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Here is an excerpt from philosopher Edmund Burke‘s On the Sublime and Beautiful. It is taken from Section XV, which contains the heading “Of the effects of tragedy”:

In imitated distresses the only difference is the pleasure resulting from the effects of imitation; for it is never so perfect, but we can perceive it is imitation, and on that principle are somewhat pleased with it. And indeed in some cases we derive as much or more pleasure from that source than from the thing itself. But then I imagine we shall be much mistaken if we attribute any considerable part of our satisfaction in tragedy to the consideration that tragedy is a deceit, and its representations no realities. The nearer it approaches the reality, and the further it removes us from all idea of fiction, the more perfect is its power. But be its power of what kind it will, it never approaches to what it represents. Choose a day on which to represent the most sublime and affecting tragedy we have; appoint the most favorite actors; spare no cost upon the scenes and decorations; unite the greatest efforts of poetry, painting, and music; and when you have collected your audience, just at the moment when their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the comparative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of the real sympathy. I believe that this notion of our having a simple pain in the reality, yet a delight in the representation, arises from hence, that we do not sufficiently distinguish what we would by no means choose to do, from what we should be eager enough to see if it was once done. We delight in seeing things, which so far from doing, our heartiest wishes would be to see redressed. This noble capital, the pride of England and of Europe, I believe no man is so strangely wicked as to desire to see destroyed by a conflagration or an earthquake, though he should be removed himself to the greatest distance from the danger. But suppose such a fatal accident to have happened, what numbers from all parts would crowd to behold the ruins, and amongst them many who would have been content never to have seen London in its glory! Nor is it, either in real or fictitious distresses, our immunity from them which produces our delight; in my own mind I can discover nothing like it. I apprehend that this mistake is owing to a sort of sophism, by which we are frequently imposed upon; it arises from our not distinguishing between what is indeed a necessary condition to our doing or suffering anything in general, and what is the cause of some particular act. If a man kills me with a sword, it is a necessary condition to this that we should have been both of us alive before the fact; and yet it would be absurd to say that our being both living creatures was the cause of his crime and of my death. So it is certain that it is absolutely necessary my life should be out of any imminent hazard, before I can take a delight in the sufferings of others, real or imaginary, or indeed in anything else from any cause whatsoever. But then it is a sophism to argue from thence that this immunity is the cause of my delight either on these or on any occasions. No one can distinguish such a cause of satisfaction in his own mind, I believe; nay, when we do not suffer any very acute pain, nor are exposed to any imminent danger of our lives, we can feel for others, whilst we suffer ourselves; and often then most when we are softened by affliction; we see with pity even distresses which we would accept in the place of our own.

A lengthier excerpt from Burke’s work has been shared on Google Docs. The document also contains Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny,” which you might find interesting as well.

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Falling

That’s why you built the towers, isn’t it? Weren’t the towers built as fantasies of wealth and power that would one day become fantasies of destruction? You build a thing like that so you can see it come down. The provocation is obvious. What other reason would there be to go so high and then double it, do it twice? It’s a fantasy, so why not do it twice? You are saying, Here it is, bring it down (116).

It’s not just buildings we build high, but people.

The falling man in the novel is a character who represents the destruction of things high up. He starts out as a star. A hideous attraction we can’t take our eyes off of. From there he meshes and molds into something greater. People are photographing him, building his reputation. The public of New York makes falling man’s fame grow steadily. He lets his reputation continue to build and grow. Until he dies. Suddenly the tower that was falling man crashes and crumples to the ground. The crowd is more interested in his death than they ever were in his life.

 

Did you hear that Whitney Houston died? Me too. It’s all over Facebook. They were screaming about it on my hall on the 11th. Yahoo! News also informed me. She holds the world record for “Most Awarded Female Artist of All Time.” I didn’t know this until after she died. It could just be that I live behind a computer screen in my secret underground cave, but more likely it’s because as a society we find destruction far more exciting than triumph.

Why is destruction so fascinating? Are we thrilled be rubble and pain? Is it an attraction to disaster because such events are learning experiences? I’m not really sure, but it would be incredibly cool to find that out. There’s the saying that my mother always whispered to me just before the last click of the roller coaster’s climb, “What goes up… must come down.” It’s just gravity, but this “gravitational pull” also pulls a star from fame. Brittney Spears is famous for her music, but she’s also famous for shaving her head and then attempting to disappear off the media radar. TV shows and magazines that focus on the famous seem to have had more articles and specials out about when her career went south than when she was a top of the charts artist. Or these companies could have talked about her successes and her failures equally, but what I remember the clearest is what she did wrong. We have a fascination with destruction, otherwise we wouldn’t build things so high.

It’s not just towers that fall, but people.

 

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War on Terror

Forget God. These are matters of history. This is politics and economic. All the things that shape lives, millions of people, dispossessed, their lives, their consciousness.

This quote highlights one of the first mentions of the war on terror. I think it’s important to note how Don Delillo incorporates the different arguments that speak for or against the attacks. At this point it goes beyond God or Islam, it’s about the politics and its impact on millions of people.

Were the attacks justified? As we discussed in class there are Americans that strongly believe(d) that America deserves what it got on 9/11. For Delillo to allude to the political happenings after 9/11 while so particularly documenting the lives of Keith, Justin and Lianne is an interesting choice. One could basically write an entire book about the political implications of 9/11 for everyday Americans.

As much of a stretch as this may be…I always think of all the men that ‘fell’ after 9/11, whether they be American soldiers or innocent Middle Easterns whenever Delillo alludes to the war on terror.

The Passing of Time

“These are the days after. Everything now is measured by after.”

