placeholder
August 14, 2006

After the Fall: The Rise of 9/11 Literature

After the Fall: The Rise of 9/11 Literature

 

Phantom Limbs[Remko van Dokkum /Flickr]

I tend to be easily unhinged. Minor mishaps-a clogged drain, running late for an appointment-send me into a sky-is-falling tizzy. It’s a trait that can leave one ill-equipped for coping with the sky when it actually falls. Before 9/11 my traumas were all more or less self-inflicted, but outrunning that toxic cloud that had moments before been the north tower of the World Trade Center left me reeling on that faultline where World history and Personal History collide—-the intersection my parents, aushcwitz survivors, had warned me about when they taught me to always keep my bags packed.

Art Spiegelman, In The Shadow of No Towers

Art Spiegelman is one writer — among a handful — who has assimilated his experience of September 11th into his work. Other literary regulars such as John Updike, Ian McEwan and Jay McInerny have also turned out books that have integrated our national — now international — narrative into their imagined realties.

In this hour we’ll explore how writers are responding to the fleeting events of September 11th — and to the effect that it has had on our culture and sense of invulnerability. We’ve all internalized September 11th in our own way — what can writers improve on that we haven’t already figured out and experienced for ourselves? What are the challenges for writers in crafting a post 9/11 story with authenticity when this is an event that is so clearly etched in our collective consciousness? Can post 9/11 literature compete with the exemplary journalism, commentary and synthesis that followed the attacks?

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for work. Some made their way to the Twin Towers,the signature structures of the World Trade Center complex in NewYork City.Others went to Arlington,Virginia,to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W.Bush went for an early morning run.

For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine.

The 9/11 Commission Report

Of the post 9/11 literature that exists what have you read? Has it changed your perception of a post 9/11 world? Who do you think best captures its effect on our psyches?

Art Spiegelman

Comics Artists, Maus a Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, In The Shadow of No Towers

Keith Gessen

Contributor, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books,Co-Editor, n+1,

Dennis Loy Johnson

Literary blogger, Moby Lives, publisher, Melville House
Extra Credit Reading
Stephen Mitchelmore, From the inside: on ‘a new life for the novel’, This Space, August 7, 2006: “After 9/11, the consensus was that ‘fiction was either irrelevant or incapable of offering a convincing representation of a new, changed world.’ Of course, this was the consensus of literary journalists writing in the shadow of large headlines.”benpeek, Ex Machina, Brian K. Vaugn and Tony Harris, Ben Peek, July 11, 2005: “There must, it appears, be a sense of narrative closure for family and friends who lost loved ones and who will never truly know the final moments, and for a public caught in the seemingly endless propaganda war (also known as the War on Terrorism) that has eaten up their daily lives since, and which also offers no closure.”Michelle, Last Minute literary events, New York Brain Terrain, October 11, 2005: “The survival of literature should be considered an honor, not a disgrace, to the human spirit.”Jason Cowley, A new life for the novel, The Observer, August 7, 2005. “Our writers have not allowed the extremity of 11 September and the wars that have followed to silence or defeat them; their imaginations seem far from meagre.”

Louise Kennedy, In the face of unimaginable loss, finding consolation in Shakespeare, The Boston Globe, September 3, 2006: “I don’t want the evening news right now….I want ‘King Lear’ — not because I want to make some clumsy link between the events of Sept. 11 and Shakespeare’s theme of blindly misdirected power, but because ‘Lear’ speaks so articulately of inarticulate grief.”

Thanks, zeke for pointing out Louise Kennedy.

James Wood, Conrad and Dostoevsky foresaw terrorism, The Guardian, February 26, 2005: “Immediately after the events of September 11, said that they felt writing had become suddenly puny, irrelevant. But of course, literature had actually come into its own. For it had proved itself remarkably prescient.”

September 11th Novels
The Whole World Over, Julia GlassA Disorder Peculiar to the Country, Ken KalfusAlternative to Sex, Stephen McCauley

The Emperor’s Children, Claire Messud

Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

Related Content


  • http://www.dirtyfrenchnovel.com/ Scarequotes

    It’s a pity you’re focusing on literature — Spike Lee’s film The 25th Hour is still the most haunting piece of fiction incorporating 9/11 that I’ve seen.

  • Administrator

    Hi Scarequotes,

    That’s a really good point. At first we were going to do 9/11 art but that seemed too generaal. Our concern was that we wouldn’t fo justice to literature, film and music in one show.

    So we’re going to start the 9/11 arts conversation with literature and go from there. If any other films or books or plays come to mind please post them.

  • Sutter

    You ask, “[W]hat can writers improve on that we haven’t already figured out and experienced for ourselves?” That question may be somewhat misleading. It seems to me the task of great literature is not to tell us that which we have not yet figured out, but to help us understand that which we know deep inside but have not yet come to understand or been able adequately to express. We all can talk about where we were and who we lost and why life is different, but literature can help us work through the meanings and reverberations: How did this event change who we are collectively and individually, and how do we reconcile the dread of post-9/11 existence with the imperatives of living a real and realized life? Both of the two 9/11 books I have read — McEwan’s “Saturday” and Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” — contribute to this conversation ably. I look forward to more from these authors and others.

  • jdyer

    None of the books I read so far either American or British did much to enlighten me about the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism.

    Most of the novels I have seen have been pretty weak.

    I am looking forward to reading the Israeli novel A WOMAN IN JERUSALEM

    By A.B. Yehoshua to see if it’s any better.

    Claire Messud has an interesting review in the N Y Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/books/review/Messud.t.html?_r=1&ref=books&oref=slogin

  • nabobnico

    I just finished Foer’s Extremely Loud and found it incredibly moving. Rarely do I react to a novel out loud, but with this one I found myself laughing and crying within pages. he would be a great one for the show. I was surprised to see him an absent name from the American Novel show a month or so ago. I think he is an obvious choice for a talented novelist processing things as they happen. Maybe he is still too young.

    Another person who contrasts pre and post 9/11 very insightfully is Ben Kunkel in Indecision. In just a brief blurb, he goes from describing this “incredible” night of taking Ecstasy with this hot young thing, where he achieves great heights of lucidity on his roof in Tribeca, only to wake up the next morning to the towers burning five blocks away. His effect of going from the urbane New Yorker to the shocked and nearly sectroyed human in a few short paragraphs. The change is extreme and lands in your gut with immediacy.

    Both of these novelists don’t preach, which is a key, I think to great art, at least right now. One POV is from a nine year old boy, and the other is by a slacker un employed computer programer. Niether have a leg to stand on as far as a “right” to preach, and both do so succesfullty. the feeling of despair, of american innocence is captured beautifully. And indicted. Good show topic!

  • howardpark

    I’m a book dealer. I sell books for a living. I’ve noticed that books about 9/11 do not sell well at all. My theory is that most people think they know enough about 9/11 and they want to “close the book”. It’s just too painful for most people.

  • nabobnico

    Howardpark, Thats why I think novelists are doing it in a very interessting way. The towers have become a sort of touchstone, a marking point for my generation, much like Kennedy’s assasanation or the moon shot, but I think more so, but I would, not having been around for those two events. But it is in that almost sneaky not preaching way I mention in my earlier post; there is something different here, almost Delliloan. The event has become fact, a portal to pass through. It is the end of the century, much more so than Y2K ever was, and it harbored in such drastic changes in our lives, we may never be the same. the London terror alerts last week and our adaptability to them—the meek acceptance of all our belongings in clear plastic bags like goldfish brought home from the fair. The manic checking of the BBC or the NYT site for breaking news—the crawl at the bottom of the TV if you have one; eyes searching restlessly over it in a bar at night. So much of this fuels the novelist’s imagination. Try to define a character without 9/11 or without the physcological twitches that come with it…I’m not sure you could. I speak as a novelist, and in my just completed work, I struggled with this; my character was old, had few political leanings, and yet he lived in New Jersey, retired and forgotten. He had to watch the event on tv, and had no one to call. It is not melodramatic—just sort of sad and of the moment. Does that make any sense? Can someone expand?

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    howardpark, I sell books too. We had Art Spiegelman, In The Shadow of No Towers and it didn’t sell here either, neither did Updike’s Terrorist but Foer’s Extremely Loud and McEwen’s Saturday have done pretty well. Maybe title and cover have something to do with it. Shadow of No Towers and Terrorist hit you right in the eye. Saturday and Extremely Loud tuck it inside.

