a reaction to 9/11 by John Dentino
Quick! Emergency despatch…We gotta problem…
As I write this, the news is filled with nothing but new anthrax scares. People are getting mysterious letters in the mail and they’re afraid to open them. Any white powder—anywhere—is suspect. For me, it’s only an exaggerated version of a state of fear I’m familiar with. Everyone in America seems to have my disease—obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). As a sufferer of this nuerosis, I have had fears of contaminants and poisons ever since I can remember. As a child, I read Rachel Carson’s gloomy book on pesticides, Silent Spring and believe me, that was a bad idea. I imagined that everything around me was poisoned. I was hyper-aware of the potential lethal consequences of staying in the garage too long with the car running. Or inhaling the air inside the car as I passed near a cropduster…drinking milk from an outdated carton…consuming a plate of mercury-laden swordfish…or getting botulism from mushrooms canned in Malaysia…
We’re edging over a new abyss...The first thing I thought when the two airliners sliced, then dissoved into the World Trade towers and the doomed leapt to their deaths, was that it was the sickest thing I had ever seen. For those who flew the planes, it was an act born of closed rooms and fervent prayers.
“Neither pregnant women nor unclean people should say goodbye to me.”
In Bunuel’s definging 20th century image, a thin cloud slices the Moon, then an eyeball is slit with a razor. Cut to the present spectacle — the first defining images of the 21st century. We are making our little life plans when, suddently, we wake up to find we’re living in a dystopian, futurist novel. The world of speed that Futurist poet Marinetti wrote about has arrived, but are we invigorated? Do we suddenly savor life with new urgency, sip our espresso with new gusto?...
Artists may finally be readjusting their plans for shocking the bourgeoisie. While the public wants escapist fare, its preferred diet in times of war, artists will need to find a deeper truth. Can they shift from whining about their NEA grants being pulled to something a little more…serious?
...Karl Stockhausen, the composer and, apparently, megalomaniac, unwittingly articulated the artist’s overweening ego in the face of his restrictions as a mere mortal. He said to a group of reporters that the World Trade Center disaster was “the greatest work of art ever.” After he uttered it, he attempted to put it into context as one of “Lucifer’s works of art,” but in his misguided, strangely enthusiastic original statement, he revealed an envy for the terrorists: “You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 people are dispatched into the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn’t do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing.”... As is often said, Satan is the more interesting character in Paradise Lost, but he’s never been one to envy.
Stockhausen reminds me of the Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now, who, after the horror wore off from seeing that the Viet Cong had left behind a pile of hacked-off little arms of children he had innoculated, “realized…like I was shot with a diamond bullet right through my forehead…My God…the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.”...
...The Taliban, who are pure, deny the power of icons and images to convey meaning and so, obliterate them as in the destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. They outlaw music and dancing. In a twist, this spectacle of control and brute iconoclasm creates its own set of powerful images. For us in the West, where the eye and ear are important organs—it’s a deep hit. They have wished on us and, indeed manifested in New York, a sort of negative space, a Medieval silence.
"The sleep of reason
brings forth monsters."