Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rather grim morning...

...but then today is always filled with rather self-indulgent rehashing, opportunistic maneuvering on the part of politicians, and various other consequences. Anyway, I've got nothing eloquent to say, but back in June The New York Review of Books published a review of Don DeLillo's Falling Man that, in speaking of the failure of the arts to address the tragedy in a meaningful way, also contained a better tribute to the victims and acknowledgment of the horror than most of what we'll hear today.
The hallmark of those novelists who have tried to write about the attacks is a sort of austere plangency—or a quivering bathos—that has been in evidence almost from the moment the planes hit. Those authors who published journalistic accounts immediately after the event failed to see how their metaphors fell dead from their mouths before the astonishing live pictures. It did not help us to be told by imaginative writers that the second plane was like someone posting a letter. No, it wasn't. It was like a passenger jet crashing into an office building. It gave us nothing to be told that the South Tower came down like an elevator at full speed. No, it didn't. It collapsed like a building that could no longer hold itself up.

Metaphor failed to do anything but make one feel that those keen to deploy it had not been watching enough television. After the "nonfiction novel," after the New Journalism, after several decades in which some of America's most vivid writing about real events was seen to be in thrall to the techniques of novelists, September 11 offered a few hours when American novelists could only sit at home while journalism taught them fierce lessons in multivocality, point of view, the structure of plot, interior monologue, the pressure of history, the force of silence, and the uncanny. Actuality showed its own naked art that day.

We cannot create, through fiction, anything so sad as the reality. Nor, more often than not, can we face the reality that is so much more devastating than that which fiction can provide.
DeLillo's novel was inspired by a photograph of a real person—most agree that he is Jonathan Briley, who seemed at a certain point in his descent from the North Tower to plummet straight, upside down, one leg bent, his shirt flying off in the ferocious breeze, his head scorched, "The Falling Man" whose image became a token of horror and a mass-media legend. And the things pertaining to his image are what interest Don DeLillo. Yet the person inside the legend was a man from Mount Vernon who worked in the North Tower restaurant, Windows on the World. He was flesh and blood, not just an idea. He was born on March 5, 1958. He was six feet five. His father was a preacher. He suffered from asthma and had a wife called Hilary. He died sixty-five minutes twenty seconds after Mohamed Atta, and is currently awaiting a writer sufficiently uncoerced by the politics of art to tell his story.
But it is not only our writers that have failed the victims. Or, for that matter, us. And their crime is less than that of our government, our media, and ourselves, because we have allowed a tragedy to snowball. There are now many more victims of September 11th than the people who died that day.

How wretched.

1 comment:

andrew said...

Very intense stuff, Meg. Echoes many of my own sentiments and feelings on the subject.