  • tbrucia

    ‘Post 9-11 Literature’ assumes that the New York tragedy impacted everyone — but from Houston, Texas, it was no more (or less) traumatic than the destruction of New Orleans or the panicked flight from this city as Rita bore down on and threatened a similar fate for this city…. Many of us here had never seen the Twin Towers, except in movies or as background in TV shows. From 1,600 miles away, the fall of the twin towers seemed as unreal as the recent war in Lebanon or the Rwandan genocide or the tsunami in Indonesia: regrettable tragedies, but in large part just ‘media events’. This brings up three issues: empathy, politics/media, and the function of literature. And these operate within personal life, too! We will all die, but how many people have confronted the inevitible on an existential level? Life is an action movie in modern America — because we CHOOSE not to live life on an existential level. How often do we meditate on the meaning of our lives, and graphically imagine how we will die (in all possible detail)? Most people consider deaths — not their own — as ‘events’, to be recorded, catalogued, analyzed, and chatted about. Ditto, 9/11… It has been objectified. The novelist tries to put one into a situation, but more: he/she tries to make us emotionally react to that situation. Paradoxically, the more often we THINK about 9/11 (or Katrina) the further we alienate ourselves from the event. It becomes a rational construct, engraved in memory, chatted about on TV, analyzed by professors, and speechified by politicians. Most folks — most of us — choose to regard our world, not on an existential and personal level, but simply as a backdrop to our own lives and concerns — deliberately oblivious to the commonplace that each of us is PART of that world… and ultimately all destined for extinction. Consider a scenario: Many think that a nuclear weapon will inevitably be used against a city (possibly American, possibly not, what difference does it really make?). Do people really want to emotionally enter that scenario and all it implies? Do they want to imagine the texture of burnt babies, skin melting from survivors, etc? Obviously not (or such books would hit the best seller lists). We ‘Moderns’ are in a state of denial… and that may not be altogether a bad thing. Perhaps confronting the existential horror of many aspects of modern life is simply too much for us to endure…

  • rc21

    I tend to agree with most of the things that everyone has posted. I will add that with the advent of cable tv and the commputer era. 9/11 has been played out to the extreme. almost on a24 hour a day basis. We all for the most part Know what it meant . To those on the right it means there is an extemist muslim threat to the US and the west. and we must confront it. To those on the left it means the same thing but we must understand why we caused it . Appeasement instead of confrontaition would be the better response.

    Either way 9/11 and its after effects have almost no bearing on ones day to day existence. We wake up go to work, come home play with the kids, eat dinner watch the sox, and go to bed.

    When a dirty bomb goes off or another 9/11 event occurs that will be the next time that our attention is captured. Reading about 9/11 is something we dont have the stomach for or the time.

  • http://www.dirtyfrenchnovel.com/ Scarequotes

    It would be interesting to compare (and, of course, contrast) prominent 9/11 literature with literature about other big events. How long after Pearl Harbor did it take for the first great WWII fiction to hit the shelves? Or the JFK assassination? Great literature is still being written about such seminal events, so it seems like any fiction about 9/11 and its aftermath is, of necessity, just at the beginning of the first wave right now.

  • nabobnico

    On the great novel show, they mentioned Catch 22 as the defining WW2 novel and that didn’t get published until 1961 or 62. And JFK? Isn’t that sort of the echoing sentiment in Delillo’s Underwworld.

    But, S’quotes, you’re right. It would be interesting to compare especially in light of the speed experiences are communicated in this day versus the lame old age of telegraph and radio…

  • Bryan Alexander

    William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition has a quiet 9-11 theme running through it. Very well done.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    And then there is the unique art form of the internet.

    While this piece addresses our government’s response to 9-11 more so than the event itself… it is just too good not to share.

    http://-paulhipp-.cf.huffingtonpost.com/SUBIRAQIAN%20HOMESICK%20BLUES%204.html

  • Mark Wolfe

    What about all the material out there regarding the theories of conspiracy? Looking at some of this, there are a number of things that simply seem odd about that day’s events, much of it things that have been forgotten that were reported live at the time. I am not much on conspiracies, but as far as facts go, there are some interesting things that authors have pointed out. I think a discussion on books should touch on this topic too.

  • jdyer

    Kunkel’s novel “Indecision” was an interesting first novel but very well thought out. Kunkel seems to have talent and I am looking forward to his second novel.

    Foer, on the other hand, while his first novel was very good (but ot great) his second attempt at fiction writing was a dissapointment.

  • jdyer

    Scarequotes: “It would be interesting to compare (and, of course, contrast) prominent 9/11 literature with literature about other big events. How long after Pearl Harbor did it take for the first great WWII fiction to hit the shelves? Or the JFK assassination? Great literature is still being written about such seminal events, so it seems like any fiction about 9/11 and its aftermath is, of necessity, just at the beginning of the first wave right now.”

    This is an important observation.

    Novelists don’t usually write about contemporary events. It often takes a generation or two before a novelist will deal an important social or political event.

    Our civil war didn’t produce a great war novel till Crane’s Red Badge of Courage (1895) which was published many years later by a writer who was born after the war had ended in 1871.

    The Napoleonic wars didn’t inspire great literature till well after it was over. War and Peace was published in 1863. It’s author was born in 1828 well after the end of the Napoleonic period.

    It takes time to produce meaningful literature of an event. The writer needs some temporal distance in order to asses the consequences of the event.

    Tolstoy says of our knowledge of a battle that the soldier who closest to the fighting knows the least about what is going on while his officers who may be removed from the immediate frey know a lot more because they have a wider view. It’s the general staff though which isn’t even at the front which knows the most since they get reports from all areas of the battle field.

    The same is true for the novelist the closest we are to an event the less we know about it. In time and with though we will get a wider perspective of the meaning of the events.

  • jdyer

    I don’t think of Catch 22 asa novel about WW2. The work is too abstract and to offer us a meaningful view of the conflict. It is merely a generic “anti-war” novel.

    (I also don’t consider Heller a great writer.)

    The great literature about world war two was written in Europe.

    Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman is probably the greatest novel of WW2. It deals with the eastern front. There are other terrfic works of fiction dealing with that war.

    Curiously our war in the Pacific didn’t produce great works of fiction neither.

    From Here to Eternity by james Jones and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead are good novels but I don’t think they rise to the level of the other works mentioned above.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    I just started Margaret George’s new book Helen of Troy. 9-11 isn’t exactly the Trojan War, the Civil War or Europeans bringing germs to North America for that matter. I think it is more like the Titanic. It does have all of the dramatic elements to create a timeless piece of literature but I think one problem with using the subject matter of 9-11 as art is that it is still being used as political propaganda.

  • scribe5

    Peggysue: “I think it is more like the Titanic.”

    ” It does have all of the dramatic elements to create a timeless piece of literature but I think one problem with using the subject matter of 9-11 as art is that it is still being used as political propaganda.”

    Which is the Titanic, the towers, or the commandeered planes? And which is the iceberg?

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    or the Irish shipbuilders? Never mind, that’s another conspiracy theory.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    What I intended to say if I was not clear is that 9-11 New York 2001 is still being used as a reason for our current government to pursue its current policies. There is still so much raw agenda attached to that event. I think it might be more difficult to take it on as subject matter for a work of art. I do not mean any disrespect to anyone who suffered but I am skeptical because I’ve heard too many over-dramatized emotionally charged 9-11 stories over and over and over that just made me feel like someone was trying to sell me a war or a clash of civilizations or racial profiling or rationalize torture or something.

    On the other hand, New York City is home to perhaps more talented authors than any other place in the world so it does seem likely that great literature will keep coming out of that event. I thought Art Spiegelman’s book was incredible.

  • nabobnico

    I think, peggysue, that you are right to involve, or to think of, outside sources. There is only a limited interest in the graphic and the horrible regarding 9/11; witness the failure of the two movies, Flight 93 and WTC (both of which recieved good reviews it seeemed.) I think the show can take an interesting direction by looking at not what “survivor” accounts there are, but how this “milestonistic” event has changed, or altered, american—indeed international—literature. In McEwan’s Saturday, the event looms large and somewhat distastefully in the back of the throat; the low grade panic, the unsettled life, is a constant throb like a far off generator that you don’t know is there until it is shut off. I was rereading Sebald’s Austerlitz and thinking about this subject—it is a book essentially about the holacaust, about the overthrowing of a persons life and their coming to terms with it many years later—and Sebald uses the event as a silent fact, an elephant in the room, a thing so bad it can never be named.

    While I don’t equate the holacaust to the WTC disaster, in some ways that is how it is being viewed. And Peggysue is right rtegaarding it being used for political purposes still…by doing so it negates the artists experience of it; the quiet anonymous observation and makes it something very sharp and nasty.

