Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Unhappy anniversary

Well, it's here again. Just before my last perfect cube birthday before age 64, our nation is in mourning. The President, I gather, lit a candle for the victims of 9/11. I hear that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so I suppose I appreciate the sentiment.

I searched my blog for posts about 9/11, and a surprising number of hits came up. Some are duplicates, I'm sure, but I guess it's an event I've had on my mind. Most of the posts are about Iraqi civilians, the latest victims of 9/11.

I consume entertainments, so here is a list of the best few about 9/11.
The best comic about 9/11: In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman.
The best book about 9/11: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson.
The best show about 9/11: Heroes (see this essay on a 9/11-based reading of Heroes by Juan Cole). Honorable mention for the ladder-to-heaven South Park episode.
The best movie about 9/11: V for Vendetta. (Okay, it's tangentially related, but it's definitely useful to think about 9/11 as you watch this movie.)
The best song about 9/11: Fiery Crash, by Andrew Bird. (Also hear it here.)

I think I've talked about all these in the past, except for Fiery Crash. It's the first song on the latest Andrew Bird album, which I finally borrowed from the library. The song is, on the surface, about a little ritual Mr. Bird does when he gets on a plane:

you were hurling through space
g-forces twisting your face
breeding superstition
a fatal premonition
you know you got to envision
the fiery crash

Get in your seat and visualize the future: if you envision the plane crash ahead of time, it won't happen. Because what are the odds that you imagine something happening and then it actually happens? Plane crashes are unlikely enough to happen as it is.

It's a cute idea, if that's all there was to it, but it's impossible to think of planes crashing now without thinking about 9/11, and Bird goes there in verse two:
beige tiles and magazines
lou dobbs and the cnn team on every monitor screen
you were caught in the crossfire
where every human face has you
reaching for your mace, so it's
kind of an imposition
a fatal premonition

This is all very dense, but I interpret it to be a reference to Dobbs' nativism, and in general our xenophobia, especially toward Muslims, since 9/11. Our problem as a nation, since 9/11, has been to turn back from envisioning another 9/11. Our country has gone haywire and paranoid trying to prevent the next 9/11. We've started spying on civilians. We've started torturing and killing innocent people. We've started wars. One thing this means

and to save our lives
you've got to envision
to save all our lives
you've got to envision
the fiery crash

is that we have to accept what happened. 9/11 is the nightmare we are not waking up from. The way to end the nightmare is not to make it so no terrorist can ever threaten us again; that's impossible. And we've spent so much energy trying not to envision the fiery crash that we have, paradoxically, become fixated on it, replaying the scenes in our minds over and over again. (Pattern Recognition brings this out especially well, too.)

Instead, we have to stare death in the face and accept it, if it comes. We have to accept the price of our liberties and of our free society. The price is our vulnerability.

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