Falling Man, page 138

This short passage comes about halfway through the book and briefly states one of the novel’s main themes, the passage of time. Throughout the entire novel, everything is compared to how it was before. 9/11 changes some aspects of the characters’ lives, but other aspects stay completely the same. Lianne and Keith get back together again. However, Keith stays true to his womanizing ways by having a short affair with Florence. Lianne’s writing group stays the same. They don’t want to talk about the towers, and stick to the same subject material as before. Keith’s poker games cease because of the death of two of the members of the group. Besides the fact of Keith returning to Lianne, not much in their day to day life has changed. Keith and Lianne go to work. Justin goes to school. This traumatic event which happened so close to them, really hasn’t changed their lives at all.

In Part III, time has shifted again, to three years after September 11. Things have changed more drastically this time. Lianne’s mother, Nina, has passed away and Lianne has severed ties to Nina’s lover, Martin. Keith tours the world on the professional poker circuit and occasionally comes home. The only character who we see unchanged by time is Hammad, whose life is never shown after 9/11, like the other characters. This may be done to dehumanize him, by showing he doesn’t have a life after it. DeLillo could have chosen a terrorist who is just involved in the planning of 9/11, and continues his life after, and the events are shown, but DeLillo doesn’t. DeLillo may be showing that the passage of time makes us human.

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Poker Face

“He wasn’t playing for the money. He was playing for the chips. The value of each chip had only hazy meaning. It was the disk itself that mattered, the color itself.”~ Falling Man by Don DeLillo page 228

It is strange that in light of the struggle and grief survivors of 9/11 went through that Don DeLillo would choose to tell the story of a self-absorbed man who abandons his life and runs away from his emotions. Keith witnessed the towers falling and managed to walk out of the ashes alive. Yet he chooses to live out the rest of his life playing a pointless poker games alone.  Even before the attack he preferred to be alone, separating himself from his wife and child, only socializing through poker games with a close group of guys. Their games were centered on rules—rules that banned food, vodka, gin, cigarettes, and sports talk. “But, there were always things to ban and rules to make.”(99) They narrowed their game of poker down to a strict game of five card stud; and from that they formed a tight bond that they hoped would never break. Unfortunately when the towers were hit, two of the players are killed and their bond broken. In the aftermath of September 11th, Keith returns home in a daze and spends a brief period of time with his wife Lianne and his son Justin. However, when the dust settles he becomes restless and bored; deciding to leave home and travel cross country to play poker tournaments where the money does not matter. The physical space he puts between him and his past serves as an emotional block so that he does not have to be reminded of the friends he lost. “He wasn’t playing for the money. He was playing for the chips. The value of each chip had only hazy meaning. It was the disk itself that mattered, the color itself.”(228)

 

Keith uses poker as a way to bury his emotions, as a numbing way to lose track of time. When playing poker you have to put on a poker face that hides your thoughts and feelings, so that your opponents cannot read your emotions and judge if you are lying. The antisocial atmosphere created by the poker table is an opportune place for him to bury his emotions rather than confronting them and bringing them to the table. He did not want anyone to see how damaged and hurt he was; he did not want to be haunted by the memories of his dead poker friends. Afraid of making any personal connections for fear they be taken away from him, Keith cowardly hides behind his cards.

Hung Up

It’s a little bit funny that half of the title of Don DeLillo’s novel is the word “Man,” considering that the reader is not given any incredibly deep insight into the life of any man depicted in the book.  What’s more, the character whose relationship with the Falling Man is the most thorough and valid is also the female main character, Lianne.

Of course, the title “Falling Man” could easily apply to Keith, collaborating on his development as an emotionally distant character. Yet, none of the characters are utterly complete in this way, and it is Keith’s wife who literally experiences the work of the Falling Man, and she does so in a way that is remarkably insular.  It was not until the end of the novel that it truly occurred to me how private Lianne’s experience with the Falling Man truly is.

“She came across the obituary late one night, looking at a newspaper that was six days old.” 219

Even her discovery and understanding of the death of Falling Man, David Janiak, could hardly be more private.  She lies alone in a dark bed, discovering days after the fact that this figure, suspended in her life and her psyche as a symbol of and a connection to the tragic event her husband witnessed first-hand, has died inexplicably.

This discovery comes three years after the scenes at the beginning of Falling Man, a time when the various characters are still lost, maybe even drifting still farther from one another.  It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that Lianne decides soon after reading the obituary that she is “ready to be alone, she and the kid, the way they were before the planes appeared that day, silver crossing blue.” 236

Although she professes not to understand the man himself, his importance is signified by a multitude of scenes and references, not to mention the title of the book.  Whenever he is seen, he is suspended.  He is not falling, but unmoving, swaying, and stuck.  He is harnessed.  Again, it is hard not to credit DeLillo with the intention of superimposing these qualities of the Falling Man over the other characters in the story as well.  And it is true: they aren’t so much falling as they are spinning uselessly on cords, never making the progress needed to be even remotely happy.  It is not until the life of the Falling Man itself is cut that Lianne realizes the need for her own to be severed; the two had become intertwined. This does imply that she is now falling, but perhaps that is not as negative as one might initially assume; it is action, movement.

 

 

 

9/11 was a huge event for the entire world, regardless of whether it was a happy one or sad one. As with most big events, the repercussions seem to be endless because that event becomes a part of who we are. Whether it is something we think about constantly or simply something that is at the back of our minds, it can easily be connected with art or other forms of expression even if the item has nothing to do with the event. As we discussed earlier in this class with Michael Richard’s sculpture “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian,”  and even with the music such as Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” they had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, yet the first thing on my mind, and I am sure the same can be said for others, was the September 11th attacks. This idea that it’s connected to everything now was also brought up in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man. 

Lianne joined him at the wall. The painting in question showed seven of eight objects, the taller ones set against a brushy slate background. The other items were huddled boxes and biscuit tins, grouped before a darker background. The full array, in unfixed perspective and mostly muted colors, carried an odd spare power. They looked together. Two of the taller items were dark and somber, with smoky marks and smudges, and on of them was partly concealed by a long-necked bottle. The bottle was a bottle, white. The two dark objects, too obscure to name, were the things that Martin was referring to. ‘What do you see?’ he said. She saw what he saw. She saw the towers (DeLillo 41).

