11 September 2006

September 11th, 2001

September 11th, 2001 was a teaching day for me. It was the second week of classes of my first semester at Sadistic College. At the time, I didn’t know how to drive, and had been commuting with a friendly woman from the Publications Office. I arose at 6:30 am, made coffee, and showered and dressed whilst listening to NPR. I loved Garrison Keillor’s poetry segments, for I thought he had a very sexy voice. Shortly before I was to meet my commute partner at the corner, as I applied lip moisturiser and readied my bag, the plane destined to hit Tower One flew roughly over my head. It rammed into One World Trade Center as I sleepily clambered in her car.

Upon my arrival at school, the campus Internet was down, so I went to the faculty steno pool to make photocopies, which is where I was when Tower Two was struck. Making photocopies. As I was returning to my office, I saw two new colleagues across a lawn and waved at them. They looked preoccupied and in a rush and did not return my wave nor smile, which I found curious and disarming. Upon return to my office, the Internet, annoyingly, was still not working. I busied myself with collating the copies I had just made for my 11:30 class and found myself idly eavesdropping on my colleague next door, who was speaking with her mother in Saint Louis.

Her mother, reporting from Saint Louis, told her there was an incident at the WTC, possibly terrorism. I heard enough of the one-sided conversation to make me uneasy, immediately thinking of Big Sis, whose commute at the time took him close by the WTC. When she hung up, I went over and asked her what was going on. She was grabbing her bag to go to the Student Centre, where apparently they were broadcasting a CNN live-feed in the cinema. How she knew this I did not know. Since the Internet was down we were remarkably ignorant of what was happening at that very moment. We later found out one of our routers went through New York Metro and had collapsed from the volume of traffic that morning.

We walked to the Student Centre together, and arrived in the packed cinema just in time to watch as Tower One collapsed live on CNN, and with it a whole way of life.

The shock was palpable, but I do not remember any expressions of outright grief. Just shock. It was there that I learned of the Pentagon, Tower Two, boxcutters, terrorists, hijackings, the outlines of the plot that have not changed significantly in five years.

I met my 11:30 class to tell them that we would not be meeting in a time of national emergency. Most of them had actually come to class, remarkably enough. However, one of my students, from the Bronx, would not stop asking detailed procedural questions about the syllabus, midterm, and final examination. I answered her questions, and later recognised quite clearly this moment as one of shock, her shock at pressing urgent questions on the final (13 weeks distant), and mine at answering.

That afternoon an information session was held on the soccer field. It was warm and sunny, and there was no new information, only what at that point we all knew. I returned home that evening, made several phone calls, talked to Big Sis, The Voice, and perhaps some others, and listened to my radio. I had no television and no local friends really, so all I had was NPR and after midnight, the BBC World Service. Unlike so many people here and around the world, I did not witness the collapse over and over again. The event was not, initially, a visual spectacle for me in the same manner that it was for people with televisions and cable. Aside from the brief time in the cinema, I had no repetitive visual. Only the idea, which was in point of fact much more frightening.

For me, it was voice and Internet and the New York Times, but most importantly voice. The voices of reporters and witnesses, the live television audio feeds on several local radio stations, and the measured calm of the BBC, reporting the events in every statistical detail, late into the night, listening in the dark while laying in my bed, alone and scared and bewildered.

Big Sis, oddly enough, had gone to work that day. He was able to see the burning Tower One from his subway station in Brooklyn, and got on the train anyway. Tower Two was hit while he was riding on the number 4 train uptown. He emerged in midtown to chaos, panic, terror. Talk about vertiginous (as if the subway wasn’t enough). His office was unceremoniously closed for the day and he ended up walking home, across the 59th Street Bridge, for by then all subway service through lower Manhattan had ceased.

Life has continued, of course. We have survived, if, it is true, not thrived. But I think sometimes of that day, and the horrible year(s) that followed, and think about the life before. A year or two after, I read an interview with an SNL comedian, I can’t remember who, where she talked about the life before 9/11, the innocence which sounds so clichéd but is true, in a certain way, and how she would have given anything to have that life back. I’m no longer sure whether or not that life before was superior, but I do know that I could have happily lived the rest of my days without that moment, at that time, in a new job in a small town with no TV, of feeling awfully afraid and alone.

The spring following 9/11, The New Yorker did a profile on some stunt that the "street magician" David Blaine had performed in New York, standing on a pole for hours or something like that. Afterwards, when asked how it was, Blaine replied that he was afraid. I remember being struck by the piece, which was sadly wry, using Blaine’s trick and commentary, standing alone and cold and afraid, as a metaphor for the national feeling at the time. We haven’t moved very far from that moment, which only adds tragedy to the farce of the last five years, the life after the life before.


