Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

There was a campaign poster up throughout Paris during what (I believe) would prove to be François's last election that read simply "Mitterand. Sept ans. Ça suffit." (Mitterand. Seven years. That's enough.). Six years on since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, I had that slogan come back to me as I thought about what tone to take in writing today's post. Six years. That's enough. No?

Indeed, on the front page of
The New York Times is an article describing how Mayor Bloomberg has worked to move the city past its grief:

When he took over as mayor in 2002, Mr. Bloomberg threw himself into fixing the many pressing problems wrought by the terror attack: shoring up the security of a city suddenly at the center of a bull’s-eye; closing the gaping hole in the midst of Lower Manhattan; bolstering a sinking economy suffering the loss of thousands of jobs.

But the mayor has also played an essential if more subtle role in nudging the city to gradually let go of its grief. It is a challenge the mayor has handled sometimes clumsily and sometimes with great sensitivity and eloquence, as he charted the path away from the concrete events of 2001. Now, as he works to imbue the city with optimism for the future, he even hints at a day when remembering may not mean reading the names of all the dead.
OK, I thought. Sure. Despite the fact that other newspapers have black front pages with cursive scripts declaring "We Will Always Remember" (and I suspect for our life times indeed we will), it does make sense to move it along in terms of not repeating the same elaborate ceremonies in the exact same way, which would lose its impact and become less meaningful as the subtle contempt (or at least lack of focus) of familiarity inevitably sets in. As time passes, the limits of memory will do the work they're meant to and soften the pain.

Then again, in reading through
Edward Rothstein's report on the exhibition of photographs up at the New York Historical Society, I encountered this eloquent assessment:

It isn’t memory that is the issue. It is commemoration. Memory, at least right now, is readily summoned. Commemoration is something else altogether.
I know there are more poignant images, more metaphorical ones, for what happened that day, but it's ones like these that haunt me:

I know what happened at Ground Zero was much more horrifying, but there at least natural instincts took over and folks responded automatically to falling debris or other dangers. They didn't have time to think about things...they had to act. (They would have worse nightmares, I'm sure, but those would come later.) But for the folks who watched it, safely, from blocks away, in real time, the horror seems to have been somehow more immediate and the looks on their faces simply rip my heart out. And so, despite agreeing with Mayor Bloomberg in principle, all it takes is a few images for me to be reduced, still, to a puddle of grief.


And yet, I know he's right. I know it's his job to lead the city past this stage. In small steps at first, perhaps, like moving the ceremony because the actual site is under construction and somewhat too dangerous to have the full reading of the names there. Later, I agree, it will be appropriate to shorten or stop the reading of the names, and we'll know when that's right. I expect (and fully understand) certain family members of those lost on that day to feel differently about when that time has come, but six years on I can finally imagine, at least, the day when September 11th will be a day for commemoration, but perhaps the memories won't hurt quite so much.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Hmmm.... No one's touching this subject, Ed.

I think 9/11 has already been absorbed by the blandness of historical narrative. And even as a native New Yorker, I can see that this is just the nature of loss on a non-individual level.

The question is, will we ever see the day when public-level loss actually converts into positive change, not into the horror that has happened since the towers fell.

9/11/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No one's touching this subject, Ed.

Can't say I blame them. I almost didn't either. It was something I heard this morning that made me decide though. It was that the Path train operators were being instructed not to blow their horns when entering the World Trade Center station, and that brought home for me the fact that the families would be there and that for one day it doesn't hurt the city to be respectful and observant for who they lost.

9/11/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

But I also think we're all worried about being disrespectful when talking about 9/11. Sometimes to the point of politically correctness.

9/11/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Everyone wants to grab a piece of September 11, 2001 for themselves,
like the Roman soldiers gambling for Christ's robe at the foot of the cross. And I'm tired of it.

9/11/2007 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Debra Ramsay said...

I am a New Yorker that still feels stunned by that day. I can remember most all of the details from the moment I learned the first plane had hit; the emptiness in the skyline, that smell. No one I knew personally was harmed. I grieve for all the innocent people that were involved. It's insulting to me that this incident has been used as a tool by our gov't to advance control through fear.

9/11/2007 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

I always thought it odd how people remembered everything about Pearl Harbor, decades later. I attributed it to the sentimentalism of a different era. I didn't think it possible that they were exhibiting an honest emotional reaction; not this much later in time.