Although Lianne and Martin were looking at a piece of art that had obviously been completed before the attacks, they could not help but picture the towers because it was such a big event and was still on their minds. Although something like that would be much easier to imagine in their circumstance, days after the event, DeLillo still makes a valid point that 9/11 weighs heavy in the hearts and minds of many people, and  for those people it has a meaning in every aspect of their life.

Lost and Alone

“Kieth Used to want more of the world than there was time and means to acquire. He didn’t want this anymore, whatever it was he’d wanted, in real terms, real things, because he’d never truly known.

Now he wondered whether he was born to be old, meant to be old and alone, content in lonely age, and whether all the rest of it, all the glares and rants he had bounced off these walls, were simply meant to get him to that point.” (127-128)

The above quotation deals with the theme of finding one’s self. Lianne and Kieth both seem to be floating through life, not sure of where to go or what their purposes are. They were likely this way before the towers fell, but it can be said that the 9/11 exacerbated their lost condition.

Kieth picks up poker as a career as a way to escape the confusion and possibly the judgment of people who don’t understand why he may have trouble finding a place in the world. He finds kinship in the others who do not show their emotions and thoughts as well.

Lianne is left to wonder about others and how they live such seemingly simple and purposeful lives. She questions Nina and Martin on their relationship and lives. She thinks about how her father viewed life and his decision to shoot himself upon his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The falling man also acts as a trigger to her thoughts, causing her to think about how others deal with catastrophe and how she may differ.

The characters never seem to find their way in the novel. It ends just as it began. Life goes on whether or not Kieth and Lianne are ready to deal with it.

Excerpt from Falling Man

    In his novel Falling Man, Don Dellilo tries to give us more than a realistic account of 9/11 and its aftermath.

    A movie or a documentary would be much more efficient in recreating the external violence of the event.  Even if the beginning and the end are conveying the terror of the attacks, the book focuses mostly on what is happening beyond what can be seen. The narrative focuses on the psychological consequences of 9/11. Indeed the writer explores the minds of the victims embodied in Keith and Lianne, and makes us fathom their internal wounds.

   Here is the great power of writing to reproduce the frantic chaos of the internal monologues, our constant struggle to examine ourselves, trying to give shape to our lives. Here is the circularity of the internal thinking, obsessive and overwhelming. It is like vertigo, a phenomenon of groundlessness and permanent fall.

  I have chosen an excerpt that illustrates in my opinion, Keith ‘s internal quest for a better understanding of his life and for the state of being. It is a moment of hindsight and sublime contemplation. He is in the desert, reflecting on his lifestyle and scanning the radiance of the sprawl, which hypnotized him.

” He rented a car and took a drive in the desert, starting back after dark and then climbing a rise and leveling out. It took him a moment to understand what he was looking at, many miles ahead, the city floating on the night, and a feverish sprawl of light so quick and inexplicable it seemed a kind of delirium. He wondered why he’d never thought of himself in the middle of such a thing, living there more or less. He lived in rooms, that’s why. He lived and worked n this room and that. He moved only marginally, room to room. He took a taxi to and from the downtown street where is hotel was located, a place without floor mosaics and heated towel racks, and he hadn’t known until now, looking at that vast band of trembling desert neon, how strange a life he was living. But only from here, out away from it. In the thing itself, down close, in the tight eyes around the table, there was nothing that was not normal.” (p. 226)

 

Arrogance?

Has anyone else ever heard about something terrible happening to a person and wondered why she reacted the way she did, and even thought that maybe you would have handled the situation better? Earlier this year, I heard about a young woman who was forced at gunpoint into the trunk of her car and kidnapped. If I recall correctly, the kidnapper parked the car and left her. I was surprised that, instead of pulling the trunk release while the car was stopped, she kept praying. I, thankfully, have never been kidnapped, but I like to think that I would be able to think more rationally about escaping than this unfortunate young woman did. From the safety of my room, of course I feel as if I would be able to hang onto my wits and come up with a plan, but I’m sure that, faced with such a situation (maybe a bank robbery) in real life, I would react the same way everyone else does. Granted, I’ve only ever seen television portrayals of bank robberies, but I wonder to what extent those portrayals are based on human psychology.

The reason I bring this up is that I’m interested in why humans behave the way they do in mass crisis situations such as 9/11. Do people tend to consider their own safety above all else, or, like Keith, would they risk greater danger to help a friend? To what extent was Keith even aware of the danger? He seemed to be enough in shock that he was not making many conscious decisions, which means that he wanted or needed to save Rumsey on an instinctual level. The people in the stairwell passed the dropped briefcase down the stairs in an attempt to reunite it with its owner, but in a panicked rush, people will still trample each other.

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Follow the Arc

Every day is different and every day presents its own challenges and worries. Sometimes these worries follow us from day to day. We find ourselves losing ourselves in these worries. Our minds wander off on tangents of worry. Lianne’s mind is doing this constantly. She jumps from worry to worry–always something to think about. She thinks about how she hates it, “the small panics that made certain moments in the waking day resemble the frantic ramblings of this very time of night, her mind ever running”(67).  The mind runs and jumps frantically around, especially when one has recently been in shock. Lianne thinks of everything, especially when she is awake, alone, in the middle of the night. It shows the anxiety and disorder that torments her mind–the towers, her father, her mother, Keith, the music playing in the apartment–she cannot stop thinking of it all. What really struck me though was the very simple line, when the middle of the night mind wandering came to an end.

“Time, finally, to go to sleep, following the arc of sun and moon” (70).

