Public Art and Communal Space: The Politics of Commemoration in Amy Waldman’s The Submission
Amy Waldman’s 2011 debut novel The Submission may be read as an exercise in alternative history; in 2003, a jury is gathered in New York City to select the design for a memorial commemorating the victims of 9/11. When the chosen designer’s name is finally revealed, his identity as an American Muslim comes to the attention of the public, and controversy ensues about the appropriateness of his submission. Following the reactions of about a dozen different characters to the memorial selection process, the narrative revolves around the role of public art in the memorializing of collective traumas, the complexities of processes of collective mourning and public commemoration. As Félix Duque has argued, it is through such monuments that national identity has been traditionally codified as “the public” (2001, 167). This chapter sets out to explore several fundamental issues regarding the politics of commemorating 9/11, which Waldman’s novel brings to the forefront: the role it may play in enacting the redefinition of communal ties in the process of cultural trauma; the difficulties in the identification of the legitimate agents through which such redefinition is to be carried out (what Jeffrey Alexander would call “carrier groups”); the visibility and representation of victims in the public sphere; and the risks of manipulation and appropriation of the public sphere by interest groups.
KeywordsAmerican Muslims Commemoration Terrorism Public art Collective traumas Community
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