  • walkerhenry

    I have to bring up Heidi Julavits’s “The Effect of Living Backwards.” It’s frustratingly showy and ultimately unsuccessful as a novel, but its ambition is just what was called for: a paranoid mix of satire and heartfelt tragedy, in the manner of early Don DeLillo. 9/11 is referred to only as The Big Terrible (a term borrowed from Thomas Friedman) and the world of airline security has been changed in a funnier and arguably less stupid way than in real life. “After the incident with Malaysian Air Flight 879, passengers were counseled not to act too hastily in the case of a hijacking; an international coalition of mental health professionals met with the World Airspace Coalition to generate an ‘Is Your Hijacker Suicidal?’ checklist, to be laminated and placed in airplane seat pockets along with emergency procedure brochures.”

  • scribe5

    PeggySue: “I do not mean any disrespect to anyone who suffered but I am skeptical because I’ve heard too many over-dramatized emotionally charged 9-11 stories over and over and over that just made me feel like someone was trying to sell me a war or a clash of civilizations or racial profiling or rationalize torture or something.”

    And are you a Holocaust denier also?

  • jdyer

    Sebald’s Austerlitz is oe of the few works of fiction to have captured the essence of the Holocaust. It is a rarity. It also defies most of out PC expectations about ART.

    It was written not only by an outsider, i.e. not a Jewish victim of the Holocaust but by a German writer. It was able to articulate its artistic vision withour neither sentimentality nor indulging us in the pornography of violence.

    In this respect the novel is the pefect fictional analogue to the most powerful works on the Holocaust, the memoirs of Primo Levi and others as well as the fiction of such masters as Kertesz, Appelfeld and others.

    The experience with Holocaust fiction is instructive: it shows how few works of great art catastrophic events engender. To expect that suffering automatically will lead to great literature is naive.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    scribe5 – I’m not skeptical that 9-11 NYC 2001 happened or that it was terrible. I’m skeptical about the motivations of those who over dramatize the event for their own political agenda. In fact, I think it is disrespectful to USE other people’s suffering to gain a political advantage. It’s TV docudrama style “news” relying on hyped up emotional content with dramatic background music that I am skeptical of.

  • scribe5

    peggysue,

    what you said about the 9/11 tragedy can be said about all tragic events man made or natural.

    People respond to these events and some will alwyas accuse other of using the events for political purposes or even of hypocrisy.

    This charge, though, goes both ways. The people making the accusations can also be accused of political machinations.

    Take the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Some feel that the tragedy is being used for political purposes by some.

    I make no accusation myself, I just think that it’s hypocritical of some to accuse those whose politics they abhor of using 9/11 politically while doing the same with regards to the New Orleans floods.

    Better by far to accept that people will react to events differently and judge their reactions on the merits and not hurl accusations of opportunism at those with whom we disagree politically.

    As far as 911 goes, I think that if Bush wanted an excuse to attack Iraq he would have easily found it in the Saddam dictatorship itself.

  • jdyer

    Scribe: “what you said about the 9/11 tragedy can be said about all tragic events man made or natural.”

    There is a big difference between man made tragedies and natural disasters.

    The difference is in the way we take precautions as well as in the way we deal with these catastrophies.

    The Holocaust or the attacks on the WTC were made against specific people for ideological reaons and in those affected need to take precautions against people who hold antisemitic and anti-Western views respectively.

    There are many ways of taking precuations and I agree that one shouldn’t automatically assume self serving politically motivated action on the part of those who want to defend themselves.

  • jdyer

    btw: Judge Posner explained what I treid to say above much better in this podcast.

    http://politicscentral.com/2006/08/28/the_glenn_and_helen_show_judge.php

    “With the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks coming up, we thought we’d talk to law professor and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, whose latest book, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency looks at terrorism, the Constitution, and issues of surveillance, civil liberties, and history. One quote: “Civil libertarians are in a state of denial.â€?

    Surveillance-themed music by The Nevers.

    Play (46:11) or download (33.3 MB) The Glenn and Helen Show: Richard Posner ”

    Judge Posner would make an excellent guest on radiopensource.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    “what you said about the 9/11 tragedy can be said about all tragic events man made or natural”.

    Absolutely. I’m talking about dramatizing tragedy for an agenda versus Art (with a big A) and I’m only discussing it regarding to 9-11 stories because that is the stated topic of this thread. I myself am an ardent treehugger yet I find the “poetry” of Julia Butterfly Hill to be an abhorrent embarrassment though I agree with her politics. As catostophic as 9-11 was its just a mosquitoe bite compared to the man made Global Ecocide that we are ALL in denial about and participating in.

  • huck finn

    The “must read” 9/11 book of them all:

    The War On Truth – 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

    This book is not hysterical or over-stated, but it is extremely balanced and informative. Now there is a guest that would fascinate and inform.

    Bryan Alexander – Pattern Recognition is excellent, isn’t it? Gibson has finally hit his stride and fulfilled the promise hinted at by his earlier books.

    jdyer – Judge Richard Posner is an extremely frightening individual. I’m surprised that his Chicago School of Law and Economics appeals to you. To me, he represents everything that is wrong with the law in the US. He doesn’t think that US citizens are entitled to privacy in their homes or anywhere. By his calculation, one can determine the value of a life in dollars from the victim of a flaming Ford Pinto to the collateral damage of war. Are you prepared to go there? What price do you suppose he would place on an Israeli killed by a suicide bomber? A New Yorker killed on 9/11? I don’t want to live in his world, thanks.

  • Peggy Sue @ work

    Getting back to the idea of fiction – conflict is an essential ingrdiant. What is horrible in real life is critical to a good story. I don’t object to fiction containing drama, tragedy, death, destruction and evil. Bring it on (to coin a phrase). It’s when it sounds like a commercial for something – when it is pedantic that I think it detracts from the art of liturature. I’m not completly saying art should not have a message (Art for Art’s Sake) but I think it gets into some tricky ground. I think about this more when it comes to visual art but I think it holds true in liturature as well.

  • jdyer

    “Absolutely. I’m talking about dramatizing tragedy for an agenda versus Art (with a big A) and I’m only discussing it regarding to 9-11 stories because that is the stated topic of this thread. I myself am an ardent treehugger yet I find the “poetryâ€? of Julia Butterfly Hill to be an abhorrent embarrassment though I agree with her politics.”

    I agree with PeggySue about art, but am puzzled by her attitude towards it.

    If as she says,

    “As catostophic as 9-11 was its just a mosquitoe bite compared to the man made Global Ecocide that we are ALL in denial about and participating in.”

    she views “global ecocide” as more important than 911, I assume that she also views it as more important than other man made catastrophe like the WW1 and WW2.

    In other words if Peggy sees “ecoside” as the most important event in human history then why does she even care about art?

    Specifically, why does she care about the art of 9-11?

  • jdyer

    huck finn, I can appreciate the views of an individual about a certain topic without endorsing all his views.

    His views on terrorism and the dilemmas it poses for American law are quite enlightening.

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Last night Azar Nafisi’s lecture below was rebroadcast on KUOW. Anybody else catch that? She talked about the same idea I’m trying to get across.

    Azar Nafisi

    When you think of Iran, you don�t think of Nabokov�s “Lolita”. Azar Nafisi wrote “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, a historical novel memoir that stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for seventy-two weeks. Nafisi talks about the relationship between reality and fiction and she stresses the need for art and imagination and literature, even in urgent times of war and conflict. She spoke on February 28th, 2006 at Benaroya Hall in a talk sponsored by Seattle Arts and Lectures.”

    Related Links:

    * ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir In Books’, by Azar Nafisi on amazon.com

    * Azar Nafisi

    * Azar Nafisi on KUOW’s Weekday

    * Azar Nafisi on Wikipedia

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    jdyer said: “if Peggy sees “ecosideâ€? as the most important event in human history then why does she even care about art?”

    That is a good question and one a few of my Art Professors kept asking me (except they would ask me why I wasn’t doing “message art”). I was working on my MFA at the same time I was still engaged in the Idaho Earth First! campaign. Other Art professors understood. Look at a Navajo Sand painting or a Tibetan sand mandala. Creating Art is a way of bringing chaos into harmony. Regarding 9-11 NYC, right after the event the Metropolitan Art Museum broke attendence records. People needed art. I once heard a man who was a judge during the war crime trials of Bosnia talk about his experience. He listened to horrible autrocities day after day. He said what kept him sane was going to the Art museum on his lunch break and looking at the Veermers. (If I did any “message” Art it was those creative installations. No, not in Art galleries but in logging roads).

  • pryoung

    peggysue—

    Love what you say here, and I went through something similar myself. After months of obsessive and largely insensate listening to the news after 9/11, I found looking at paintings and particularly at colors to be a conduit to feeling a little more at home in the human world again. Sorry if that sounds a little melodramatic, but that’s really what it felt like.