It’s so true and so obvious–so simple and small. We go to sleep eventually. We have a cycle, just as the sun and moon do. At the end of the day we can go to sleep, and briefly leave the troubles of the day–to let another day come. I think this line says a lot about life in general. We have our troubles, which seem so important, but life goes on. The sun and the moon will continue along their  arc, and we will continue to follow. Life goes on. All of the thoughts we are thinking today and tomorrow and yesterday–they will all someday be insignificant. The sun and moon are going to continue their cycle, and we will follow. We’ll go to sleep tonight, leaving our troubles behind. They may be waiting for us tomorrow, but eventually they will fade–leaving new one’s in their wake.

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Peter Balakian is a poet and nonfiction writer who was born and raised in New Jersey, the son of Armenian parents. His works of nonfiction includes the memoir Black Dog of Fate as well as The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response. His poetry collections include June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000 and, most recently, Ziggurat. The publisher’s dust jacket summary of the collection states:

“Exploring history, self, and imagination, as well as his ongoing concerns with catastrophe and trauma, many of Balakian’s new poems wrestle with the aftermath and reverberations of 9/11…

“Whether reliving the building of the World Trade Towers in the inventive forty-three-section poem that anchors the book, walking the ruins of the Bosnian National Library in Sarajevo, meditating on Andy Warhol’s silk screens, or considering the confluence of music, language, and memory, Balakian continues his meditations on history, as well as on the harshness and beauty of contemporary life, that his readers have enjoyed over the years. In sensual, layered, and sometimes elliptical language, Balakian in Ziggurat explores absence, war, love, and art in a new age of American uncertainty.”

Clearly, the thematic concerns of this collection parallel those of this class. Here, for example, is the second poem in the collection, “Warhol / Madison Ave. / 9-11”:

by Peter Balakian
When I left Eli Zabar the cut-out star on the window
was whirling in the animation of the rich and hungry
hunched over tables for a $30 sandwich and a Diet Coke.
*
It was raining and the blurred glass of the galleries
was the gold leaf of the Carrig Rhone frames—
Childe Hassam’s dabs of Connecticut trees
*
the diaphanous blue on the fleshy rocks,
the melting opal of the shoals.
Inside the Whitney the rain trailed down my face;
*
and I found myself in a quiet corner staring
at the pink face of Marilyn Monroe.
I could still smell the smoldering high-tech plastic
*
as it burned the air. In the whiteness of her teeth,
in the almost aahh of her mouth and the half-drugged eyes
under the lids of teal shadow, the air kept singeing my nose.
*
Against the pale walls Marilyn’s face dissolved
like a stretched mesh and litho ink
where plain form is a place of no desire
*
like the empty mirror of the Hudson at dawn.
In the fissures of her make-up, the planes of color
led back and back behind her teeth longing—
*
to the deception by the Falls on her honeymoon
(with Joseph Cotton in Niagara)—where we found her clothed
and alarmed, and later desperate for the affirmation,
*
of a President’s limp dick and the crisp sheets
the same color of these walls—as my t shirt dries to my skin
and the faintest scent of ground zero
*
sifts down on the walls
whiter than the wingtip vortices
of melting in the morning light.
*

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Opening of Falling Man

In the first chapter of Falling Man, as Keith walks away from the carnage of the tower, many of the details he notices, or at least the ones he remembers, are the ones that are not specific to the unfolding event. He walks past a “Breakfast Special sign”, presumably in the window of a diner he has walked past hundreds of times before. He draws our attention to the tai chi group in the park. He sees the woman wearing caution tape standing by her shopping cart. He reads “Electrical Contractor, Long Island City” off of the truck that picks him up. It could be that, faced with the trauma of what is happening, Keith consciously or unconsciously seeks out familiar objects. Alternately, this section could be stream of consciousness instead of Keith’s articulated memory, in which case Keith’s brain might have briefly recorded everything he sensed and not stored all of it. Either way, it effectively allows DeLillo to establish place. Even before he mentions Canal Street, the second tower falling, or the Long Island City truck, we can believe that this is New York City.

I can’t be the only one who feels sorry for him.  “The kid” is what they call him, and repeatedly. The reader does know that his name is Justin, but this information seems to be tossed in almost as an afterthought on the part of the involved narrator, whether Lianne or Keith.

Lianne mentions her concern for the child as his behavior after the attacks develops into a a quiet, disturbingly warped perception of events — a passive near-paranoia. Yet, reading this, I get the sense that Lianne is disturbed for her own reasons, for the discrepancy between how 9/11 affected her versus how it changed “the kid.”  Perhaps I’m being unfair when I say this, but the rushed manner with which she questions Justin, as well as his young friends, conjures up more of a sense of urgency concerning Lianne’s own need to understand and connect than it does a fear for her son.

Perhaps Lianne’s and Keith’s mutual reference to their offspring “the kid” is simply an additional, subtle commentary by DeLillo on the state of their relationship. “The kid” is impersonal; it is a result.  “The kid” is what happened, and what is still there between them regardless of any other even that takes place in the book. He is something to refer to, yes, but his personality is never exposed by any means but through his own actions and words — never once by how his parents speak of him, or to him.

Maybe it was not always this way.  It is possible that DeLillo intends for the reader to interpret Justin’s painfully impersonal title, tossed around like a hot potato between his parents, as another effect 9/11 had on the family in Falling Man. Either way, I still feel sorry for the kid.

 

The opening scene covers the morning of the 9/11 attacks from the crash of the first plane into the World Trade Center’s North tower to the collapse of the South tower.

Don De Lillo decided to start his novel “ in medias res“; we are thrown into the middle of the action. The beginning creates a strong impact by conveying the terrible chaos surrounding the anonymous male character.

The first sentence gives the impression of new temporality, a state of choc and disorientation:” It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night.

The first chapter is filled with sensory descriptions using smell, taste, sight, and hearing to capture the apocalyptic vision.

Here is an example: ” The world was this as well, figures in windows at thousand feet up, dropping into free space, and the stink of fuel fire, and the steady rip of sirens in the air.”

