Martin Filler would have been better off writing for a weblog. The too-long lead time/publication date on his New Republic article about the inherently dismal, unworkable rebuilding “process” forced him to write in a no-man’s-land, timing-wise. Writing ahead of its release, he can only hint snidely and dismissively at last week’s NY Times Magazine project that challenges the rules of what should/could be done downtown. And his thrashing of the first six stillborn proposals is right, but late. Still, he writes passionately about the “redevelopment debacle” unfolding before our eyes and correctly fingers George Pataki as the one individual who holds near-total control over the site and whatever is done downtown. Pataki’s deafening silence on the subject is utterly intentional; right now, all he has to do is keep quiet to coast to re-election. Only then will his utter lack of inspiration as the primary client of Manhattan’s downtown redevelopment bear its bland fruit.
Leon Wieseltier, in the same issue, hits the contradictions and problems with “September 11,” as he calls it, dead on. The thirty minutes of CNN drivel I saw had Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown and Wolf Blitzer out-emoting each other and blatantly casting as wide a tragedy-net as possible, egging everyone into sanctioned grief. Wieseltier castigates Tom Brokaw et al, both for promising “an emotional bath” and for delivering it.
Above all, he protests “the transformation of September 11 into ‘September 11,’ which was in large part a dissociation of the event’s political and strategic aspects from the event’s social and emotional aspects, so that what remained was a holy day and a homily about heroism. This concentrated the American spirit, but it dispersed the American will. What we will be commemorating on September 11, after all, is the beginning of a war.”
The memorial sought by the protagonist in Souvenir November 2001 wasn’t begun until 1928, ten years after WWI ended. While it has the shape of a triumphal arch, its actual program was just the opposite: only after a long, unprotected approach across empty land once the site of a peaceful village (and three years of horrific trench warfare) does the smooth-seeming surface of the arch reveal its tens of thousands of names, and only after climbing the plateau of the arch does the march’s “reward”–a cemetery– come into view. It’s a didactic yet undeniably powerful experience, but it was one that arose out of a devastated and shell-shocked country (England) and battlefield (the Somme).
In the same way, “What rises from the abyss of Ground Zero will become the most revealing American urban expression of our times.” Frankly, with the country’s fingers getting all pruny from emotional bathing, and with significant numbers of our leadership needing a time-out, this is probably not the best time to build our memories around.