Monday, November 17, 2008
Muted Cries of Desperation Amongst Opposing Winds
to overtake my hearing; now I come
where mighty lamentation beats against me.
I reached a place where every light is muted,
which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest,
when it is battered by opposing winds.”
-from Dante’s Inferno, Cantos V
Interestingly I was in one of my uinversity's local bookstores buying books for the coming semester when I first heard about 9/11. I was watching live news footage on television soon after the second tower had been hit and before either tower fell. Realizing that the first was no accident by the time the second had hit, I saw that the events unfolding were the fulfillment of a script. To be honest, the first script I considered was The Odyssey. I would like to think that this is because the events match the referenced script so well, but as time goes on I think, in reality, this reaction of mine reflects a conflict in my soul. Over time, I have come to see tha tthe events of 9/11 also fulfill the Tower of Bable script quite well. Regardless, I can't point to one script or the other and say that the event fits one script and not the other. I feel, instead, that I must simply choose with my life.
Outside of the unbearable cries of lamentation that pierced to the center of my heart and had to be pushed to the underside of my world in order for me to get to class on time that day, my first thought was of the projectile that the Cyclopse violently hurled at Odyssius and his ships when, after the Cyclopse asked Odyssius what to tell his friends about his missing one eye, Odyssius replied, "Tell them Nobody did it." This oversized projectile was, of course, the two airplanes being "hurled" at the "vessels" containing the people of New York. In this scenario, the source of the force behind the projectile is monstrous (Cycloptic, surprisingly narrow minded :), the splash is explosive, and the reaction of those hit (Americans) is a reflection of the monster before their gaze. The examples of the irrational monstrosity fo our reaction are too numerious and obvious to recount, but some examples include: "God out and shop," "United we stand," and "We will fight [to no end, against an enemy with no face] for our freedom and a way of life."
In the Tower of Babel script, there is a kind of overwhelming monstrosity in the unfinished character of the Tower. We undertake a project to build and build and build to Nowhere under the weights of vanity and fear, and the veil fo blindness from the desires of our project is still not lifted when our Tower literally collapses due to a fireball from heaven. The unfinished character of the Tower at the end of the story is simply a reflection of the fear and vanity of Nimrod at the outset of the project. The script reads: "Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scatterd abroad the face of the whole earth." The task of assigning names to the animals was given to Adam, but once men sought to make a name for themselves (which was the basic fuel that ran the Greek polis, by the way), then suddenly they could no longer speak sensibly to each other.
So Nimrod's Tower we left unfinished, but in practical reality the continuing of our project - our inability to bring it to a halt in the face of two collapsing Towers - is the same as Nimrod's inability to continue. The preconditions of Nimrod's primal existance were those of stillness and slow motion that was all too close to absolute zero, of a death to be overcome, of a primitive terror at the very edge of an abyss. The backdrop of the stage set for the collapse of the World Trade Center is that of a well oiled and functioning machine whose parts and turnings not only engulf the field of vision of every member of the audience, but extend far beyond the limits of said field.
In Nimrod's world, one man's words in one place in the Tower being misunderstood by a man in another place in the Tower meant an unfinshed Tower. Our foundation, however, if it could be said that there is one, is not the Ground but not only an already completed Tower but an upside down one, so for us an unfinished Tower is the last thing that is meant by two people having a misunderstanding. You could even have the collapse of two of the tallest towers n the Tower followed by some of the workers crying out that the heads of the opponents in the conflict are in cohorts with each other to build their own personal private towers further up toward the heavens.
Concerning misunderstandings and misrecognitions, it is interesting that in the Homeric script, Odyssius and his men slip out of the Cyclopse' cave when each is mistaken for noe of the Cyclopse' own sheep. Where in the Hebraic script a primal Silence arises when one man in the Tower thinks the other is saying something he is not, in the Homeric script a sheep is mistaken for a man out of a monster's blindness. I think this has to do with a certain violence at the heart of the Homeric script; more on that in a moment.