Like many of us, I experienced 9/ll at work, via radio, well outside of New York. The 1st plane hit as I drove to work. By the time I was inside, my co-workers said the second tower had been hit, and we all stared at each other in silence. The carpenter crew working in the great room announced when the first tower fell. I was waiting in a truck at the paint store when the Pentagon was hit....etc. etc.

I can't believe how readily so many supported the infliction of such trauma on others, like it was nothing.

9/11/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Here's why I Didn;t respond: I stood on my roofdeck and watched the second tower collapse, like a slow-motion movie with the sound turned off. Then I passed again and again the thousands of "Have you seen this person" pictures that were posted to all available surfaces downtown, knowing they'd been pulverized. And even now, when a plane flies too close to the Empire State Building, people stop and look up, breaths held.

Although I don't take part in the sentimental expressions of the day, I understand and respect them. But I abhor that the white house guy continues to use 9/11 as the reason for this country's involvement in the Middle East.

9/11/2007 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Yes Bloomberg is helping us move past our grief, by granting sweetheart deals to his developer buddies, allowing Columbia to abuse eminent domain laws to evict poor residents in a land grab that has little to do with higher education, I won't even mention the New Yankee Stadium(does anyone remember the old Penn Station incident?) All so the almighty economy could keep marching on.
But let's really look at how honored the casualties of the World Trade Center are by Silverstein and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, all the smoke and mirrors about community involvement, and sacred ground, it started with the farce of design competitions, with a whole lot of redirick about an open and international competition, I could go on about that in great detail, but let's face it, the greatest tragedy is what has been done in the name of the victims, destroying two countries, really honors them doesn't it? Using their memory to take away our civil liberties, the New McCarthyism of labeling dissenters as unpatriotic. By the way where is the billions of dollars Americans donated for the survivors of the victims, and to help the Heroes who dug through the rubble?
But Back to Bloomberg, Who appointed him our spirit guide though grief? What qualifications does he have.

Mr. Bloomberg threw himself into fixing the many pressing problems wrought by the terror attack: shoring up the security of a city suddenly at the center of a bull’s-eye; closing the gaping hole in the midst of Lower Manhattan; bolstering a sinking economy suffering the loss of thousands of jobs.

Is this the accepted prescription for grief approved by the American Psychiatric Association?
resembles Denial a bit more, (which at least is one of the five stages of grief)

The World Trade Center was considered to be the last modern building built in New York, it was praised and criticized, take which ever side you like and indulge yourself with the most clever proposition, either way The World Trade Center may not have been the greatest building, but may be Modernisms greatest achievement, and I mean all of Modernism, all the revolution of the machine age, all the struggle for equality, Workers rights, Social Security, The New Deal, Public Education, Civil Rights, the point I want to make about modernism is Individuality, get the idea, and when they came tumbling down, what happened to those modernist ideals?

The real Terrorists since 9/11, are all those who want to hold the population in that state of shock in the photo Ed posted, so they can manipulate a narrow majority to legislate policies that have little to do with security of the populace, and everything to do with removing protections of civil liberties, making our lives less secure from the threat and temptation of Totalitarianism. All they have to do is conjure up 9/11 and the victims.

The lucky ones died on 9/11 2001, they never had to live in the world that would ensue, all in the name of honoring their memory.

(Id say this is in the spirit of the anger stage, next stop acceptance.)

9/11/2007 10:29:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I had jury duty today, it’s a short walk to the hole but it was raining so I didn’t go, no one said anything about 911 but we all know.

I had acquaintances who would have become friends if it hadn’t happened.

The grieving process moves at its own speed, some unspecified average of the local pain, Bloomberg didn’t have a fucking thing to do with it, it just happens.

I convinced Lucien to keep the bar open so the locals would have a place to go, that night the drinks were on Lucian. By then the sky wasn’t irradiated, a looming possibility eight hours earlier, so we all got very drunk and speculated on scenarios linking blasted Buddha’s, Massoud’s assassination and the hijackers.

The smell persisted, water on hot steel, laced with burnt plastic, it lingered below 14th street and if the winds changed it blew the scent north, injecting a harsh reality into the media images.

The very long, green plywood bulletin board at d’Agostinos was gridded with Xeroxed photos of the missing, they seemed to sprout up everywhere but never covering one another. I was stunned and in the aftermath remember thinking it made a lot of art look trivial and that something would change.

