Friday, September 11, 2015
September 11, 2015: AmericanStudying 9/11: Art in the Aftermath
[Even—perhaps especially—recent, painful, and controversial events and topics demand our AmericanStudying. So this week, I’ll offer a handful of ways to AmericanStudy September 11th, 2001, and its contexts and aftermaths, leading up to a special memorial post this weekend.]
On the strengths and limitations of three post-9/11 cultural works.
1) Foer’s Novel: Jonathan Safran Foer’s second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), is narrated by Oskar Schell, a 9 year-old boy whose father was skilled in the World Trade Center attacks. In creating this complex, compelling, wonderful young narrator and his voice and perspective, Foer brings to life a profoundly human and universal side to the attacks and their aftermath—questions both of loss and grieving and of the persistence of love and inspiration. But it feels to this reader that Foer wasn’t able to imagine a successful story for that narrator to narrate, and the resulting novel comes to feel both repetitive and, at times, manipulative, using rather than illuminating this tragic moment.
2) Binder’s Film: Filmmaker Mike Binder wrote and directed Reign Over Me (2007), a film that stars Adam Sandler as a man who lost both his wife and daughters in the WTC attacks and Don Cheadle as the former college roommate with whom Sandler forms an unlikely but mutually beneficial friendship. Although many reviewers found the film’s use of 9/11 in service of what becomes a relatively light-hearted dramedy troubling, I’d call that a strength—not every story from or about history is an epic, after all. But ultimately, Reign rules or falls on the back of Sandler’s performance, and I just don’t think the comedian is up to the challenge; his character comes to feel (as his so often do) more like a collection of mannerisms than a fully realized human, and if an epic isn’t necessarily called for, humanity certainly is.
3) Bruce’s Album: C’mon, you didn’t think I could write a post on post-9/11 art and not include Springsteen’s The Rising (2002), did ya? Bruce says that he decided to create the album after a man on the street yelled out to him, in early 2002, “We need you now!”; whether the story is true or not (Bruce is nothing if not a literary storyteller), it most definitely captures the album’s ambitious and to my mind achieved goal of representing the wide and deep swath of emotional, psychological, spiritual, individual, and communal responses to the attacks. Nearly every song on the album goes in a different direction, yet at the same time there’s a clear and compelling unity across them all. It’s certainly the case that some of the songs are a bit on the nose (I’m looking at you, “Waiting on a Sunny Day”), but many are among the Boss’s best—and taken as a whole, I don’t know that there’s a better 21st century rock album, nor a better artistic response to 9/11.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? 9/11 contexts and analyses you’d share?