There is another parallel scenario between the events of 9/11 and the Homeric script, as well. In my last scenario of uniting scripts with the events of 9/11, the airplane was the rock that the monster hurled at Nobody. In this scenario the airplane is the innocent sheep that Bin Laden uses to try and get his Home back. Just as "Nobody" suspects anything when there's an airplane flying through the air (gasp, surprise), nobody is surprised to find, (gasp, surprise), a group of (Arabic) passengers board boarding the darn thing. Of course, too, nobody suspects anything when the planes veer wildly off course, either.
And just as Odyssius and his men passed through the monster's "security check point" out in plain sight by appearing to said monster to be something totally normal and innocent, which in that case was one of the monster's very own sheep, the terrorists passed right through the mouth of the monster's cave as in order to climb aboard their weapon! Interestingly Odyssius and his men passed as sheep by climbing upon their belly. So, of course, "Nobody" expected anything until the weapon struck its large target in the eye at the top of the Tower. Then the monster goes berserk, and the guy looking for his home just smiles quietly and continues on his quest.
Of course, though, despite the quiet smile of Odyssius, the Cyclopse isn't the only one harboring violence. There is a great and decisive kind of violence in the act of striking the Cyclopse in his one eye with a burning ember, the kind of violence that causes an unchangeable change in your view of the world. Of course, where the planes are the projectiles hurled by the monster, there is also a certain notable violence in the act of the throw. There is a desire to extend something from a projected unreal part of your own being out into an undefined place that is perceived to be without limits.
The inversion of that extension of a kind of unreality into an open field might be to extend your being directly and possibly uninvited into the private world of another. This is the terrorist's desire to find his own death by actually blowing himself up onto everyone around him. This is the "shock value" of pornography. Economics is from the Greek word "oikos," meaning "house." The home is where the secret and sacred family rituals occur, many of them sexual. In Bin Laden's targeting of our economic system is a certain desire to kick us in the privates. So then of course our natural response as a large beuracracy is a set of trade restrictions on any country that is friendly to terrorists. Of course, a terrorist expects us to understand the passionate urge behind his kicking gesture, while we then in turn expect them to understand the language of our beurocratic "memo."
At times it seems as though the in many ways opposing scripts of the Tower of Babel and of Homer's Odyssey are inextricably interwoven into the events surrounding 9/11 (and many other events as well, of course). I think, however, that it is important to maintain a distinction between the two scripts. When I begin to follow with my mind and my life the Homeric script, I tend to walk my path with a certain kind of detachment, as if there really isn't much of a value of good or bad that could be assigned to my actions or to the events of the world. There is only my quest, and the events seem to primarily be recorded as a kind of simple neutral expression of sheer fact of the matter (of what and what kind of matter is a different discussion). As an artist, this simplicity is very attractive, and even at times, I think, important.
When it comes to the experience of most human beings in the world, however, I think that an even more primal voice in comparison to that simple and often detached existence of things and of myself might be found in the lamentations described by Danted in Cnato V of his Inferno, which I quoted at the beginning of this post. Where the pride of my intellect wants to speculatively contemplate being and becoming and the pride it takes to assume that man's being attains to the heights of the Tower required to be able to see it all occur in perspective, I think that Jesus is even more simply calling me to have sympathy with teh cries at the bottom of a falling tower, which I thought I had to ignore on that fated day of 9/11 in order to get to class on time. One redeeming aspect of the aftermath of 9/11 was how de-alienating it was.
The opening scene of Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev is a dream-like sequence in which a man is flying through the air over the terrain of his hometown in a hot air balloon. At some seemingly random point in time, the man simply comes crashing back to earth, with his balloon. The next mage in the montage is of a beautiful stallion, evidently in some kind of serious pain, struggling to slowly rise up from the earth to which the man had just crashed.
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