9-11, Derrida, and the West Wing

some 30% of americans cannot say “in what year the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington took place”.

what is fascinating to me is that September 11th is intimately associated with time, though never year. from philosophy in a time of terror:

“Something” took place, we have the feeling of not having seen it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the “thing.” But this very thing, the place and meaning of this “event,” remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing what it’s talking about. We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre, September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy—a name, a number—points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.

the event was unspeakable, literally. so it was associated with a time. so, if they’ve forgotten the year (and, as with most polls that show this, i often wonder at the question) – what impression did the event leave? is it eternally recurring? a floating point in the past?

even now, nearly 5 years later, we have no other word (beyond time). you’ll notice the great lengths the AP went to, without recourse to just “9/11”.


then again… it might not mean that much… 50% of americans think iraq had WMD (original report). and there is our our ever-popular inability to use a map. of course, 80% think the government is hiding evidence of aliens. 60% of us think we spend too much on foreign aid. the average estimate for foreign aid spending is 20%, most think 10% is appropriate. we spend around 1%.

all of this is like something out of the west wing. when josh notes that 68% think we spend to much on foreign aid, and 59% want to see it cut:

Will: “You like that stat?”
Josh: “I do.”
Will: “Why?”
Josh: “Because nine percent think it’s too high and shouldn’t be cut. Nine percent of respondents could not fully get their arms around the question. There should be another box you can check for, ‘I have utterly no idea what you’re talking about. Please, God, don’t ask for my input’.”

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2 Responses to “9-11, Derrida, and the West Wing”

  1. jd2718 Says:

    In New York City, 9/11 is also associated with place. I found this post on Overheard in NY a few months ago.. your post sent me looking for it..

    I was lured here by math and Montana tags… Not much math?

  2. fallingupstairs Says:

    that overheard post is something else… do they just not know the name? or is it deeper, as derrida suggests? either way, i have to wonder what someone who dissociates 9/11 from the WTC thinks the tragedy of the event was.

    btw, i loved the math links off your site.

    as for math, you’re right, i need to earn that that tag a little more and get back to posting. at the moment, i’m stuck on a post about king’s “a solution to the ecological inference problem”.

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