 

Nightmare

It will end, eventually, but not yet. It seems never ending. It devours you. You want to scream, run, curl into a tiny ball, cry, and disappear all at once. You don’t know what to do, because you are no longer in control. You don’t want to feel this way. Nobody ever wants to feel this way, but it doesn’t let go of you without a fight. This is nightmare stress, but wait, suddenly it’s daytime. The nightmare stalks.

I think we all feel this kind of stress at times, this nightmare. I am feeling it at this moment, actually. It’s proof that this nightmare feeling does not only occur only because of catastrophic events. I don’t know where it comes from, or exactly why, except that it is very real. It takes over the mind, until the mind literally can not think of anything else. This stress is not at all rational. It is confusing and overwhelming, which is why it is so hard to get away from. It’s as if you are stuck in a flooding sewage field with mortar falling all around you as you watch your friend drown, as described in  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. You can’t escape.

What intrigues me about emotions, especially this one, is that it is possible to cause others to feel it with art.  You simply have to watch, listen, and read.  When we listened to on the Transmigration of Souls the other day, it left me extremely unsettled. While we were listening, the music became full of tension. It was stressful to listen to, that tension. It was loud and and didn’t feel natural. It was something you listen to and can’t help but feel, because it almost attacks you in a way. You want it to stop, and it will eventually. However, at those high moments of tension you can’t do anything except take the nightmarish blows of sound that are attacking your ears–pulling desperately at your soul.

I see this nightmare in the character of Lianne from Falling Man by Don DeLillo. She has this stress inside of her–turmoil. It is in Keith too, I think, in all of them. It is hard to pick specific parts of the book, specific quotes, because I think it’s more the effect of the book in general which portrays the stress. The book in itself, how it’s written, is confusing. It’s disjointed and jumps to point of view from point of view. It’s as if the book is desperate to try and make sense of the situation–trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense. Everyone searches for that ‘sense’, but it cannot be found. The search desperately continues. The tension and confusion takes its full. The nightmare continues.

But it will end.

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The beginning of Falling Man paints a haunted picture of the event of 9/11 as one of the main characters, Keith, walks through the chaos of it. The debris and rubble are falling around him as people run past. It is a very chaotic scene. While listening to Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11,” I was reminded of the beginning. Violins imitate the sound of a phone being off the hook while a prerecorded voice track plays over it. The voices of the air traffic controllers express confusion over the flight path of one of the planes. This parallels Keith’s feelings during this scene. He’s not confused, exactly, but he’s in a trance-like state, just walking through the wreckage.The phone ringing through the first movement of the piece also brings a sense of urgency and wrongness. Usually, when a phone is left off the hook, usually something has happened to the phone or the person behind the phone. This makes the listener feel uncomfortable and goes perfectly with the agitated voices of the air traffic controllers and fire department.  In this early scene from Falling Man, Keith also hears the fall of the second tower. The prerecorded voices from WTC also describe this event, as if Steve Reich were composing the piece as the events happened.

Here’s the video of the full quartet, though it doesn’t have as good sound quality as the first video:

 

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Like Snow

In the first chapter of Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, the reader is immediately immersed in the mutedly horrific daze that is Keith’s trek away from the falling twin towers.  It’s a shambling walk that becomes the world while, coolly, the narrator clarifies that “The world was this as well, figures in windows a thousand feet up, dropping into free space , and the stink of fuel fire, and the steady rip of sirens in the air” (4).  Calmly, even clinically, DeLillo describes the physical setting for man in whose mind the narrative is entrapped.  Objects fall from the sky – papers, clothing, human forms – and Keith walks without pause through the chaos.

            “In time he heard the sound of the second fall.  He crossed Canal Street and began to see things, somehow, differently.  Things did not seem charged in the usual ways, the cobbled street, the cast-iron buildings.  There was something critically missing from the things around him.  They were unfinished, whatever that means.  They were unseen, whatever that means, shop windows, loading platforms, paint-sprayed walls.  Maybe this is what things look like when there is no one here to see them.”… Page 5

Keith’s state of shock and unreality at the falling of the towers is revisited in a multitude of ways throughout Part One of Falling Man, as he recalls the event and where it has taken him, yet the event is never reevaluated in such a way that the horrible vacancy is solved or eradicated from his thoughts or memories.  The quote from page five struck me deeply the first time I read it and has now taken on new significance.

Listening to “On the Transmigration of Souls” caused this quote, and all mentions of Keith’s experience of 9/11, to snap cleanly into place with the emotions evoked by a specific turn in Adams’s song.  It is a lengthy piece, and almost overwhelming, but there is a point near the conclusion wherein Keith’s numbness (and the potential shock of any individual experiencing such trauma) seems to have been written into the music.  After the last terrible crescendo of almost frighteningly powerful noise finally subsides, an eerily, almost funereally, soft wave of music sweeps in behind it.  Almost as if drawn there by someone else, I pictured an image of falling ash, muffled and quiet, and was put immediately in mind of Keith’s passive, dulled escape from the falling towers.  It is oddly painful how deeply and naturally the emotions I experienced with these separate pieces of art match one another, even with how different the mediums of the artists are.

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WTC 9/11

What I noticed about this piece was that, starting about halfway through, when the recorded voices that emerge from the string music become intelligible, the recordings are played in the same way. First, we hear a snippet, then the snippet plus the seconds that follow come immediately afterward (e.g. “Plane just crashed- Plane just crashed into the world trade-” (2:10), “Every available- Every available ambulance-” (2:19), “The plane was aiming t- The plane was aiming toward the building” (2:26), etc.). To me, this pattern resembled a double take, as if people couldn’t immediately process what was happening. This pattern doesn’t change much during the second half of the movement, which made me think that Reich didn’t want us to try and process the event, just to experience it as it lives on through these voices. The strings that play throughout the piece lend it a strong sense of urgency and confusion – in the heat of the moment, there is no time for analysis. The effect this immediacy produces is pure shock and stark, unexamined horror. This is not a piece that mourns the dead or tries to elevate their memories to some kind of martyrdom.

