Falling Man

The Time of Trauma, the Time of (Certain) Images

In: Research in Phenomenology
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  • 1 Institut Universitaire de France/Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3

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Undoubtedly, the tragedy of September 11, 2001 has been an unprecedented visual event. And yet, as was pointed out by an article published in Esquire in 2003, “in the most photographed and videotaped day in the history of the world, the images of people jumping were the only images that became, by consensus, taboo.” This taboo looks like the other side of what Allen Feldman calls a “temporal therapy”: “the audience was being given temporal therapy by witnessing a mechanical sequence of events, over and over, which restored the linearity of time, which had been suspended with the assaults.” Still, images like the photograph that is well-known under the title of “Falling Man” could be, thanks to their peculiar temporality, a good antidote against this “temporal therapy,” which aims at the formation of a specific “collective memory, and therefore of collective forgetfulness.” On top of a study on this kind of pictures, this paper will take into account the late Merleau-Ponty’s idea of a mutual precession of reality and images as a useful tool for understanding the peculiar temporality of such pictures.

  • 2

    David Foster Wallace, “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s,” Rolling Stone, 10/25/2001, reprinted in Consider the Lobster And Other Essays (New York-Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2005), 128.

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  • 3

    See Hans Blumenberg, Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer. Paradigma einer Daseinsmetapher (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979); translated by Steven Rendall as Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a Metaphor for Existence (Cambridge: mit Press, 1997).

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  • 5

    Wallace, “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s,” in Consider the Lobster And Other Essays, 136.

  • 8

    Mauro Carbone, Essere morti insieme. L’evento dell’11 settembre 2001 (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2007), enlarged version translated into French by Marc Logoz as Être morts ensemble: l’événement du 11 septembre 2001 (Geneva: MētisPresses, 2013).

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  • 11

    Marco Dinoi, Lo sguardo e l’evento. I media, la memoria, il cinema (Florence: Le Lettere, 2008), 101. On the same subject, with specific reference to photographic images, see Clément Chéroux, Diplopie. L’image photographique à l’ère des médias globalisés: essai sur le 11 septembre 2001 (Cherbourg-Octeville: Le Point du Jour, 2009). Also, with specific reference to Gerhard Richter’s Atlas sheet 744 (2006), “which places at the very core of the visual montage a repetitive and often mediatized picture of the 9/11 attacks” so as to artistically reflect on how this kind of images can prevent the work of mourning over such attacks, see Angela Mengoni and Bernhard Rüdiger, “Histoire et réalisme traumatique,” in Giovanni Careri and Bernhard Rüdiger (eds.), Le Temps Suspendu (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2016), 28.

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  • 13

    Dinoi, Lo sguardo e l’evento, 98.

  • 14

    See Tom Junod, “The Falling Man,” Esquire, 140, no. 3 (2003) http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN (last access: December 2016).

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  • 17

    Junod, “The Falling Man,” Esquire, http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN.

  • 19

    See Roland Barthes, La chambre claire. Note sur la photographie (Paris: Seuil, 1980); translated by Richard Howard as Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 66–71, in particular 70: “Just an image, but a just image.” In these pages Barthes reflects upon the recognition of the “essential identity” (66) of his mother in a photograph of her aged five, that is, in a photograph presenting her in a way he could never have known.

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  • 20

    Don DeLillo, Falling Man (New York-London-Toronto-Sydney: Scribner, 2007), 219.

  • 21

    Ibid., 33.

  • 23

    Ibid., 165, my emphasis.

  • 24

    DeLillo, Falling Man, 246.

  • 25

    Georges Didi-Huberman, Images malgré tout (Paris: Minuit, 2003); translated by Shane B. Lillis as Images in Spite of All. Four photographs from Auschwitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 4.

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  • 26

    Ibid., 30.

  • 27

    Jean Baudrillard (interviewed), “Le photoreportage en son miroir,” Le Monde, 8/30/ 2003, 15.

  • 28

    Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, 147.

  • 30

    Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (London: Verso, 2002), 16.

  • 32

    Jean Baudrillard, “La précession des simulacres,” in Simulacres et simulations (Paris: Galilée, 1981); translated by Paul Foss, Paul Patton and Philip Beitchman as Simulations(New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 2.

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  • 33

    Ibid., 31–32.

  • 34

    Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close (London: Penguin, 2006), 325–326.

  • 35

    Kristiaan Versluys, Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 119.

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