– Elie Wiesel said that you cannot bring theater to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theater and I finally understood what that meant back when I was a TV critic reviewing “Winds of War,” a gargantuan miniseries of WWII that tried — earnestly, I’ll give them that — to portray the horror of the Holocaust — and, of course, it could not, no matter how many depictions of atrocity it piled, one upon on the next. Sometimes, art fails; reality is too big for it. Now, in present tense, we face the World Trade Center. recommends Leon Wieseltier’s essay in the New Republic (excerpted in the NY Times). It shows how critics and artists and architects are trying — earnestly, I imagine — to put the scene of the World Trade Center onto their canvases and how they are failing, even offending in the effort. They try to ascribe poetry or vision or sense or even grace to what is, simply, ugly.
It is a wonderful piece: “You cannot leave ground zero as you leave other ruins, with philosophical reflections about the inevitability of decay, because what happened here was not decay, and there was nothing inevitable about it. You cannot leave ground zero as you leave other ruins, with the warm memory of nature growing over history, because here there is only history, and it is cold…. These are not the exotic and mysterious ruins of the past; these are the unexotic and unmysterious ruins of us….
“I cannot locate the balm in culture. It is just not my piety. I discovered this when I went into ground zero, in a red hard hat. I was not prepared for what I saw. I do not know how to express the quality of my shock, except to say that it banished culture completely from my mind. I fell dumb and stood there as if I had never read a book. My observations erased my memories. I was without allusions and without metaphors. Can a mind be naked? Then I was naked, without coverings. All I could do was look, and pray to see. The metal was the color of an infernal tarnish. I learned that yellow smoke is released when iron is cut. The hole in the sky was more striking than the hole in the ground. I watched the cranes scoop up soil from the pit, and then I grasped that it was not soil. There was no soil in this place. What they were moving was the substance that was formed out of the dissolution of everything and everybody that had been crushed and incinerated: a deathloam. There were spots of it on my boots. I shivered and moved away. And when I left it was not culture that was restored immediately to my consciousness. It was politics; policy; American action.”
– The Telegraph says we’ll have a somber Thanksgiving: “Americais not celebrating the collapse of the Taliban. Caution from the White House, a worsening recession, lingering despair over September 11 and persistent fears of terrorism have set a sombre mood as Americans prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday.” Well, sure. They also say it’s the media’s fault: “The lack of national cheerleading from the American media and their unremitting scaremongering and criticism has left people wondering: what next?” (First the media are accused of jingoism, then of not cheerleading — all the while they face danger at the front line. Can’t win.) So will this be a somber Thanksigiving? Of course, it will be. But I really believe that all across America this year, people will be rediscovering Thanksgiving as a time to be grateful for our families and our lives and good fortune even as we do fear what’s next — that makes the need to give thanks all the more urgent. So happy Thanksgiving.
– The FT wonders about the price of gathering news in Afghanistan: “Seven journalists killed within eight days in Afghanistan. Their deaths illustrate not just the usual hazards of war reporting but also raise agonising questions of responsibility for media groups feeding the round-the-clock news machine that now brings every big conflict into your living room.”
– Little Green Footballs put up a link to a fascinating Atlantic profile of Samuel “Clash of Civilizations” Hungtington days ago but I finally managed to read it and recommend it, too. Huntington describes himself as a child of Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian who “believed that men are sufficiently wicked to require tough methods for the preservation of order. Huntington, an Episcopalian, was attracted to what he describes as Niebuhr’s ‘compelling combination of morality and practical realism.’ Though an ardent Cold Warrior, Niebuhr never succumbed to moral triumphalism, believing that history was more profoundly characterized by irony than by progress. Even if the United States were to win the Cold War, Niebuhr wrote in 1952, this outcome might only cause the nation to overextend itself, dissipating its power in an excess of righteousness.”
– Braver than I’d be: The day after four journalists are murdered in Afghanistan, a Guardian writer reports from the Taliban lines.
– Fly Osama Airlines: how bin Laden took over Afghanistan’s airline for his terrorism business.
– CIA’s hunt for bin Laden.
– Mirror plays up reported Bush-Blair rift over role and number of our troops in Afghanistan.
– Debunking the Clinton speech myth: “On November 7, former President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University on foreign policy and globalization in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Within 24 hours, Clinton’s words had been twisted into the nonsensical allegation that the former president had blamed slavery and America’s treatment of Native Americans for the attacks. Even though this myth has been repeatedly debunked by Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler, among others, it continues to surface on television, radio and op-ed pages. The history of how this deception spread shows how newspaper editors and pundits can manufacture lasting stories about political opponents from nothing more than a few strokes of the pen.”