Corporeal Plasticity and Cultural Trauma: Aestheticized Corpses After 9/11

Nadia de Vries


The events surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are well documented in digital image culture. As a traumatic event of the Internet age, the images of 9/11’s aftermath (the falling bodies, the urban ruin) were quickly disseminated on a global scale. One of the images, that of Richard Drew’s Falling Man, holds a particular place in 9/11’s legacy as a cultural-traumatic memory. The photograph, depicting an unidentifiable man who falls to his death before a backdrop of the crumbling World Trade Center, has received both much criticism and acclaim for its vivid depiction of the physical horror that 9/11 brought forward. But the Falling Man is but one of many bodies that emphasized the precariousness of physical structures, human as well as non-human, in a post-9/11 world.

Through a discussion of the dead human body in contemporary depictions, including the various reproductions of the Falling Man but also others, I argue that the virtualization of the human corpse affects the way in which the corpse is encountered from an aesthetic, but also ethical perspective. The widespread accessibility that online culture engenders, I contend, places the image of the human corpse within an unprecedentedly global reach. What, I ask, does this new, web-based access to the political human corpse mean for the cultural memory that it leaves behind?

How to cite this article: de Vries, Nadia: "Corporeal Plasticity and Cultural Trauma: Aestheticized Corpses After 9/11." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 18 (2019): 117–125. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i18.293

Article received: December 2, 2018; Article accepted: January 23, 2019; Published online: April 15, 2019; Original scholarly paper


cultural trauma; death studies; corporeality; memory studies; new media

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