I’m writing this because I was a mile away when it happened and I do remember, very personally because it was an experience I lived through, my child was uninjured but I can’t bear to watch the videos.

9/11/2007 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

It was with a deep sense of romantic sorrow that I remembered 9-11. The Jim Beam burned my circuits. When would I be able to afford Makers Mark? Some good weed?

On 9-11 I borrowed some binoculars and was soon staring at a hole installed in a high floor of the first tower. Exquisite, I thought, must be a Gordon Matta Clark type dealio.

Later, The Albert Speer Light Show Memorial would inspire me to turn up my Wagner to ear splitting levels. Anything to drown out Mayor Giuliani and his plan to evict me from the hippest neighborhood since Haight and Ashbury 19690.

At a bar several days later or maybe that night, a man walked in, a smudge of white on his coveralls.
They wouldn't let me do anything he said. Or at least thats what I hoped he said. A crowd cheered him and bought his drinks. He'd been to the edge and there he'd looked down. A real hero in the mist.

I drank a Pabst. There must be a punchline to this joke, I thought. Like when someone impersonates a doctor and paralyzes his face into an eternal smile using home made botox.

Or when the CIA's Operation Cyclone blows back into the gun barrel.

Or when CIA disinformation is picked up as legitimate news and used to promote a disasterous conflict.

Or when cancer clusters develop in otherwise healthy ground zero workers who were too macho to use dust masks.

If you see something say something. But say the right thing. Don't say "Im shooting a pilot" If you are a filmmaker, for example. What a dork.

Remember these words "Its a slam dunk" and then ask yourself why you aren't moving out of the country. Oh but your friends did. Or said they were going to.

Noam Chomsky defuses the liberal guilt. What'd I do? My car gets 30mpg and I recycle! The CIA knows liberals will trust a cunning linguist. Don't reign him in yet.....you read on the 9-11 truth is out there forum.

Me, I didn't see anything I want to say anything about. Too self serving. Probably slur my vowels anyways. Its hopeless.

Art worlders volunteer to go to Iraq. Hemingway with a pencil.
A triumphant show. Soldiers mingling with academics and socialites. How droll!

Someone gets beheaded! How macabre!

Who's going to pull the sword from their ass and get the art world started again? Oh I know, Banks Violette! Hes dark AND metalic!

Yes, fellow robots! Lets roll!

9/12/2007 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The flag mold got to be a bit much, accurately presaging another Maine, Tonkin or Pearl response.

Six years later and the event is slipping into history, our memories are fading into nothingness and the true memory with them. What history ‘remembers’ is a crude amalgam of signifiers, always shifting and always inadequate to the actual experience.

Today we remember the day, filtered through subsequent events, linked through a web of politics, patriotism, and pain. We sublimate the fear and the deep feeling of pain we felt mid morning, speculating on the deaths of tens of thousands, not just three.

Whatever history remembers, linked crude facts, cold and disconnected in their content, can resurrect my memory of my tears, staring from my window at a blank skyline. When I am gone, this memory goes with me.

While I was writing last night I was thinking about our recent debates over history. We all have our own memories of the event, we can see how they differ from the media history. We link our memories with the events that followed feigning causality and order within what is surely chaos. The truth, whatever it was, is now distorted to serve an agenda, political, patriotic, or practical, it drifts away from the true memories we had on that day.

Someone has compiled a verbal record of the event, I remember the small groups of people recording the impressions of others. This now seems more meaningful than it did at the time. Language is the greatest art, it is capable of recording our thought, playing it back through our imagination, and if we have the right life experience, it often comes the closest to reconstructing a truth.

Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, as a painter I have to live with that.

It smelled like water on hot steel, charred paper and burning plastic.

9/12/2007 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

From where I was in Brooklyn, it smelled like the pits we dug in Girl Scouts - you put in the wood, the hamburger wrapped in aluminum foil, light the fuel and wait. When Guiliani was telling family members that the search would continue in the hope of finding some alive, many of us knew better.

I was just in Biloxi. All of those cement steps leading up to nothing, all the beautiful live oaks, once full of Spanish moss, all looking pruned - only the main branches remaining.

Devastation just hurts, regardless of the cause.

9/12/2007 11:54:00 AM  

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