Changing Cosmopolis

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Some interesting stratospheric thinking on The Age of Terror from author Don DeLillo is to be found here in the Los Angeles Times.

"'Terror,' the author says in a low monotone, 'is now the world narrative, unquestionably. When those two buildings were struck, and when they collapsed, it was, in effect, an extraordinary blow to consciousness, and it changed everything.'"

In his comments at large, I think DeLillo might be slightly overstating the, er, transformation of modern existence. Though there's a definite truth to what he's saying, it may be more literary than practical. That is, we feel the way he describes in our reflective moments, in our great attempts to make sense of the world, whether through literature or through late-night wine-soaked conversation; meanwhile, the actual narrative of our personal lives remains as unique and individually-driven as ever.

But maybe that goes without saying.

When DeLillo mentions the air in the '80s being filled with the threat of violence, I couldn't help but be reminded, perhaps unfairly, of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, who used his own neurotic personal history to come to the conclusion that all human experience is based first and foremost on a philosophy of humiliation (something he states in one of the many volumes of his autobiography).

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  1. Re Bergman’s philosophy of humiliation, I think there’s something basic to human (and all animal) nature there because we start off so powerless and vulnerable, depending on those who have absolute power over us….

  2. like i’ve said before, human pain and suffering has gained new currency. 911 was a transaction that was consumated in our response, like for like.

    to see it coming one need look no futher than the increasing rhetoric of our war against this or that. only now violence has permeated the boundary of mere rhetoric such that we find ourselves in a peckinpah-esque reality, painting in blood.

  3. If you want to read DeLillo on terrorism, try “Mao II,” from the early 1990s. Especially the parts about the twin towers.

  4. The fact that we live life individually doesn’t mean changes in society are irrelevant. Individuals perception is partially driven by events they didn’t experience first hand. Plus, the media experience of the attacks was available to all Americans, and counts as it own first hand experience.

    Individuals find themselves looking longer down the subway steps. Individuals decide whether or not to stockpile bottled water.

  5. You know, I’ve been thinking about this more over the morning, reading about Iraq and Syria. And I’m leaning more toward the idea that is has been truly transformative on every possible level, even for those who don’t fear terrorism in their homes. And maybe especially for people like me, who came of age in the ’90s.

  6. “…the media experience of the attacks was available to all Americans, and counts as it own first hand experience.”

    Good call Joe. A defining event of the previous generation, the Kennedy assasination, spawned the question “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Implicit in its asking is the fact that the person being asked was not in Dealy Plaza at the time, yet it was a momentous occurence that changed perceptions in subtle ways. (The next Big One, the Vietnam War, which happened much farther away, was still fated to change perceptions in not-so-subtle ways.)

    Sara, do you mean 9/11 and its aftermath in general, to include the present conflict, or the war in Iraq specifically? (Though I’d tend to concur in either case.)

  7. I was thinking about 9/11 and terrorism specifically. I was thinking of the war in Iraq as, to some degree, the expression of that transformation.

  8. Sara,

    It hasn’t been transformative for me. I simply don’t get this notion that 9/11 “changed everything.” As a historical event, it wasn’t even all that horrifying, or particularly peculiar outside the means used to make the attack. The genocide perpetrated in Rwanda is far more horrific than what happend on 9/11.

    When I think of transformative events I think of the Golden Horde swooping down upon Russia, enslaving it for 200 years, and therefore deeply effecting Russian culture. Or I think of 1066 in the course of English affairs. Or the defeat of the Moors by the Franks in 732. Or the defeat of the Chinese by a handful of British gunboats in the 1830s.

    To date, America has not been occupied, nor has our economy been all that damaged. What Al Qaeda threw at the US, apparently its best punch, was a miniscule event in the realm of human history. I think American safety was rattled of course, but I just can’t view this as a transformative event. Maybe my historical perspective has simply jaded my vision.

  9. Regarding Sara’s point about 9/11 being a transformation, especially for people coming of age in the 90’s, I completely agree. For me now, I think, “Wow, those were real buildings I have been in. This is real”. For the longest time I always thought of historical events, particularly those involving mass casualties, as some type of abstraction. No longer do I feel that way.

  10. Perhaps the transformation isn’t over yet, Gary. Think of the Roman army getting slaughtered at Cannae by Hannibal. An attack on the most powerful nation in the world, on its home territory, causing horror, outrage, and a desire to protect the homeland through a more powerful domestic security force, and through foreign adventures, ultimately leading the little Republic to become an Empire.

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