    Another example that springs to my mind is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, which I think is one of the most brilliantly successful public monuments I’ve ever seen. In line with what you’re saying about chaos and harmony, the monument seems to make a violent and hugely divisive past equally available to different constituencies—veterans, surviving family members, supporters and opponents of the war, people too young to have any memory of the war. It creates a space of commemoration where the national community can come together again in solemn tribute, if not in complete political agreement.

    Maya Lin’s art accomplishes what politics hasn’t, in making it possible to engage a difficult past without simply reopening old wounds.

  • jdyer

    “Creating Art is a way of bringing chaos into harmony. Regarding 9-11 NYC, right after the event the Metropolitan Art Museum broke attendence records. People needed art. I once heard a man who was a judge during the war crime trials of Bosnia talk about his experience. He listened to horrible autrocities day after day. He said what kept him sane was going to the Art museum on his lunch break and looking at the Veermers. (If I did any “messageâ€? Art it was those creative installations. No, not in Art galleries but in logging roads).”

    In the final analysis, then, art is just another calming drug.

    I prefer my art to highten my sense of reality not to deaden my sensibility

  • jdyer

    The British Prospect has a great review of one of the best novels about WW2 and the Holocaust:

    Issue 126 , September 2006

    Vasily Grossman

    by Robert Chandler

    “The Russian writer’s novel “Life and Fate”—often compared with “War and Peace”—was first published in English in the mid-1980s. But only now is interest taking off among a wider public”

    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/printarticle.php?id=7739

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    jdyer said: “In the final analysis, then, art is just another calming drug.”

    That is not AT ALL what I said and you know it.

  • nabobnico

    Peggy Sue, I hear you, and others have too. It is imature (and kind of just plain grouchy) for JDyer to misuse your passionate screed and staate that “in the final analysis…art is just another callming drug.”

    I was reading an essay in Poetry Journal (linked to through 3quarksdaily.com) by John Barr who quoted Robert Frost and it reminded me of what Peggy Sue had written; Barr quotes Frost as saying—famously— that a poem is “a clarification of life—not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but‚ a momentary stay against confusion.” This is the link to the article in full…

    http://www.poetrymagazine.org/magazine/0906/comment_178560.html

    It is though that “momentary stay against confusion” that I think drove people to museums after 9/11, especially in the city, and to art, and to poetry and music (and into each others arms as well; witness the 9/11 baby boom) Literature—because that is what this thread seeks to address—can work to stay the confusion. Some posters have tried to link us to political rants and thoughts, but it is in that reflected light of tragedy where literature—and art—can react and clarify, not in the harsh brightly lit room of investigative journalism and political pornography. No writer can tell us what is right and what is wrong (and they would be wrong to try to.) A writer can serve to elevate the dull feeling of societies unease, to define it, slowly, inchoately and this is what, I think, we are just beginning to see in the tender (and not so tender) attempts at creating something out of the chaos, the pain.

    How Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown? Not really 9/11 directly but on a similar topic.

  • nabobnico

    Chelsea,

    This from John Barr agin. A very god article and maybe someone you could use on the show.

    “The limits of the poetry of any age come not from things the poets perceived but were unable to attain (that would be failures of craft), but rather from the things they never thought to include or never thought of value to their art. It’s not just the poets; this is how one age differs from the next. In the eyes of those who succeed it, an age of poetry comes to be defined at least in part by what it was not. You cannot know an era—say, Kafka’s Europe—until half a century later, when it no longer exists, when you can see what it was not, and what came out of it and displaced it. If the present era comes to be viewed by future readers as a time of worthy but not compelling poetry, it will not be for failures of craft. “

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Karen Armstrong says in A Short History of Myth “human nature does not change much, and many of these myths, devised in societies that could not be more different from our own, still address our most essential fears and desires.�

    While I continue reading a novel about the Trojan War, Margaret George’s Helen of Troy I can easily see 9-11 fitting into the Trojan War archetype. The Twin Towers very much like the city of Troy, seemingly impenetrable centers of global trade & wealth. The airplanes like the Trojan horse, unsuspected until it was too late.

    Taking a broader view and calling 9-11 one occurrence in the greater “War on Terror� The kidnapped Isreali soldiers are Helen. (The faces that launched a thousand cluster bombs?) Though, of course, they may not be so in love with their captors.

  • jdyer

    nabob the nico says:

    September 1st, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    “Peggy Sue, I hear you, and others have too. It is imature (and kind of just plain grouchy) for JDyer to misuse your passionate screed and staate that “in the final analysis…art is just another callming drug.â€?

    Immature is spelled with to mm’s and “calming� is spelled with one l. I may be immature but I know how to spell and how to read.

    Is it immature on my part to point out that, no matter Peggy’s intent, her post makes a good case for art as a tranquilizer? Go back and reread her post.

  • jdyer

    “Karen Armstrong says in A Short History of Myth “human nature does not change much, and many of these myths, devised in societies that could not be more different from our own, still address our most essential fears and desires.â€?

    Karen as usually is talking through her hat.

    The nature of modern man is remarkably different from that of the ancients be they Greeks or be they Native Americans or Africans.

    The myth of the Trojan War (leaving aside the faulty analogy) is not a good example since it has been domesticated in out culture.

  • jdyer

    The New York Times offers a review of a couple of photography books on 911 which are quite instructive:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/03/books/review/Mahler.t.html?_r=1&ref=review&oref=slogin

    The Unbuilding

    What is amazing to me is that it shows how iconic an art documentary photography is.

    Unless these photos come labelled as 911 in most of them there is very little intrinsic evidence that the photos were of that event.

    The exception are those which show the actual towers after they were hit and before they collapsed.

    The best art, if one wants to call it that were some phto essay about the event.

    One that stands out in my mind was by Leon Wieseltier. His essay was a commentary of a photograph of a man falling from the Towers.

    I wonder if anyone else here saw that image and read the essay?

  • nabobnico

    “Immature is spelled with to mm’s and “calmingâ€? is spelled with one l. I may be immature but I know how to spell and how to read.”

    JDyer, “2″ is spelled T-W-O, not T-O. Immature was my spelling mistake, calming was a typo. Now, however, you have proved my description of you. We can also add pedant to it. That is spelled P-E-D-A-N-T. Now can we, in the future, avoid such tweedy corrections involving peoples typos and focus on what people are actually saying?

  • nabobnico

    Jacques Derrida (PBUH) in an interview with Jurgen Habermas says about the symbol 9/11 or the words September 11th, (and this may help us to define a “literature” of the “event”) that it is an “intuition without a concept..out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany…”

    He goes on to say that “the telegram of this metonymy—a name, a number—points out the unqualifiable by recognising [sic] that we do not recognise or even cognise, that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.”

    (Philosophy in a time of terror, G. Borradori, U of Chicago Press, p.86)

    Now that was from a talk at The New School only five weeks after the towers were destroyed. We have come some distance from the still smoldering wreckage and so I don’t totally agree that we dont—or can’t—know what we are talking about. But I do think that it is still hard to process. I still find myself looking down Broadway and wondering what looks different until I realise that the towers are absent. But the event itself, and this is where I agree with Peggy Sue (I think) has become so immersed in propaganda that it has begun to seem unreal. New York has—if not moved on—then at least processed the experience, while the rest of the country, thanks in a large part to the administration’s macinations and obscurantisms, hasn’t. In is difficult to find the space to expresss oneself in writing when this echo of the event keeps returning.

  • nabobnico

    The interesting thing about Meyorwitz’s photographs is that he comes at it as an artist, and not as a journalist. He works—if I’m not mistaken—with an 8×10 camera. In the months before the destruction of the towers, he was taking pictures regularly of them from his studio window which looked downtown. That book (and you see J the Dyer, I do follow your links) is evocative and iconic because it is art, and because it was made with an attempt to “place a momentary stay against the confusion” to quote Frost from above. That is somehow different from the journalist who is there to report “bang-bang.”

  • jdyer

    nabob the nico:

    “JDyer, “2″ is spelled T-W-O, not T-O.”

    And where did I confuse two for to?

    Speaking of pedantry:

    “Jacques Derrida (PBUH) in an interview with Jurgen Habermas says about the symbol 9/11 or the words September 11th, (and this may help us to define a “literatureâ€? of the “eventâ€?) that it is an “intuition without a concept..out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany…â€?”

    This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

    It is Derrida’s conceptual map of language (what he calls “differance”) that 911 challenges and not the meaningfulness of the event itself which can be designated by a name, by a number, or even the image of a plane striking the towers.

    Derrida, btw, said the same thing about Auschwitz.

    The problem with him was that his notion of “textualization” is challenged by these events that he can’t fit within his “grammatological schema.”

