Monday, September 11, 2006

CALL 911

you build your towers strong and tall
don't you know they've got to fall
someday--Townes van Zandt

It seems it's become obligatory to mark this date somehow. In the popular mind, seemingly, there is a pre-9/11 and a post-9/11. I can concur with that estimation only to the extent that the current war takes its PR rationale from a perception that the public needs to believe in some kind of retaliation against, or defense from, or clean-up of terrorism as the basis for whatever policy the Bush administration wants to push, and we all live in a country that shamelessly rallied around the flag of Bushdom in the "wake" of 9/11. So we do live post-9/11 because, before then, however divisive the 2000 election was (and it was), it was still politics as usual (with examples from JFK on one side and of Nixon on the other showing that vote or voter manipulation is a given in a society free to seek its own level). But after 9/11 it became politics to a higher degree, politics with a vengeance, as it were.

But what I want really to mark on this date is not the fall of the towers as successful targets of Al Queda terrorist attacks but as emblems of human disaster. The fact of the matter is that the towers were always sitting ducks, and anyone in them potentially at risk. Because there was no sufficient way to evacuate them should a disaster occur. Oh, so engineers hadn't factored-in the result on the structure of so many tons of burning steel and gas? Why not, they were begun in the '70s, after all, when hijacked planes were a standard hazard. My point is that watching the towers go down on television was like watching the Titanic sink or the Hindenberg go down, because humanity apparently isn't content to build a colossus, it wants to live and work and travel in it too. Something there is that doesn't love a colossus? Something like that.

The other comment I'd like to make, five years on, pertains to another rallying that occurred after that date: the sense that the decimation of the towers gave tragic grandeur to New York and made of New Yorkers the moral equivalent, at one fell swoop, of those who survived the Holocaust or who participated in the French resistance, or escaped the Killing Fields, or what have you. They all became survivors with a tale to tell, and living in New York took on new significance which is still being traded upon in literature, writing and other arts by the intelligentsia based in NYC.

But what does that significance amount to? What does it mean that thousands went to work one day and ended up blending their beings with two fallen colossi? They gave their lives for what? If those who survived could find a meaning in those deaths, then maybe they could find what it means to "bear witness" or "take stock" or any other equally loaded gesture. Otherwise they're simply trading on the "psychic wound" as cultural capital, and the towers "experience" becomes the equivalent of the day JFK got shot. If there is a moral claim to be made about that day, I don't think it's come to light yet, and possibly it won't while so much jive-ass nonsense continues in its name.

I wouldn't know
I'm just holding the fort
But answer me this
I won't take you to court
Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day
They wounded New York
--Leonard Cohen

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