This paper offers a reading of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum to suggest that the encounter with strangers or strangeness is at the core of cultural and commemorative production in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Specifically, I engage the museum as a text that has significant implications on how we approach the philosophy of hospitality in a time of terror. I argue that the ways in which objects and artifacts exist in relation to one another in the museum act out hospitality in ways that are both unexpected and unintended. For example, while human remains are stored on site, they are only referred to through symbolic art and digital displays that act as a kind of sleight of hand. In particular, I take up the inclusion of a brick from Osama Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound in Pakistan that has been incorporated into the museum in a fashion that is carefully orchestrated and framed. The brick, however, exceeds the frame in which it is permitted to be included in the exhibit; its visuality and materiality defy—and even contradict—the expected narrative of the museum. The brick appears as juxtaposed next to a Navy SEAL uniform and is meant to draw attention toward the distinction between terrorist and national hero, yet as a physical presence in the museum, it retains a sense of both vulnerability and affect as it bears striking resemblance to the bedrock of the towers themselves. Ultimately, I suggest that while the disjunctures between artifacts may seem initially jarring—these are items, after all, that are meant to produce very different material and mediatized effects; they offer a working-through of a hospitality that is crucial to the museum and all culture produced in response to the attacks.
Bibliographical note2015 L. A. Balfour. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
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- 9/11 Museum
- War on Terror
- Abbottabad brick
- Bin Laden