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    jdyer said: Go back and reread her post.

    What I said was: people need art and it keeps people sane.

    Maybe sanity to you is being doped up on calming drugs. If that is the case then I apologize and will try to be more sensitive in the future. But what I meant was, Art, as in beauty and truth the sublime cosmic connection of the individual to the cosmos in meaningful and profound ways through color and form, or sound, or language.

  • nabobnico

    “And where did I confuse two for to?”

    Actually, you confused to for two, not the other way around. You also write at 5:09 that “I know how to spell and how to read.” Your “spell” proved false when you mistook to for two; now at 6:55, your “read” proves itself when you aren’t aware enough to go back and check your own mistakes. Ca sufit. Finished with that; it is neither here nor there.

    I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you on your critique of JD. How does 9/11 the event challenge Derrida’s project? Doesn’t the idea of labeling, ie; using language to define the parameters of an event, thus in turn, define the event itself? Doesn’t the “litany” he describes create a sort of hierachical boundary, or horizon, that in a sense imprisons the “event”, or spectacle, from itself?

    And you’re right. Doesn’t the repeated chant of “auschwitz” in effect create the “event” of Auschwitz into a brand rather than the horrific, terrible thing it was? Doesn’t it make a “spectacle” of true mourning, thus totally undermining the actual real-time happening? What is the difference between standing on the edge of that pond in Birkeneau and watching Schindler’s List? Indeed, what is the difference between walking through the overgrown weeds of Birkenau while kicking over an old forgotten leather shoe and standing in the manicured green lawns of death of Auschwitz 1, waiting to be admitted to the museum? It is the difference between smelling the burning rubble of the towers a month after they collapsed from your bedroom window(living with the event in a very real experiential way) and watching Fox News as some pretty face justifies another atrocity against innocents svereal thousand miles away.

  • jdyer

    Peggysue: “Maybe sanity to you is being doped up on calming drugs.”

    I don’t think art and sanity have much to do with each other.

    When they do intersect it’s a question of coincidence rather than an aim of the artist.

    Au contraire, all great art unsettles one. It heaves one the way Moby Dick does the Captain Ahab.

  • jdyer

    nabobnico Says:

    September 2nd, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you on your critique of JD. How does 9/11 the event challenge Derrida’s project? Doesn’t the idea of labeling, ie; using language to define the parameters of an event, thus in turn, define the event itself? Doesn’t the “litanyâ€? he describes create a sort of hierachical boundary, or horizon, that in a sense imprisons the “eventâ€?, or spectacle, from itself?”

    911 like all events hors du texte challenge Derrida’s view of language. This is why he insists that there is not hors du texte.

    However, I don’t intend on getting into an argument with a Derridean here about it since it is a game with diminishing returns.

    “And you’re right. Doesn’t the repeated chant of “auschwitzâ€? in effect create the “eventâ€? of Auschwitz into a brand rather than the horrific, terrible thing it was?”

    I am not right because I didn’t say it. Derrida did, and he is as wrong about this as he is about most things he wrote with the possible exception of his quasi autobiography about his life in Algeria.

    No, repeating the name Auschwitz does not create the “event.”

    I can repeat the name Tipoquonta or any other name that comes into my head and there is no event attached to it.

    Language does not define the reality of the event nor more than it creates it.

    “Doesn’t it make a “spectacleâ€? of true mourning, thus totally undermining the actual real-time happening?”

    These are cliches. There is no one way to mourn a catastophe and for some repeating the name may in fact be their way of coming to terms with it.

    I don’t know what a film, any film, including Schindler’s List has anything to do with what we are talking about.

    NO one claims that any film, any book, any person’s remembrance, or even one’s own experience of the event exhausts the event. This is a straw man argument. The claim is tha names like Auachwitz, 9/11 do have a particular meaning which call up a catastorphic event. It is up to you then to go beyond the name and try to understand all its connotations.

    However, to suggest as does Derrida that the name is an “intuition without a concept..out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness…”

    is sheer nonsense since the name is not an intuition, however it be defined.

  • jdyer

    We may argue among ourselves about the meaning of 9/11 but to those who perpetrated the event the even has a definite meaning.

    Here is a portion what they said.

    http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=topNews&storyid=2006-09-02T235930Z_01_L02687203_RTRUKOC_0_US-SECURTIY-QAEDA-TAPE.xml&src=rss&rpc=22

    “Qaeda urges Bush, non-Muslims to embrace Islam: video

    Sat Sep 2, 2006 7:59 PM ET

    By Heba Kandil

    DUBAI (Reuters) – Al Qaeda called on President Bush and non-Muslims especially in the United States to convert to Islam and abandon their ‘misguided’ ways or else suffer the consequences, according to a video posted on a Web site on Saturday.

    The speaker was identified as Azzam the American, also known as Adam Yahiye Gadahn — an Islamic convert from California wanted for questioning by the FBI and who U.S. authorities believe to be involved in a “propaganda” campaign for al Qaeda.

    “If the Zionist crusader missionaries of hate and counter-Islam consultants like … the crusader and chief George W. Bush were to abandon their unbelief and repent and enter into the light of Islam and turn their swords against the enemies of God, it would be accepted of them and they would be our brothers in Islam,” Gadahn said in English.

    “To Americans and the rest of Christendom we say, either repent (your) misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or keep your poison to yourself and suffer the consequences in this world and the next.”

  • nabobnico

    Isn’t it just more language though? Rhetoric delivered by a sword and by a bomb? From creating “evildoers” and “islamofascists” versus “crusader” and “enemy of god” it is all just labels applied to a situation and not the real situation itself. How do we isolate the actual from the virtual, from the mediated except by experiencing it ourselves.

    The movie comparision has everything to do with what we are taalking about. Viewing Schindler’s List from the air conditioned sanctified cocoon of a multiplex with a warm bucket of popcorn gently congealing in your overweight lap is a thousand times removed from the unmediated raw spring air of Birkenau. As is the situation in Iraq viewed through the prism of Fox network versus being on the ground in Baghdad (though I don’t watcch television and I haven’t been to Baghdad.)

    I agree with you, Jay of Dyer, however that it is “up to you then to go beyond the name and try to understand all its connotations.” However, I wonder how that is possible without first reducing the “name” to its different components in order to view the “event” as the event it is and not the “spectacle” it is marketed as through branding. The phrase “9/11″ undoubtably means something totally different to a farmer in the midwest or a young high school recruit than it does to mean. Ditto everything else that we take as “truth.” (I suspect, but do not “know” that you would argue that there is an objective truth.) However, whether or not there is an objective truth or not about an event seems beyond the point if we cannot know that truth because of the subjective lens through which we view it. An example of this is a trip I took to India just after the towers destruction in January 2002, in a large part to get away from the City which was still in a deep shock. You know those gaudily coloured Indian shopping bags that are popular among the yoga set? Well, in Calcutta, they were selling loads of them with a picture of the burning towers on them with Osama’s picture below them. Being an american they sought me out to try to sell them to in the market place. I was initially shocked, but looking back on it I realise that thier experience of the “event” was something totally different than mine. Were they “evildoers”? No, they were just shop keepers. They weren’t even ignorant; they just had a different experience of an experience than I had had. A month later and Gujarat would be riven with sectarian riots resulting in several thousand dead. While I didn’t make up bags to sell celebrating the event reading only a couple of lines in the Times before moving onto Sunday Styles is probably an analogous reaction. The experience of the riots was viewed differently from the safety of the newspaper than if I had been there.

  • jdyer

    “Isn’t it just more language though? Rhetoric delivered by a sword and by a bomb? From creating “evildoersâ€? and “islamofascistsâ€? versus “crusaderâ€? and “enemy of godâ€? it is all just labels applied to a situation and not the real situation itself.”

    That would depend on whether you get caught in a bomb attack or not.

    To the people directly affected by the Jihadists bombs it’s not “all just language.”

    Taking refuge in language may be comforting but it’s no more real that the comforts offered by religion.

    The belief in the omnipresence of language is the opium of the Derridean intellectuals.

  • jdyer

    “The movie comparision has everything to do with what we are taalking about. Viewing Schindler’s List from the air conditioned sanctified cocoon of a multiplex with a warm bucket of popcorn gently congealing in your overweight lap is a thousand times removed from the unmediated raw spring air of Birkenau.”

    This is quite a fantasy. I saw the movie in an overcrowded freezing theater where the popcorn stand was closed.

    Many people today are overweight, but I don’t know why that shold be a factor in the understanding of the Holocaust anymore than someone having diabetes.

    “As is the situation in Iraq viewed through the prism of Fox network versus being on the ground in Baghdad (though I don’t watcch television and I haven’t been to Baghdad.)”

