American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Silencio: The Spectral Voice and 9/11

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/History

First Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Don McQuarie (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Eileen Cherry Chandler (Committee Member)


"Silencio: The Spectral Voice and 9/11" intervenes in predominantly visual discourses of 9/11 to assert the essential nature of sound, particularly the recorded voices of the hijackers, to narratives of the event. The dissertation traces a personal journey through a selection of objects in an effort to seek a truth of the event. This truth challenges accepted narrativity, in which the U.S. is an innocent victim and the hijackers are pure evil, with extra-accepted narrativity, where the additional import of the hijacker's voices expand and complicate existing accounts.

In the first section, a trajectory is drawn from the visual to the aural, from the whole to the fragmentary, and from the professional to the amateur. The section starts with films focused on United Airlines Flight 93, "The Flight That Fought Back," "Flight 93," and "United 93," continuing to a broader documentary about 9/11 and its context, "National Geographic: Inside 9/11," and concluding with a look at two YouTube shorts portraying carjackings, "The Long Afternoon" and "Demon Ride." Though the films and the documentary attempt to reattach the acousmatic hijacker voice to a visual referent as a means of stabilizing its meaning, that voice is not so easily fixed, and instead gains force with each iteration, exceeding the event and coming from the past to inhabit everyday scenarios like the carjackings.

In the second section, the move from visual to aural continues, with the focus placed on sound art and music. As the sound art series, William Basinski's "The Disintegration Loops I-IV," results from decaying magnetic tape to create a presence in absence, so too does the repetition of the hijacker voice, intended to silence it, allow it to speak volumes. The song "Fly Me to New York," by Cassetteboy, functions referentially, using Frank Sinatra samples to narrate 9/11 from the pilot-hijackers' perspective, acting as a rubble music and providing a critique of narrative omission and U.S. culpability.

By virtue of the use of the hijacker voice in these contexts, that voice is able to inhabit the U.S. psyche, remaining a spectral presence that haunts 9/11 and the nation.