Omni on the World Trade Center

Thee Maximalists
by S.J.Russell

1. I Led The Blind  October 2001
2. Historic Heatwaves  November 2001
3. Chicks with Bricks  December 2001
4. Two Become None  December 2001

historic heatwaves

The average New Yorker, conditioned to crowds, speed, Wall Street, even violent death, takes his city for granted.
NEW YORK, New York Writer's Project, Oxford University Press, 1940.
This bit of sly headline razzmatazz opens the NYC entry in the WPA New York State guidebook as the WPA gang forces together the likes of Hungarian partridges, Mingo Indians and Hell's Kitchens into a gloriously untidy tour (if only armchair) package. The quoted passage both warns away and attracts as NYC has always done. But "violent death"? In a guide book?! Well, who wouldn't read on? Unflinching, indulgent, fueled by anonymity and flush with purpose and a taste of taxpayer cash, these writers went to town. Their town. They said it with a wink and a wipe of the nose... this was/is/will be a writer's town. Period.
                    And if New Yorkers were conditioned to speed, crowds and violent death then, who am I to say they aren't now? Slocum, Triangle, hell even Lakehurst (and hell is used advisedly) were under their belts, and since: Genovese, Wilding, Sam, 4 oh make that 5 planes into buildings (5? Yes, Forty Wall Street took a hit the year after the Empire State). And "conditioned to... Wall Street" still rings true with the ever snowballing market-love dance. But since then, between Warhol and Wu-Tang, they've dragged the centre as wide as the whole city, and beyond.
                    And although the majority of New Yorkers have probably never even seen a mugging, there is a proprietorial impulse that still allows that New Yorkers have seen it all simply by the virtue or unvirtue of being New Yorkers. And if no one had actually seen a building fall down surely everyone had looked up for a moment once or twice and thought "what if...?". So the denial felt while watching the fall of the World Trade Center towers was not wholly alien... it had been rehearsed, it was part of the standard issue armour of everyday life. And with this armour deflecting the death one could view coldly that this was bad -- oh yes very bad --the worst yet-- but it wasn't the worst possible because I can imagine that too. Nevertheless let's give the violence its due. It was of a terrible magnitude and it seemed to be visited on the whole city, wherever a sightline popped up. It was NYC herself being mugged, slashed ear to ear, so so pitiful.
                    I tuned into Stern after the fall of both towers and yet upon first seeing the replays of the striking planes, so sure and certain, so done, I felt a part of me, of my soul, jump unexpectedly out of me to rush rush and fill that huge hungry vacuum. A part of me being pulled into coldness. And there was again a movement, an equal yet opposite flow of the many souls into me, and a possibility of enrichment of sorts offered itself. And I still feel it. To witness suffering is perhaps a gift, a curse, but primarily an obligation we owe to ourselves if not our species; there too individually go each of us eventually, rail or deny as we may. I let it wash away mental detritus like a whomping big loofah, reinfusing vital purpose into every crack of the day. For now, but it's hard to keep changing your life, even when you plainly should, after dodging a mortal illness or crawling from the wreckage or something. Can it truly enrich? With 'enrichment' like this aren't we all just wasting our time here? If this gasping blind destruction is enrichment would Cambodia and Rwanda and Auschwitz be Fort Knox? Humankind is too rich by far, absolutely gluttonous and bulging and delirious with lessons unlearned. This enrichment is real, but but it's not digestible to us. It's not pleasant to face, or full of easy rewards. The treasures offered here are not trinkets or platitudes or feel-good-stories of heroism or even those of triumph (if you happen to be an al-Qaeda sympathizer). They're reproaches, clear signs of a whole race failing itself. In return most of us can offer only to witness, and we can offer some simple pity, pity for the injured, the community of witnesses and even for the injurer. A species-wide self-pity, a humility, that it's come (again) to this.