    Why Fox network, why not the BBC.

    You are full of cliches, Nabob.

    Have you been to Iraq or to any other country at war or in the middle of civil strife?

    In any case, what I said above applies. One doesn’t rely for ones’ knowledge on any single source. The point is that to understand Auschwitz you need to look at thousands of documents available in archives, then to read as many of the memoirs written by the survivors you can get your hands, to listen to survivors ( i was fortunate enought to have known some survivors.)

    And this is only the beginning. You then go on to read some histories written by reputable historians. You can also travel to the the death camp and walk around there. After that it’s up to you to put it all together.

    To offer only one source and then “deconstruct” is a sign of shallow thinking.

    The aggregate of sources go beyond verbal language.

    To reduce all of this as did Derrida to a “an intuition without a concept” is to offer a bad and tasteless kantian parody.

  • jdyer

    Nabob “However, I wonder how that is possible without first reducing the “nameâ€? to its different components in order to view the “eventâ€? as the event it is and not the “spectacleâ€? it is marketed as through branding.”

    Oh come on now you are aping Baudrillard and Pierre Bourdieu.

    I don’t see any “reduction” involved in coming to understand 9/11 or the Auschwitz. They are denotative markers. Of course like all such markers they have to connote a multiple number of secondary meanings. Still when researching into the event you ignore the connotative meanings and concentrate on the event itself.

    You go beyond the name and beyond the image.

    You follow the same steps you would if you were trying to understand say the riots that ungulfed NY city during the civil war.

    You will definitely want to stay away from the “spectacle” aspect of the event.

    We live in a visual age, and it’s images push themselves at us everywhere. This is obvious and we don’t need French sociologists to bore us with the obvious.

    You also, I hope, know the severe limitations the visual imposes on the understanding. hence you try to go beyond the image.

    If you have ever done any historical research, you will know what I mean. If you have not, I suggest you read up on it.

  • nabobnico

    Jay the Dire, You are just bristling with anger, and I think if you could let down your guard a minute, you would see that in many places we agree, as I imagine anyone following this discourse can see. You claim to be a careful reader and yet I wonder if you actually are; you seem to have misunderstood, in many places, what I hvae said. Oddly though, you then attempt to correct my “cliched” thinking by simply restating what I have just written.

    I think we agree on “taking refuge in language.” Its my point, and Derrida’s too. The event of being blown up by Jihadist bombs (which must feel no different than US manufactured cluster bombs fired by Israel) is something unique and post-lingual as well. The phrase 9/11, repeated as an endless litany, like auschwitz or nazi or anti-semite, cannot equal the horror of being in the collapsing buildings, or marched to your death in a gas house. The word becomes sub-experiential, devoid of essential meaning. How do you describe the pain of a Lebanese child standing by the corpse of her mother? This is maybe what is meant by Adorno when he writes that “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Perhaps you don’t, because to describe it is to categorize it, to box it, and give it borders saying this evil happens here, not there, there but not here. To mark a date (9/11) is to presuppose its uniqueness, to assume that it comes for the first and last time, and that it “should from here on in remain unforgettable.” [J.D. ibid previous post, p.86]

    I am sorry you are overweight. My hyperbole was not directed at you, but at the comfort zone that we experience “experiences.” And you are right. Why not the Beeb? I used Fox Network to strike a ccontrast. It was simply a symbol, but it could have been any western news organisation, including the Grey Lady herself, which I referenced earlier. In answer to your query, I have been to several countries that were in a “war or civil strife” both as a child and as an adult. (Ooh, you would love to know who my father was…)

    I am not relying on one single source. Again this is your blind illiteracy to what I was saying. Schindler’s List, in my mind, is offered forth, much as holacaust museums are, as a cultural “truth.” One experiences the movie (whether skinny or fat, diabetic or consumptive) as a “truth” and not as a represenation, as a hollywood fantasy. One feels sorrow, pity, anger, whatever at the nasty nazis and goes home. The same is true seeing Flight 93. Visiting Birkenau or “ground zero” is a very different experience, but one that equally offers a single slice of an “event,” a single ray of light. I agree with you that we begin to understand by studying everything about a single subject, attempting to use as many points of view as possible. It is one reason why ROS is such an interesting show. It offers several competing views simultaneaously. But even there it would be limited if you don’t find out everything. I don’t think however that you can do this. One can never know the whole truth of an event, especially not one as glossed and reified as the holacaust or 9/11. Another place where we essentially come together. You might even consider reading JD(PBUH).

    Literature though can insert itself in some way into this dialogue one has with a relative truth, can inform and clarify. You don’t find the truth by reading the Beeb’s crawling bar any faster than you do reading Fox’s, nor would you watching Stone’s WTC or Schindler’s List. Going to the places, seeing the set that an event is played out on. That will help.

  • nabobnico

    And thanks for calling me a “derridian.” I shall where the label with great pride. And I’m sorry the popcorn stand was closed. Did you ask for your money back?

  • jdyer

    “I am sorry you are overweight. My hyperbole was not directed at you, but at the comfort zone that we experience “experiences.â€? ”

    Ha, ha,

    Nabob, you do jump to conclusions, don’t you.

    No I am not overweight nor do I have diabetes. As you can see I wasn’t writing about moi meme.

    We may agree on some things, but we definetely disagree on Israel and the about the war in Lebanon: ss Miss Stein might say, “a bomb, is a bomb, is a bomb.”

    For the rest, I’ll answer the rest of your post at a later date.

  • jdyer

    nabobnico Says: September 3rd, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    “You are just bristling with anger,…�

    Not a good beginning Nabob. However, I’ll let it go.

    I am not sure I know where you are going with this discussion. I’d like therefore to make some primary distinctions.

    There is no need to set up an opposition between a linguistic expression like 911 (or any of the other terms you mentioned) and the physical reality to which the expression refers.

    Here we have the classic linguistic dichotomy between sign and referent. Oddly enough I believe that you are privileging what existentialist used to call “brute reality� (the referent) and opposing it to “mere words.�

    Now, in an expression like 911 you needs, as I explained and you seemed to have agreed) to go beyond the image evoked by the term to try to unearth its reality.

    This is done by scholars. However in Derridean metaphysics reality isn’t that simple and even the most Marxist or pc scholar won’t be able to unearth its truth. The reason being that reality always eludes the researcher because there is no equivalence between referent and sign.

    This is what Derrida meant when he said that there is ‘dehors du texte� there is no world outside the text. (Text in Derridean terms isn’t just the physical book; it’s a term which designates the sphere of meaning or signification which makes up the book. For him what one might call “brute reality� is also part of the text.)

    Going even further back one should note that what makes meaning possible for Derrida is the differential relation between sign and referent. These encompass both a temporal and a spatial aspect. Take together Derrida designate this reality by a neologism: differance. Differance is what is deferred in one’s trying to approach the referent which is always sliding away, as well as the difference between signifiers which make up the meaning of a sign.

    There is one other term which is important here: “the trace� this term designates a reality like an (“arche-phoneme in linguistics�) which makes possible all differance but which can never perceived directly. It’s a kind of metaphysical entity which one must take on trust.

    I realize that this expositon is very brief and condensed and for those who wish to pursue Derrida’s metaphysical claims I suggest they read and reread his long study “On Grammatology.”

    If for Derrida then there is nor reality to the term 911 this is because there is nor reality to any term. For him it is the work of deconstruction to show the arbitrariness of any such designation.

    This is what I oppose in Derrida and all modes of thinking that emanate from deconstruction. I am aware that most scholars who use these kind of language are not as familiar with the metaphysics of Derrida’s system and have merely borrowed it for political reasons thinking that it can deconstruct “capitalist� claim while leaving Marxist, feminist, or other forms of oppositional thinking intact. The truth is otherwise. Derridean operations can be turned as much against oppositional thought as it can against politically regressive ideas.

    It is an equal opportunity cynical philosophy which looks to create ambiguities and paradoxes. It’s the 20 century version of Zeno and equally flawed.

    This is why from a Derridean pint of view your conclusion is flawed:

    “Literature though can insert itself in some way into this dialogue one has with a relative truth, can inform and clarify. You don’t find the truth by reading the Beeb’s crawling bar any faster than you do reading Fox’s, nor would you watching Stone’s WTC or Schindler’s List. Going to the places, seeing the set that an event is played out on. That will help.�

    Now, if we drop Derridean presuppositions, or its softer versions, then we can begin to talk about the event as well as the meaning of 911 or Auschwitz in a much more realistic fashion.

    To do that, we also have to stop assuming that most people are fools just taken in by media manipulations. We need to distinguish between serious thinking and the casual observer who goes the movie theater to be entertained by films such as Schindler’s List and Oliver Stone’s WTC.