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Page one of Don Delillo’s novel is titled, “Part One Bill Lawton.” I’ve read White Noise, also by Delillo, so I had some understanding of what the writing style in the novel would be. I assumed (you know what they say when you assume…) the title was in reference to a main character. I stumbled awkwardly through the first 30 or so pages thinking this Bill Lawton person was the main male character, Keith. Over time the reader will come to the realization that Bill Lawton is the man the children speak of. And then, on page 73 the mystery of Bill Lawton is solved.

“Robert thought, from television or school or somewhere, that he was hearing a certain name. Maybe he heard the name once, or misheard it, then imposed this version on future occasions. In other words he never adjusted his original sense of what he was hearing.”

“What was he hearing?”

“He was hearing Bill Lawton. They were saying bin Laden.”

And my heart chills a little bit. These children were studying the skies, scanning for planes. Not birds as Justin’s mother had suggested. But planes. Planes that were going to tear down the already fallen second tower. And Bill Lawton was the mastermind behind it all.

In the first section of the novel I think this is the most shocking portion. Viewing 9/11 through a child’s eyes is sad and confusing. Justin and the siblings want to do what’s right and make sure the city is safe keeping New York out of harm’s way. Little do they realize these problems are too big for US government and security officers. Their hearts are genuinely good and they clearly want to be heroes. But their innocence is fair to great for the problem at hand. Their binoculars and whispers won’t save the second tower. Justin says to his mother, “[Bill Lawton] says things about the planes. We know they’re coming because he says they are. But that’s all I’m allowed to say. He says this time the towers will fall.” She reminds him the towers are down but Justin remains adamant.

It is possible to tie in the music we listened to in class on Tuesday here. To make the connection between childhood innocence and the misinterpretation of 9/11 the song to listen to is “On the Transmigration of Souls” by John Adams. The song features chilling lines read from missing person fliers and a New York Times article. What sounded like a small, forlorn, lost boy read majority of the lines throughout the 25 minute piece. The voice of the child simply stating the height, weight, age, and floor number is traumatic. And when the boy begins to quote the lines from the New York Times article, “Portraits in Grief”, I nearly broke down crying.

The lover says: “Tomorrow will be three months, yet it feels like yesterday since I saw your beautiful face, saying, ‘Love you to the moon and back, forever.’”

The innocence of that forever is what has me hurting inside. Here’s an adult who’s lost a loved one to tragic event, who, despite outside pressures, has remained a child at heart. That innocence was stolen from them when the towers fell. Justin in Falling Man is still clinging helplessly to his innocence.

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 “He was hearing Bill Lawton. They were saying bin Laden.” (Falling Man page 73)

 

In the chaos and panic of September 11th no one bothered to explain to the children what was going on, they kept it all hush-hush. The parents reasoned that by not saying anything it would shelter their children, keeping them safe from the atrocities of that day. Most parents did not want their children to bear witness to how terrified the city had become and become scared themselves. There was a protective bubble put around the children, guarding them from the outside world. But the children were exposed to September 11th just as much as the adults, they were able to see the devastation and realize that something big had just happened.

The difference between the adults and the children is that the adults knew what had happened and the children did not. Lianne and Keith’s son Justin witnessed September 11th and the fear that engulfed the city. His two friends known simple as the siblings, also witnessed the towers falling and the total confusion that followed the attacks. Neither of the parents explained in detail what was going on, forcing the children to find their own explanation for the attacks; the children were curious.  The children developed a secret code language that they employed when they sat at the window—a code that they use to talk about a strange man. Both Lianne and the sibling’s mother were not sure what sort of code their children are using, but they attribute it to, “three kids just being kids” (17). The mothers were still in a daze like the rest of the city, unaware of how the lack of information was affecting their kids’ as well. Justin stole a pair of binoculars from his parents and spent his time watching the sky. At first his parents thought he is looking at the birds, they did not realize that he and his friends were scanning the sky for more planes. It was not until there was a connection made with the code name Bill Lawton that Lianne and Keith realize their son was searching for more planes, specifically the plane with Bill Lawton. “No, it’s definitely something to do with Bill Lawton. I’m sure if this, absolutely because the binoculars are part of the whole hush-hush syndrome these kids are engulfed in.”(37) It was not until much of the confusion and panic died down that Keith finally realized who his son had been secretly talking about and scanning the sky for. “He was hearing Bill Lawton. They were saying Bin Laden.”(73) To explain what had happened Justin and the siblings had taken snippets of misinterpreted news information and developed them into a myth they could believe. The protective distance that was put between the children and the news ultimately did not work. Rather than making the children more secure in an information-free bubble, the distance put between the children and the truth harmed them more.

 

The beginning of Falling Man

drops the reader directly into the immediate situation of 9/11. The towers are collapsing, people are running, and “taking shelter under cars.” The effect of this style of writing is that the reader remains intrigued by the ambiguity and chaos of the situation at hand.

The reader soon learns that the story is following a man, “He wore a suit and carried a briefcase,” but is left in the dark as to his identity at the moment. The man seems to be in a different world, or at least not completely aware of his surroundings, “he walked past a Breakfast Special sign and they went running by”.  The man’s response also acts to intrigue the reader as one begins to question why he himself is not panicking. He is surrounded by destruction and can not seem to walk out of it, “He walked away from it and into it at the same time.”

The author then personifies the north tower as it comes tumbling down, “That was him coming down, the north tower.” This personification leads one to think that this man’s life is never going to be the same. It is as if a huge part of him is gone with the tower. “He tried to tell himself he was alive but the idea was too obscure to take hold,” this quote shows how the man appears to be in a great bit of shock.  He does not feel pain, although he knows what he has been through, he is disoriented and yet knows where he is going, the only thing keeping him moving is adrenaline.