MM said...

Anoche escribi en mi blog lo "deliciosa" que era la vida antes de ese dia prescisamente. La vacaciones que pase en NY 10 dias antes de la tragedia, como me regodeaba de la tranquilidad que sentia caminando por las calles de NY y lo diferente que era vivir en Caracas. .."Aqui puedo salir tranquila, con mis pulseritas y mi reloj sin temor a que me lo arranquen me decia... tranquilidad, calidad de vida, es lo que tengo aqui y no el constante terror en que vivimos en Caracas con la torticulis que no me deja, de tanto voltear hacia atras, la vision periferica ultra desarrollada al caminar por la calle, en fin... , There is no such thing as a safe place. Seguro?...la muerte nada mas...
siempre te leo

GayProf said...

It’s always been my feeling that 9/11 would have been an event that the nation could have grappled with in more productive ways if we had real leadership. Or if we even had the appearance of competent leadership. One thing that I will always remember from that day was that Georgie Bush ran away and hid in a bunker. At that moment he showed himself to be a selfish coward. After that, of course, he became all about using 9/11 for unrelated political goals.

iraqi american said...

"about the life before 9/11, the innocence which sounds so clichéd but is true, in a certain way, and how she would have given anything to have that life back."

we americans were never innocent so instead of going back to blindness, let's find some sight and take responsibility for US actions all over the world.

how are Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqi children doing after suffering from detentions, wrongful imprisonments, cluster bombs, exposure to Depleted Uranium?

when we focus on the suffering we inflict on others, we wake up and we see ourselves how others see us.

Oso Raro said...

Yes, the life before was not politically innocent, certainly not in the way the mainstream media and our political infrastructure makes it out to be. Of course many people, academics and intellectuals and activists and everyday folks, knew this. But the innocence I wish to refer to using the SNL example is the more complicated innocence of awareness and blitheness that characterised (and perhaps still does) educated (i.e. conscious) discourse here before. Shortly after I read the interview with this comedian, Mr. Gordo and I found ourselves on holiday in New York, and I remember we got into a ferocious argument over it while walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, because he thought that such an expression was an example of Imperial thinking, of the centre over periphery, which it is, in part (perhaps the majority). Slavoj Zizek called this the "desert of the real," which indicted the fantasy of the Imperial centre as being above and away from the materiality of violent conflict. But the point isn't that we should all experience violence and suffering in equal parts, like Soviet reductionism that collapsed working class poverty into proletarian "culture." Instead, we should all be as blithe and carefree and safe as those were in the centre, right?

The theory, very popular on the Left, that self-awareness and rational knowledges of the suffering of others lead to significant change has, depressingly, been proved wrong as look at the last five years. The delirium of the current moment partly (for me, at least) rests on this fading, seemingly antediluvian belief in the power of rationality, and the evidence that we have entered a post- (or perhaps pre-) enlightenment age of mystics, crystal balls, "Mission Accomplished," 100 beautiful virgins in Paradise, non-reality based thinking. Wedged between reaction on both sides (Bush SA and their fantasies of American hegemony, Al Qaida SA and their fantasies of Islamic resurgence), the actual space between, the materiality of life, shrinks day by day. While I have a dedicated critique of the direction of American policy and politics over the last half-century, the notion that Al Qaida represents a coherent (rational) political movement (critique) is also slightly tenuous. They both meet in the space of cadres of fundamentalism, which are decidedly non-rational. An argument can be made that neither Al Qaida nor Bush et al represent an interest or investment in ending conflict, terror, and suffering. The theory of action and reaction is instructive here, but Al Qaida is not an anti-colonialist movement for liberation, they are a reactionary organisation with their own reactionary agenda that uses conflict, violence, and resentment towards *their own ends*. This is not Zimbabwe, this is not India, this is not Haiti. The "Arab Street" is, like all populisms, notoriously reactionary, and contra to the humane and cosmopilitan values that city dwellers across the world cherish. Anti-American imperialist movements and positions are not, in and of themselves, liberatory or radical. Or as a friend put it today in an email, "Machiavelli was wrong: The enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend." Well said.

We need new models to think this through, for one thing is for sure is that old politics won't do. Yet, unfortunately, we seem to be stuck in old politics, on all sides of the political spectrum.