  • zeke

    In yesterday’s Boston Globe, Louise Kennedy writes the following:

    “No tragedy ever felt just like 9/11. No tragedy ever felt any different.

    Five years is a long time in the news cycle; it is nothing for art. Five years after the fall of Troy, who knew there would be a Homer? So it feels too early to be looking for the “Iliad” of 2001. We can’t know yet which poem or story or play will speak to the ages for our age.

    Instead, I hear echoes of our time in the masterpieces of time past. In tragedies that have nothing to do with the tragedy of Sept. 11, I find more solace than in all the news specials and documentaries and anniversary commemorations that, inevitably, we throw together at a time like this. I don’t want the evening news right now. I want Shakespeare.”

    The only thing I would take issue with is that, in addition to finding more “solace” in classics, I think we find more insight and understanding as well.

    I hope that the perspective that we need more perspective will be considered during the radio hour.

    Here is the link to her complete article identifying King Lear as her preferred literature in contemplation of 9/11.

    http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2006/09/03/in_the_face_of_unimaginable_loss_finding_consolation_in_shakespeare/

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Thanks Zeke

    Sheakspeare always seems relevant. Our local Sheakspere troop performed King Lear last summer. Their performance of MacBeth also seemed particularly relavant to our times.

    I just watched the film “Trojan Women”. It is the Greek Tragedy by Euripides made film by director Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek) in 1971. Katharine Hepburn, Venessa Redgrave, Irene Papas & Genevieve Bujold are at their dramatic best in the smoking ruins (ground zero) of Troy.

  • Potter

    Great little BIG book, “In the Shadow of No Towers” by Art Spiegelman which says it all about the fear and terror of that day and it’s continuation being given a boost lately in speeches by Bush and Rumsfeld for political purposes.

    9/11 Polls Find Lingering Fears in New York

    Thanks for this guest.

  • Potter

    What about the docudrama that seeks to blame 9/11 on the Clinton Administration. This is the upcoming miniseries, no commercials for two nights, on ABC/Disney. Is this the rearrangement of facts and images to suit some other agenda/s?

    Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright have all requested copies to review and have been denied.

    Ex-Clinton Officials Slam 9/11 Mini-Series

    ABC assures Right Wing Bloggers

    House Democrats Demand Accuracy

  • Greta

    Thanks for that article, Zeke. I’m putting it in tonight’s reading list. As for lingering fear, Potter, we’re working on a show for Monday about the uses/abuses/complicity of fear in this country. You’ll have to guide us as soon as we get that post up.

  • jdyer

    zeke, drama and especially Shakespeare has been used to console audience in times of crises, especially in Eastern Europe.

    This was true during the Nazi occupation as well as during the Stalinist purges.

    In France on the other hand during WW2 Greek tradedy was stages and even rewritten in such ways that could pass the censor while still offering them anti-German message.

    What these stagings had in common was that they offered understanding of their predicament as well as consolation.

  • jdyer

    About the ABC docudrama; I haven’t seen so I don’t know who it blames. Still as a believer in free speech if Clinton doesn’t like how he is portrayed there let him write his own docudrama.

    Discord should be good for the production of art, while litigation is murderous.

    Let’s fight it out on the stage rather than in the courts.

  • Mari

    I don’t think you can separate “Literature of 9/11″ and its effect on us from its effect on the rest of the world. Because this tragedy happened to us, it made us turn inwards – but being so insular is part of the tragedy.

    I’m a high school student – I was in seventh grade English class when the towers were hit – but I can think of several women whose lives were directly affected by 9/11, and whose reactions I admire.

    Patti Quigley and Susan Retik both live in my town. Their husbands were on United Airlines flight 175. After 9/11, they wanted to help other widows in some way instead of trying to exact some amorphous version of revenge. Everyone please check out the new documentary, Beyond the 11th, about their work with women in Afghanistan.

    The other person who has inspired me is Sarah Chayes, the former NPR reporter whose blog was mentioned in last night’s comments. When 9/11 happened she was reporting from Paris – and felt suddenly that her work there wasn’t enough to make a difference. She covered the fall of the Taliban and stayed on in Kandahar for the last several years, even as Afghan friends were murdered by terrorists and America’s attention shifted away. I don’t think you can separate 9/11 in America from 9/11 in the rest of the world – Sarah’s book THE PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE, is a sharp reminder of that.

    It’s also a darn good read that kept me up thinking after I set it down.

  • jdyer

    I just heard the show.

    There were some good moments but I missed something crucial: a discussion about why the attack took place. A discussion about the attacks on the WTC without mentioning Jihadi ideology feel too narcissistic.

    It was all about “we.” There was no “them!”

    “We” are evil, “we’ are great; it’s still the same “we.”

    I was also stuck by the lame and artificial use of “irony.”

    Where no couples about to be divorced in some other genocide where the couples were glad because they thought the other partner “got it?”

    Of course, this is part of life. But does that make the murder of innocents in a massacre (and the WTC attack was a massacre) any less tragic?

    I recently saw a superb French film about WW2 (Strayed by Andre Techine) which dealt with some of these kinds of ironies but the film never lost sight of the larger tragic background. It was all there the protagonists as liars, as psychpaths, but also as lost souls trying to get a foothold in a world undergoing an earhtquake.

    I missed this kind of insight in the discussion about 911 attitudes and art.

    Domage!

  • Elling

    I was listening to this show on my drive in to work. I want to find out more about the Philip Roth article (or was it an interview) that was unpublished or suppressed. Any links or info. will be appreciated. Thanks.

  • betty luse

    I was struck by the Phillip Roth quote and would like to know where it came from….it so mirrors what I feel now that we’re starting to be flooded with 9/11 movies. The current controversy over the upcoming film illustrates the dread that is welling up in me as we come closer to the anniversary. I admire Roth for his courage to use the word “kitsch” in reference to the overweaning sentimentality of the rhetoric around the date.

    What a place we’re in….Ann Coulter sliging her own particular excrement at 9/11 widows for demanding some answers and the obscene rhetoric of the administration as it continues to desparately spin to find something that makes sense of their wanton waste of American lives and treasure.

    Bravo to OPEN SOURCE for having the conversations it has.

  • rc21

    To Potter; We will probably never Know Clinton or his administrations true role in the runup to 9/11. Maybe if we could recover all of the documents that Sandy Berger stole we might have a better picture of went on back then.

    Funny how no one in the press really went after that story.

  • hurley

    A challenging essay on 9/11 by the brilliant William S. Wilson:

    http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/endconstruction/ramshackle

    The riposte and reply also worth reading.

  • jdyer

    Any essay that goes from Franklin Peirce and the Civil War to WTC attacks doesn’t offer much confidence as an in depth analysis of history.

    I won’t even mention its quotation from Raimondo whose antisemetism and embrace of conspiracy theories should have put his remarks off limits by anyone one who wants to be taken seriously.

  • Old Nick

    I: I just finished Updike’s Terrorist, which I’ll comment on in the next post. But not before lauding to Seventh Heaven (figuratively though, since I’m a nontheist) this, from tbrucia (from way back on August 15th @ 6:01 AM):

    …three issues: empathy, politics/media, and the function of literature. And these operate within personal life, too! We will all die, but how many people have confronted the inevitable on an existential level? Life is an action movie in modern America — because we CHOOSE not to live life on an existential level…

    Ditto, 9/11: It has been objectified. The novelist tries to put one into a situation, but more: he/she tries to make us emotionally react to that situation. Paradoxically, the more often we THINK about 9/11 (or Katrina) the further we alienate ourselves from the event. It becomes a rational construct, engraved in memory, chatted about on TV, analyzed by professors, and speechified by politicians. Most folks — most of us — choose to regard our world, not on an existential and personal level, but simply as a backdrop to our own lives and concerns — deliberately oblivious to the commonplace that each of us is PART of that world… and ultimately all destined for extinction.

    Man, that’s so insightful it’s awesome. I take a lot from it, but mostly a reminder that before we analyze anything (be it memory, ongoing circumstances, or possible choices to presently be made), the first place to start is the underutilized yet damn near divine human capacity called empathy. A bit more empathy running about loose in the world would do not just a little bit of ‘touchy-feely’ good but REAL good – in the humanistic sense – and on an exponential scale. And literature – especially novels – can teach empathetic lessons in an almost miraculously effortless way (since novels are, after all, little more than beautifully elaborate lies). I say ‘effortless’ because a well-written novel inhabited by understandable and sympathetic characters is more than entertainment: ideally, such literature teaches something objective (and subjective!) about humankind. (Too bad that Hollywood, its imitators, and the noxious fun called videogames has so diminished the impact of literary fiction, hmmm?)