While listening to John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls,” I was at a loss for words when I heard the lyrics “I see water and buildings,” because I immediately thought of Falling Man. Throughout the story water plays a recurring role, even though it seems like something as simple as water would mean nothing in comparison to the idea of planes crashing into The Twin Towers and thousands of people dying. Three of the most important mentions of water deal with Keith, Lianne’s husband, and Florence Givens, the owner of the briefcase, and all three occur as they describe their escape from The Towers. As Florence breaks down and tells Keith about her escape she remembers that “she’d lost her shoes or kicked them off and there was water like a stream somewhere, nearby, running down a mountain” (DeLillo 44) The last two quotes occur at the end of the book as Keith finally tells his story of that fateful day. Just like Florence, as Keith walked down the stairs he felt that “there was water running somewhere,” and once he finally reached beneath the plaza, and the people started to run, there was “water pouring in from somewhere” (171, 173). Although I am not positive what Don DeLillo meant by the recurring mention of water, I have a theory that it has something to do with Madeline Amy Sweeney, a stewardess from Flight 11. As quoted in The New York Times, it is said that once the hijackers took over, they told passengers “they could call their families, [because] they seemed intent on letting the world know, blow by blow, what they were doing”(Broughton). Sweeney took this opportunity to call her ground manager in Boston. Although it is said that she remained calm and collected throughout the phone, her last words “I see water and buildings. Oh my God! Oh my God!” obviously carry a sense of urgency with them (Broughton). Before listening to John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls” and reading the lyrics, I would have never googled “I see water and buildings.” Therefore, I never would have been able to make the connection that water may indeed be something of importance in Falling Man.

Works Cited:

Broughton, Philip Delves. “Last words from Flight 11: ‘I can see water and buildings. Oh my God!’.” The New York Times (2001).

DeLillo, Don. Falling Man . New York: Scribner , 2007.

Philharmonic, The New York and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers. “On the Transmigration of Souls .” On the Transmigration of Souls .       cond. Lorin Maazel. By John Adams. New York , 2002.

 

 

Here is a link to the first movement from Steve Reich‘s composition “WTC 9/11.” The music is performed by the Kronos Quartet with recorded voices from 9/11. The photograph shown in the video (below, left) was to appear on the cover of the album, but a new cover (below, right) was selected after many objected to the image.  Reich’s description of the composition appears on the Kronos Quartet website.

 

“‘WTC’ is also an abbreviation for ‘World to Come,’ as my friend composer David Lang pointed out,” Reich says. “After 9/11 the bodies and parts of bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner’s office on the east side of Manhattan. In Jewish tradition there is an obligation to guard the body from the time of death until burial. The practice, called Shmira, consists of sitting near the body and reciting Psalms or Biblical passages. The roots of the practice are, on one level, to protect the body from animals or insects, and on another, to keep the neshama, or soul, company while it hovers over the body until burial. Because of the difficulties in DNA identification, this went on for seven months, 24/7. Two of the women who sat and recited Psalms are heard in the third movement. You will also hear a cellist (who has sat Shmira elsewhere) and a cantor from a major New York City synagogue sing parts of Psalms and the Torah…

“The piece begins and ends with the first violin doubling the loud warning beep (actually an F) your phone makes when it is left off the hook. In the first movement there are archive voices from NORAD air traffic controllers, alarmed that American Airlines Flight 11 was off course. This was the first plane to deliberately crash into the World Trade Center. The movement then shifts to the FDNY archives of that day telling what happened on the ground.

“The second movement uses recordings I made in 2010 of neighborhood residents, an officer of the Fire Department and the first ambulance driver (from Hatzalah volunteers) to arrive at the scene, remembering what happened nine years earlier.

“The third and last movement uses the voices of a neighborhood resident, two volunteers who took shifts sitting near the bodies, and the cellist/singer and cantor mentioned above.

“Throughout WTC 9/11 the strings double and harmonize the speech melodies and prolonged vowels or consonants of the recorded voices. You will hear a total of three string quartets, one live, and two pre-recorded. The piece can also be played by three live quartets and pre-recorded voices.

“WTC 9/11 is only 15 and a half minutes long. While composing it I often tried to make it longer, and each time it felt that extending its length reduced its impact. The piece wanted to be terse.”

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Anselm Kiefer

 

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September

Dear all,

I have chosen to talk about the short story September because I found it outstandingly good and creative.

The idea of temporal foothold that brings us from an extremely violent moment of the 9/11 to a kind of Woody Allen New York love story (It just made me think about Annie Hall) was extremely interesting and powerful.

This story has a really great potential for a cinematographic adaptation. It’s almost a scenario; it is powerfully visual.  Moreover, the characters are likable and endearing. It’s a very compelling story.

Here is a movie which not related to 9/11 but that uses the same idea of temporal disruption and wonder if the author had seen it.

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Perspective

The day and its events incite the same feelings in everyone.  September 11, 2001 is remembered as being painful, overwhelmingly sad, and hopeless.  In spite of everyone feeling the same way about 9/11 – no one short of those who caused it would see the day’s events as joyous or happy – the degree of pain and the perspective varies.  Someone who watched from a TV screen thousands of miles away does not remember 9/11 the same way someone who lost a relative remembers 9/11.  Someone who was very young might not remember the fall of the Twin Towers as vividly as someone who was much older.

Ana Kovatcheva’s September is similar in that it allows perspective to vary.  While there’s no arguing that it is a depressing story, there are different interpretations of it.  Some things are concrete: there is an insurance salesman named Joshua, a woman named Isabella, and the fact that they were both involved in September 11th somehow.  That’s all readers are given.  From there, they are left to form their own decisions about how Joshua and Isabella’s story ended, or, depending on some interpretations, how it began.