                    But for violence as wanton as this, pity waited a while. It felt like it was meant to feel: a merciless onslaught sure, but a public merciless onslaught. A punishment. The kind of huge punishment that a wife-beater or stalker metes out on a front lawn. It was all familiar again: "This will teach you!"; "You should have listened!"; "Look what you made me do!" All the seething "lessons" taught by that bizarre fraternity of wronged men who kill their pupil. Clearly the lessons are meant for the witnesses and particularly the antennas of other wronged men and other bad wives.
                    So what will this round teach us? I know and you know that our answers are contentious. Maybe we should keep our thoughts private. Strength of conviction obviously counts for very little here. Those pilots had plenty of that and it got nobody anything but physical misery, even for those who regard the attack as a worthy strike in a worthy cause. The talk is all about strength and weakness. Where was the floor truss weakest, where is the Taliban weakest? And for all the "strength" in the world -- the might of towering steel or the warrens of Tora Bora -- well it really isn't all so strong is it? This "strength" is an architectural kind of strength, a strength derived from a singular vision of an architect figure and the commitment of many to see this vision through -- with minimal question. Clearly the strengths are equally weaknesses, the heights -- depths, and the monumental vision -- a yoke.
                    Chomsky's quickly deployed '9-11' collection of essays and interviews made a novel purchase in the fall of 2001. A book so soon! Chomsky's views are complex even in this thin somewhat rhetorical volume (the views are expressed relative to interview questions often, and who would be likely to interview Chomsky after all?). Chomsky's fast analysis notes that the US is a criminal state via aggressions in Nicaragua and subsequent World Court rulings. It's agonizing to hear of how the US government has acted on this matter. But how do these varied threads tie together? One can hardly expect that Osama Bin Laden cares a fig for Nicaraguans and Chomsky is adamant he doesn't, so the arguments of the book become arguments simply for honesty rather than for a geopolitical "ology". The facts, as it turns out, are inconvenient for everybody. Would you agree that tyranny crystallizes desperate acts? To Americans, born of revolution, this should not be politically antithetical. Intriguing that Chomsky wouldn't agree without major reservations and qualifications. And look at the case of Bin Laden vs. The World Trade Center. The pressures here are not organic. They appear more architectural. And Chomsky veers hard into that, covering how the US has engineered Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda and energized the organization when it suited them. And thus the "root causes" of the al-Qaeda attack --poverty, disenfranchisement-- are a delusion which acts to cover up the commission of this network and its xenopohbic destructive impulses by the government of the United States. So, like an advice guy on office politics, Chomsky reminds us to behave ethically -- especially when all else fails. The startlingly simple finale in Chomsky is this: the US and Osama Bin Laden are fighting each other but in different wars since both means and ends diverge. The sole overlap will be the death of innocents.
                    This is my reading of '9-11' and of course I generalize by oversight and also to feed my modest personal agenda. And overall Chomsky's admirable, cogent quickie feels like a large generalization too, a necessary one, but one that could have been theorized, written or compiled anytime prior to the September 11th of the title, with very little changing. But I want more. I want to know why I feel what I feel and generalizations serve me poorly here. In this particular case, panning the WTC runoff for nuggets, I have a site-specific dilemma. I am uneasy with Chomsky's gleaming eagle eye for self-improvement like I'm uneasy with the architects who ran in on September 12, 13 etc. with a fix for the still steaming gash. Let it settle. Let it rot. It's fertile: let it gestate. Let it rest, in peace or not. Let it ripen. There is a good chance it can inspire in ways that are as yet unknown, through cathartic illumination, through meditation. Judging now -- prejudging -- may promise healing but it's a cheap hit of euphoria. Opportunity lies waiting.
                    So now, as usual, New Yorkers have seen it all. Everything short of an atomic bomb, but they've got a good handle on even that, and they are certainly imagining it. And we've seen it all too. Everyone, everywhere, probably forever or pretty close has too. And, as usual, New York is where we saw it.
Chicks with Bricks  December 2001




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