    Anyway: thanks, tbrucia, especially for the mention of empathy.

  • Old Nick

    II:

    Terrorist, ultimately, is no espionage style thriller, but a story about the ageless war between compassion and faith, this time set in an unfaithful society. The novel’s title character opens the narrative thusly,

    Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God.

    Yet even before that, in a double epigraph before the title page, Updike gives us this:

    Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.

    —Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Of Love and Other Demons

    Ahmad is a Muslim by conversion: his father was an Egyptian but not religious; his mother an Irish-American and a non-practicing Catholic. In significant ways, Ahmad’s imam, Shaikh Rashid, represents a father for the eighteen-year-old protagonist. More importantly, the imam serves the novelist as a plausible source for the many Koranic quotes necessary to drive the plot.

    I found Updike’s choice of quotes peculiar, however. For example, Ahmad’s transition from simple believer to active jihadi would have been much more convincing had Updike included quotes like these:

    “Slay them wherever you find them…Idolatry is worse than carnage…Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme.� (Sura 2:190-93)

    And hadiths like these:

    “He who dies without taking part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief.�

    “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it; except a martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world ands get killed again (in Allah’s cause).�

    (Of course, using quotes like those would have made much less plausible his novel’s already-unconvincing climax—but more on this in a moment.)

    Updike illustrates the depths and meanings of faith within an African-American church service. In it, the preacher compares the struggles of blacks in America to the putative sufferings of the exiles in the Old Testament (Numbers, mostly). He cites God calling the tribe of Israel ‘an evil congregation’ not because they were unempathetic or lacking any other kindly virtues, but because they quailed at the prospect of attacking the people whose lands they coveted, because: “…you lacked faith. Faith in the power of the Lord Almighty. That was your iniquity… and to drill his point home, God sent down plagues and pestilences…� after which, in desperation, the Israelites do in fact go on to attack and slaughter the already-settled peoples of the coveted land.

    The preacher then explains,

    “You see, my friends, the Lord had been with them, he gave them a chance to go forward with Him in all his glory, and what did they do? They hesitated…They didn’t let the Lord act through them. They had good human intentions, but they didn’t trust enough in the Lord…�

    This, in a nutshell, is to me the great tragedy of modern religion, especially in its fundamentalist evolutions: it demands utterly unquestioning faith above all else. It even demands faith over empathy, which to my mind is the greatest of humankind’s many talents. Empathy is certainly humankind’s greatest virtue. More on this shortly…

    Charlie, Ahmad’s boss, is in many ways the book’s most interesting character. Charlie admires the American guerrilla methods of the Revolutionary War, and equates that struggle with the modern Islamist jihad against the ummah’s colonizing oppressors, the West. Yet there’s more to Charlie than we know at first: his faith’s intensity and complexity differs from Ahmad’s. Ahmad’s faith is the simplistic zealotry of the convert, which Shaikh Rashid, while seducing Ahmad into the jihad (on page 234), characterizes like this,

    “…whose love of God is unqualified, and who impatiently thirsts for the glory of Paradise…�

    On the following page, Rashid says, “What is freedom…as long as we are slaves to our bodies and their necessities? How I envy you, dear boy. Compared with you, I am old and it is to the young that the greatest glory of battle belongs. To sacrifice one’s life…before it becomes a tattered, exhausted thing. What an endless joy that would be.�

    Yet the ‘glorious sacrifice’ Rashid has enticed from Ahmad will of course murder hundreds if not thousands of innocents. Ahmad, however, doesn’t judge unbelievers to be ‘innocent’. Instead his holy scripture names them explicitly as destined for hell, and fully deserving of its eternal tortures. And he agrees.

    At this point I should leave the novel’s climax unspoiled by further revelation. Yet I can’t help but state that the ending felt contrived: Ahmad is an ultimately unconvincing character; and the plot-device Updike employs to grant Ahmad a choice for determining his fate feels transparently contrived too. Let’s just say that the device is a proper, if overly-simplistic, struggle between his faith and his empathy. I must reveal at least that much, because, although the novel might not succeed on every level, it does at least give the reader an exposition of and a reason to ponder the differences between ordinary empathy and the demands of faith.

    I know I’ve developed a reputation in these threads as an unabashed critic of religion and religiosity. Not only do I not care, but Updike seems to support me after a fashion, by giving us a novelistic version of the same critique. Because although it is true that religion—at its best—harnesses and sanctifies the human capacity for empathy, religion also actively and explicitly disables empathy in its faithful. This is especially so in the many bloodthirsty evolutions of the Abrahamic traditions. How else can we explain the God-sanctioned carnage of books like Joshua and Judges, and of the xenophobia of the Koran and hadith, and even of the putatively peace-loving Jesus, whose much more probable xenophobia is characterized by A.N.Wilson thusly:

    “The Gospels were written to make us suppose that Jesus did indeed reach out to all mankind as some Saviour-figure who would embrace Gentiles as well as Jews, so it is all the more remarkable that these books should clumsily have recorded sayings, which on balance would seem to be authentic, in which Jesus is quoted as saying that his mission is to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’; that he has no desire to throw the pearls of his wisdom before the Gentile pigs. In another place he is quoted as saying that the Gentiles were dogs.

    “Jesus would seem to have shared the views of many Jewish contemporaries that the world was about to come to an end and that God would redeem Israel and bring to pass a new era in which the rule of the Gentiles would be smitten and driven away. Since the end of ages was at hand, and the Gospels record Jesus as predicting as much, it is hard to imagine why Jesus would have entertained the quite incompatible belief that several thousand years of human history stretched ahead in which a new ‘religion’ would be necessary. As far as the historical Jesus was concerned, it seems overwhelmingly likely that he did not think there was any future for the human race at all; that is, in so far as we can deduce any interest in the ‘human race’, as opposed to the fate of the Jews or more narrowly of his own followers, in the recorded sayings of Jesus.�

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/paul.htm

    It’s high sacrilege, I know, to pour the cold water of truth onto our cultural sacred cows. After all, if you give them a cold, they might catch pneumonia and perish.

    But somebody’s got to do it.

    And it’s simple to do, too. Sadly simple, in fact. Because religion would be truly wonderful if its only function were the enhancement of the human capacity for empathy. Instead it has developed elaborately multi-layered equivocations that demand not only a childlike surrender of credulity and a concomitant adult refusal to question ancient and obsolete beliefs, but that also divide our species into ‘in-groups’ worthy of empathy and ‘out-groups’ deserving only of death and eternal suffering.

    This battle between faith and empathy is the central lesson of Terrorist – if, that is, you read it with a mind unclouded by religious conceits and preconceptions.

    I give it a ‘B-’. But I also think it an appropriate and timely post 9-11 novel, which is what this thread is all about.

  • Hushd

    Hey, I was staggered by that Roth quote…I wish I had heard/read it 3 years ago when he did the interview with the Independent, London. The quote nailed it for me. I nearly have it memorized, not by choice but because I transcribed it from the show and the rote has lodged it up there. Best yet, I have it in my head in Christopher’s voice…I would love an e-copy of the interview but I assume from the show that it does not exist. I had the pleasure of reading it on Diane Rehm this morning…

    Philip Roth, interview with the Independent, London – a year after 9/11 – removed shortly after publication online.

    Responding to a question regarding an assessment of 9/11 and if we are moving toward the right wisdom, Roth said:

    “ I really don’t know and I don’t care – that interests me as a citizen but not as a novelist. September 11th is not something I can draw on at an imaginative level – the only story I can take from it is the kitsch in all its horror, not the horror of what happened but the great distortion of what happened. It’s almost embarrassing – the kitschification of 3000 peoples deaths. Other cities have experienced far worse catastrophes – America itself has inflicted some in its past even if it was for the right reasons, I am not a pacifist.

    One wouldn’t dream of slighting these people, it is awful but we need to keep a sense of proportion about these things. What we have been witnessing since 9/11 is an orgy of national narcissism and a gratuitous sense of victimization that is repellent and it doesn’t stop. Even now it’s impossible to watch a baseball game without listening to God Bless America beforehand or without being asked to remember our heroes. I feel like saying stop, dignity demands that you stop it.�

    Thank you Philip!

  • Pingback: Road Trippin’ Solo at Addison Road

  • Pingback: love and war at 53pk

  • Pingback: love and war at 53pk

  • Pingback: Sherry Chandler » Kitschification at its most negative —

  • Pingback: Sherry Chandler » Spiegelman on the Reagan funeral

  • Pingback: Tapping into the power of the masses « A Like Affair With Words

  • Pingback: bm153 Kitschification of 911 - CitizenReporter.org