“They catch sight of each other at four hundred sixty-six miles per hour, or at the speed where four hundred sixty-six suddenly turns to zero in a burst of broken glass and burning support beams.  She is strapped into seat 8J and he is at a desk on the ninety-fifth floor.  The nose of the plane nudges the window, and in the moment before his neck snaps and the cabin bursts open, the window of 8J passes by his desk” (10).  Or, do they meet “on a dreary February afternoon in a cafe far from New York” (10)?

As the story ends, Isabella has just missed her flight to Los Angeles and Joshua is sitting at the kitchen table watching the news, laughing at her for not being able to catch her plane in time.  When the story breaks that a plane has been hijacked, they realize just how close they came to death that morning.  Then, however, we return to the scene of their deaths.  “Outside of this geometric instant, the window for 8J passes a man’s desk at four hundred sixty-six miles per hour. It keeps going” (14).

The story gives visitors a choice: They have to decide whether Joshua and Isabella were two people who met just moments before their deaths on September 11th or if they were two people who narrowly avoided death on September 11th.

Once Upon a Time

It is amazing when things that happen in your life, things you discuss, things you read, or things you learn seem to connect perfectly with each other. After reading Twilight of the Superheroes by Eisenberg, for instance, I was immediately able to relate it to an experience I’d just had–a reading experience.

I recently read a book, The Fault in our Stars, by John Green, which made me think a lot about time. “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities” says Hazel Grace Lancaster, quoting her favorite author, Peter Van Houten. Hazel, a girl with Thyroid Cancer, has spent much of her young life desperately wanting to know what happens to the characters at the end of An Imperial Affliction, Peter Van Houten’s only piece of work.  The book ends in the middle of a sentence, and she feels the need to know how it all ends. What happens at the end of the sentence? What happens to the characters, and where do they go?

I’ve noticed over the years that people are desperate to know what happens after something ends. We always want something to continue, which is why there is so much fan fiction on the internet, and so many sequels of books and movies.  When I was little I would imagine the future of my favorite characters as I fell asleep at night.  I wanted more, like we always seem to do.  We are hardly ever satisfied or appreciative enough with what we have been given. We don’t understand that everything has to come to an end. A book comes to an end, a a story, a chapter, a moment, a month, a life, and this sentence comes to an end. Hazel realizes that all of these things that end are little infinities–some larger than others. Important things in our lives may technically end, but they will forever live on in our hearts.

There are days, many of them, when I resent my unbound set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get…But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

There’s no denying the small wish to find out what happens after something ends, but after reading The Fault in our Stars I am thankful for what it is, and always will be. It’s a little infinity, that book, just like every book in the world. It made me feel “all of the things” as John Green hoped we would (shown at 1:50 in that video),  and the story and it’s meaning will always be there–even after the last page is turned. This brings me to Twilight of the Superheroes.

From farther than the moon she sees the children of some distant planet study pictures in their text: there’s Rose and Isaac at their kitchen table, Nathaniel out on Mr. Matsumoto’s terrace, Lucien alone in the dim gallery–and then the children turn the page.

Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg

The Twilight of the Superheroes ends, just as twilight does. The characters have their own little infinity of life on those pages, but after the last page is turned life goes on. The children read a different page of a different story. However, there’s a chance that this little infinity, this twilight, will have some meaning to the children. Perhaps when they turn the page they will keep this story, this once upon a time, inside themselves. Maybe the names and histories of the characters will fade, but something from the story will stick with them. Maybe something from this blog post will stick with you. You, who have been reading this, are about to turn the page.

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Passive Reflection

Throughout much of Deborah Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes,” one of the main characters, Nathaniel, is working on a superhero of his own. Nathaniel’s superhero “Passivityman” has an unconventional choice of superpowers and seems to be more or less a reflection of Nathaniel than anything supernatural.

Passivityman and Nathaniel share similar attitudes toward their lives and the world. “Passivityman is taking a snooze, his standard response to stress” (22). Nathaniel also seems to be going through life in a daze or snooze in the beginning of the story when he finds himself comfortably stuck in the mid-west and working “As a part-time assistant with an actual architectural firm” (19). When Amity convinces Nathaniel to come to New York, a part of Nathaniel is still dreaming.

Nathaniel’s ignorance to what is happening in the world around him is brought to light by Dephine. “Do you know what they’re saying about you over there?” (31) Delphine asks Nathaniel referring to how the rest of the world views America’s actions. Feeling vulnerable, as if someone has found  his kryptonite, Nathaniel merely responds with, “Please don’t say ‘you,’ Delphine” (31).

This scene between Delphine and Nathaniel is also reflected in a scene from Passivityman earlier in the story. When Passivityman’s girlfriend finally partially wakes Passivityman she becomes frustrated, “Don’t you get it?” (22) she says. The girlfriend then goes on to tell Passivityman everything that has happened since he shut his eyes to the world. “The U.s Congress is selected by pharmaceutical companies, the state of Israel is run by Christian fundamentalists” (22) rants Princess Prudence. “Well gosh, Pru sure–but, like, what am I supposed to do about it?” (22) replies Passivityman.

Later Nathaniel’s friends confront him, concerned about Passivityman and seemingly equally concerned for Nathaniel as well. Nathaniel tells his friends perhaps, “He’s sort of losing his superpowers” (23), but Amity reassures him, “Oh, it’s probably just one of those slumps” (24).

The reader soon finds out Nathaniel is feeling just as lost as Passivityman. “Twenty-eight years old, no superhero, a job that just might lead down to a career in underground architecture…Maybe he should view Mr. Matsumoto’s return as an opportunity, and regroup” (30).

I believe that in writing Passivityman Nathaniel underwent some catharsis and it allowed him to reflect upon his life. This not only let him understand himself better; it also made him become more aware of how other people thought of him and his purpose in life, which at times made him more asleep to the world than awake.

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