Living an anniversary: 9/11

“Anniversaries and their Curses” was posted on January 25 where we discussed the varying impacts they can have on individuals and publics alike. By their regular nature they keep their contents ‘alive’ whether we like it or not. It is no accident that bouts of depression are so often experienced by people, annually, on the anniversary of some significant death or trauma.

The article concluded with an open reference to the ‘lasting’ impact of 9/11. “Will it ever end?” I wondered. Since writing that I came across an article I had forgotten, named ‘The Last Column’ by Hal Foster, Professor of Art and Archaelogy at Princeton University. I want to quote from it without further comment apart from this sincere acknowledgement of Foster’s work. For those keen to read more see London Review of Books, no 17, 8 September 2011.

“There is a hangar at JFK Airport – Hangar 17 – where, until recently, about 1200 pieces of steel and other objects from the World Trade Center site were warehoused — selected as tokens of 9/11 — to be dispersed to memorials around the US, foremost the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero (occupying about half of the 16-acre WTC site, and consisting of two large waterfalls and reflecting pools on the footprints of the towers) which opens on the tenth anniversary of the event—– In all, 1.8 million tons of rubble and debris were removed.
(Many) agree: ‘They are something more than beautiful. They are sacred’.
‘These events are unspeakable (I wrote October 4, 2001 in LRB) but they shouldn’t be left in the oppressive state of the sublime’. Yet that is where they were immediately put and have since remained. For Americans the WTC became the world trauma center, and we were likely to fix on the tragedy as traumatists as we were to work through it as mourners. Very quickly that trauma was turned into support for the ‘War on Terror’ – don’t victims, the ‘lex talionos’ of trauma runs, have the right to be perpetrators?

In this light the talk of relics and icons, and the appearance of cross and stars, is not so benign, for here the experience of the sublime and the traumatic is all but captured by the category of the sacred. Early on, Ground Zero was described as ‘hallowed ground’, and to this day 9/11 is often treated as an event that cannot be assimilated, which passes all human understanding. This trope tends to render the historical event a theological one—- but also the theocratic bent of more than a few political leaders and presidential leaders. —
The struggle for the American soul continues at ground Zero.”

Hal Foster’s article is beautiful and chilling. Again I thank him.
We all will hear more from 9/11. Its presence for the future is unfortunately ensured.

But anniversaries can go anywhere, as I will illustrate in my next blog, “Cool Anniversaries” appearing on


“Heroes, Villains, and Fools”

Bruce Wolpe, an American Democrat, writes in today’s Age (24-8-2011) about similarities between current American and Australian politics. At one stage he quotes Peggy Noonan, one of Ronald Reagan’s speech writers and now a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. It is worth quoting in full.

“The secret of Mr Obama is that he isn’t really very good at politics, and he isn’t very good at politics because he doesn’t really get people. —–He was good at summoning hope, but he’s not good at directing it and turning it into something concrete that answers a broad public desire. —- He is not a devil, an alien, a Socialist. He is a loser. And this in America, where nobody love a loser.”

Noonan is simply joining the army of American assessments, from all political persuasions, attempting to explain what went wrong with the Obama Administration. It’s not even particularly relevant here to remember she writes in yet another Murdoch paper. I am interested solely in her final comment “He is a loser. And this in America, where nobody loves a loser.”

This to me has been an increasingly fatal flaw for any American politician let alone a President because it taps into one of the most pervasive and pernicious middle class mores in that country. I learned this first over fifty years ago when I read, with increasing distaste, a book “Heroes,Villains and Fools” by Orrin Klapp. It said so much about three sets of internalised moral judgments of Americans about their fellow Americans. Each evoking powerful, deep emotions. Unfortunately I no longer have a copy of the book so I can only hint at what the author argues about the pervasive and dominating presence of these three classifications of people.

A hero can be found in so many ways and moods and actions: and in its diversity, each has one basis quality: being a winner, a success. And no further qualification is allowed. A hero can have no fault, no blemish. Hero-worship is the critical public quality.

The villain again comes in a wide range of dress and, again, seen unqualified beyond a strong sense of repulsion.

It was the classification of fool which was the book’s greatest surprise. I wonder now as I did then, is this stereotype particular to America? I sense it could well be. The fool is the loser; the person shallowly seen as ‘good’ or ‘decent’ but who in fact is a failure. Once again the judgment is powerfully driven; the villain is to be condemned, despised and dismissed as a complete nobody, a fool deluding himself and others by some superficial quality. A veneer which may have fooled for a moment, but which is now seen through, and the judgment is made even stronger for the momentary delusion.
No longer worth concern; nor his downfall to be pitied.

Just as the poor, the wretched, the weak disappears from all public view, so will an emperor without clothes be brushed aside.

The dominant American culture is a nasty one in this regard. It is fundamentalist in its judgments. There are no grades, attenuating circumstances. You are a hero, sitting in glory about the gods, and never to be seen wanting. Or you are a villain, deserving nothing less than destruction. Or you are a fool to be ignored, cast into the sea of the unseen.

Obama, momentarily before his presidency became political was a hero. If he had succeeded in any one of his big challenges he would have become, to many, a villain, and possibly to be assassinated. He was never strong enough to win any of the critical battles and to many who either hated him or loved him turned slowly but surely re-classing him a fool, a loser who, for the length of his presidency will be but a shadow to be dismissed.