the book was a challenge for Dr. Pozorski. The decision to include Fetchet was particularly difficult. “I found the testimony poetic and touching. At first, I didn’t know how to address it as a representation in its own right. Does it do a disservice to actual traumatized witnesses to closely read their own representations as I would literature? I have tried to honor the words of a grieving mother,” said Pozorski.
The idea for the book began when she began bringing her son to visit Parrish’s painting at the New Britain Museum of American art. “I took my son year after year to look at it and reflect. But eventually, where I saw the devastation in the painting, I now see new hope (as evidenced in the far right hand side of the mural). I think this is precisely because of a new post-9/11 generation now coming into their own, young people who perceive the world through a different, perhaps more reparative lens than their parents,” said Pozorski.
Ultimately, Pozorski hopes readers think more deeply about the legacy of 9/11. “I want readers to be more aware of the relationship between literature and history; or, even more generally, between language and history: about how language sometimes does not mean what we think or want it to, and how this has real effects on the world around us and our ability to connect with other people,” said Pozorski. She also hopes to recuperate the authors who tried through experimentation to represent a tragedy that seems unimaginable.