I think in the end the instructive lesson is that terror is not an effective political tool, either in New York or Baghdad or London or Madrid or Bali or the Occupied Territories or Lebanon or in countless other examples. It does not, at least in this instance of 9/11, augur productive change. Rather, it produces reactionary thinking that leads, cyclically, to more reactionary thinking. I'm not sure if Americans on September 11th woke up, or learned a lesson, or found out something profound about themselves and the way parts of the world regard them. All I know is that both Bush Inc. and Al Qaida Inc represent anti-modern visions of the world which are positively medieval in their dimensions, and need, somehow, to be resisted. Figuring out how to do this, of course, is the struggle and challenge. The solution isn't action/reaction (or indeed reaction/reaction), but finding new ground, somehow.

Paris said...

I moved away from NYC on Sept 3 2001, but aside from that detail passed 9/11 in much the same way you did, except that I woke up (and turned on NPR) shortly after the second tower fell and lacked anywhere to go for the rest of the day (grad school didn't start for a few weeks).

I have spent the last two years dragging around Europe and in so many of the cities it is possible to play a macabre game of "where did the bombs fall?" based on the age of the buildings. Except for the cities in German which have no old buildings because none survived. I do not want to play this game in my own country (although our disposable architecture would make it more difficult) and it saddens me greatly that my government seems more interested in creating a veneer of security impositions upon those of us who are harmless instead of taking the steps necessary to increase the number of those of us who are harmless. They seem at one with terrorists in their zeal to destroy buildings.

bbridge said...

I disagree with Iraqi American previous comment. Making every American guilty doesn’t solve anything and contributes to a sterile polarization of society. The equation IA implies: “every American citizen is guilty of the criminal foreign policy of the Empire” is as wrong and vicious as “every Arab citizen is guilty of terrorism.” I understood Oso Raro’s idea of Innocence as an individual, careless state of grace, not as a political notion.
I wish we all (I mean all) could return to an era prior to attacks and crimes from the Empire and other fundamentalisms.

nayj said...

"I wish we all (I mean all) could return to an era prior to attacks and crimes from the Empire and other fundamentalisms."

thanks for clarification. I was looking for an acknoweldgement of 'crimes from the empire and all other fundamentalisms'

alas, there is no "return to an era prior to..." since there is NO PRIOR TO time.
To what historical period do you refer?

The citizenship IS responsible for its government's action. even if we oppose imperialism, our leftie politics do not exempt us from complicity with the state. We live here. we draw paychecks, we are guilty. if we pay taxes, we pay for these wars. This does not mean anyone should have bombed the twin towers, I didn't mean to imply that.

The suicide bombers are marginals in their own countries and most citizens do not support their actions, and so folks should not condemn all Muslims wholesale.

9/11/01 was horrible, but the bloodshed and the attacks the US and Israel wage are more prevalent and more persistent.

"They seem at one with terrorists in their zeal to destroy buildings."

Al Qaida and bush "both meet in the space of cadres of fundamentalism, which are decidedly non-rational. An argument can be made that neither Al Qaida nor Bush et al represent an interest or investment in ending conflict, terror, and suffering."


"The 'Arab Street' is, like all populisms, notoriously reactionary, and contra to the humane and cosmopilitan values that city dwellers across the world cherish. Anti-American imperialist movements and positions are not, in and of themselves, liberatory or radical. "

***I don't know if we want to generalize about the Arab disenfranchized, but there seems to be continued distrust of the West that cannot be explained exclusively by a heightened Islamic fervor. I do think the anti-american, anti-imperialist movements are coming from feeling exploited and betrayed. That said, many Arabs have an anti-capitalist discourse yet are the biggest consumers of American products and the biggest subscribers to so many "western" ideas. Without essentializing either these identities,the contradictory and conflictual politics are part of the turmoil produced out of this fraught and complex relationship.

weren't the 9/11 bombers participating in the most allegedly decadent aspects of american life prior to boarding the planes? why weren't they praying in a mosque all the days prior to their "mission"? Because religion played little role in their actions, believe me. these lost, spoiled boys were not true Muslims and knew nothing about God or faith or religion. They wanted fame, attention, revenge, and 'purpose'. They were misguided and they were wrong.

oso raro,
appreciate your intelligence and your incredible blog.
I had signed in as Iraqi american w/o url because I did not want to get attacked. anyway, hope what I am saying makes sense.
***if not a friend, the enemy of my enemy is still not my enemy.

Professor Zero said...

I flew from 'Reagan' National Airport, DC, post-LASA, to Atlanta on the evening of 9/9/2001, and the security was so light that I asked about it.

On 9/11 I was talking to my agent about homeowners' insurance, and she was watching TV, and suddenly said Oh My God, the WTC is gone. I don't have television, so I missed seeing it live.

Then we were all supposed to freak out, but I didn't any more than I would have
had it happened in Mexico, Canada, etc., etc., so I became unpatriotic, or a victim of 'denial'.