it unfolded, our perception and experience competed with the images
played and replayed, stories told and retold, on television and in the press.
In the year and a half or more that has passed since that violentand tragic morning, it has become increasingly clear that the
of September 11—and the purposes to which they have been put—have avalue that supersedes their value as memory, or even as memorial.A story of trauma, properly told, may confer exceptional status, atleast for a time, not only on the sufferers but on those who wouldinvoke the suffering. Few would argue about the inherent justice insuch exemptions—it is only humane that sufferers have an opportu-nity to recuperate, and that severe suffering generate among the morefortunate a generosity toward the victims. It is my premise here, how-ever, that for the most part, especially in the public forum, trauma is notaccorded value on this basis, but rather is a commodity that tradesaccording to the value of the fantasies of suffering, and of the fantasiesof the privileges that suffering confers, that are projected onto the suf-ferers by others.Asidefromtheirpersonalvalue, thestoriesofthetraumaof September 11have social, economic, and political value. Among thosedirectly affected, the value can be exchanged for a promise of exemp-tion from further suffering, guaranteed by charitable and governmentcontributions. Among those in government, for example, who wouldinvoke the suffering and defend the sufferers, trauma confers an exemp-tion from having to justify aggressive retaliatory action. And amongthose who would treat the sufferers, trauma confers a kind of authori-tative status.Prior to September 11, “trauma” and the traumatized had alreadycarved out a unique status in the zeitgeist. Before September 11, traumawas a subject not so much of dread as respect. The traumatized evokeda kind of awe and envy once reserved for the rich, the powerful, or the brave. Memoirs had replaced fiction on the bestseller lists, andin a number of famous cases in which autobiographies were exposedfor their exaggerations or fabrications, these were not, as in the past,unfounded claims of heroism, but unfounded or exaggerated claimsof profound suffering.
Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine;teaching faculty, NewYork University PsychoanalyticInstitute and New York University International Trauma Studies Program.Submitted for publication May 19, 2001.
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