Cybrarian at Large  

In defeat: DEFIANCE
In Peace: GOOD WILL"
Sir Winston Churchill

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The title isn’t meant as a slam against the entire French nation, but I have to say that French writer Alain Soral must be a charter member of the Axis (courtesy of Merde in France). Here is his recollection of Sept. 11, the most rancid bilge I think I’ve encountered outside of the Fundamentalist Islamic fever swamps:

"I was in my home office writing a pen-named freelance psy-sex piece for a women’s' magazine in order to put some food on the table, the phone rang and it was an old friend who I had a falling out with a few years ago, an old friend who was doing the same debilitating work under a pen-name for a different magazine. He screamed into the telephone: "switch on your TV, this is great!". I turned the TV on and it was so beautiful that we put our differences aside. I then called another friend who I had had a falling out with over some political nonsense. He had gone to Spain. On the backdrop of the same images we experienced the same communion and we buried the hatchet as well... Guys the world over who share the same feelings with those who are humiliated, felt the same sense of euphoria while watching these biblical images of justice and punishment! For me, 9-11 represents the reconciliation, concerning most subjects, with all those that this mediocre life has forced me to hate because of insignificant differences... Truthfully, it was a beautiful moment of love. That should tell you how much I remember it!"

And in case anyone might doubt that someone who ISN”T a certified member of the Fundamentalist Islamic fever swamp might say this, Merde in France helpfully provides the original French, which I can read well enough to verify the accuracy of the translation…

Cher Monsieur Sorel, I thought M. Derrida and Noam Chomksy had gone off the rails pretty badly, but yoursneering comments are a smoldering moral train wreck! So you thought the gut-wrenching, horrid images of hell on earth in Manhattan were “great,” beautiful,” “biblical images of justice and punishment,” did you? You could call watching the deaths of thousands of people whose only crime was coming to work that morning “a beautiful moment of love?” Do you know how inhuman and twisted you sound as you celebrate the deaths of innocents? Do you even care? (Well, I guess I didn’t need to ask that!) Would you have spouted the same contemptible, smirking weasel words as the Blitzkrieg rolled over France back in 1940? Or do you just think that American lives somehow don’t count as much?
Do you feel the same euphoria (surely a dark, festering negation of everything that true pleasure means, at least for those who are playing with a full deck, shall we say?) when Palestinian suicide bombers blow up Israeli children?

At any rate, M. Sorel, if you REALLY believe what you wrote, you are wading in a stinking sewer of moral depravity, and if your views become popular, I tremble to think of Europe’s future, because, to judge from what you’ve said, you and your friends not only wouldn’t defend civilization against the barbarians du jour – you’d hand them another torch and dance with them in the flaming ruins!

And that, fellow netizens, is a classic example of the sort of opposition we face from within – does the word “quisling” ring a bell?

  posted by Liz L @ 7:00 PM

Thursday, February 26, 2004  



I thought I’d post a poem that captures the cheerful chaos that’s one of the things I enjoyed about New York City. Old construction photos, BTW, show that the Empire State Building was, indeed built right next to a furniture store…


The city is cutting a way,
The gasmen are hunting a leak;
They’re putting down asphalt today,
To change it for stone in a week.

The builders are raising a wall,
The wreckers are tearing it down,
Enacting the drama of all
Our changeable, turbulent town.

For here is an edifice meant
To stand for an eon or more;
And there is a gospeler’s tent,
And there is a furniture-store.

Our suburbs are under the plow,
Our scaffolds are raw in the sun;
We’re drunk and disorderly now,
‘Twill be a great place when it’s done!

Arthur Guiterman

  posted by Liz L @ 7:43 AM



I’ve seen this problem in novels with villains as “heroes;” in movies with such a repulsively immoral or amoral “sense of life” that I wish I could take a mental shower after being unwary enough to watch one (or part of one). I’ve seen it in the works of historians who use painstaking research (including some genuinely useful new concepts) with no apparent purpose except, perhaps, to demolish the reputation of anyone in history who otherwise might possibly be admired. I’ve even seen it in the proposals for rebuilding Ground Zero, most of which have nothing resembling beauty or harmony about them.

I don't know if there's one word for all of this bad philosophy that's been trickling down from the "chattering classes" into popular culture, but the basic ideas include a denial of any meaningful difference between good and evil, the notion that there are no absolutes, no real truth outside of each person's subjective opinion, and the obliteration of real meaning from words (including, of course, words like "beauty", which help explain the trashy architecture I mentioned).

One huge problem with this bundle of rotten ideas is that if there are no absolutes, I’m wondering how much of a leap it is to shrug your shoulders and say that there’s nothing worth fighting for, especially if giving up the harsh, unpleasant, bloody business of fighting might buy at least a semblance of peace? This could eventually make these ideas as dangerous as any outside terrorist threat. So while I’m not going to call the FBI, this is one reason I do think these ideas need to be argued against as strongly as possible. To that end, I’m going to start with a modest Fisking of Jacques Derrida, a major deconstructionist, and thus (as I hope to show) very definitely a part of the problem.

I’m working from an article (“Kant at GroundZero,” The New Republic, Feb. 9, 2004), in which Richard Wolin reviews Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues With Jurgen Hebermas and Jacues Derrida whose editor, Giovanna Borradori, makes what I might call the big mistake of asking M. Derrida if he has any profound reflections in the wake of Sept. 11.

First, though, Mr. Wolin explains deconstruction:

“In the lexicon of deconstruction, reason…suppresses otherness, heterogeneity, and difference…For Derrida, the hallmark of Western thought…has been a systematic repression of marginal elements (‘otherness’) that fail to conform to reason’s oppressive requirements: its demands for unity, totality, and sameness…
Deconstruction cheerfully severs the pivotal link between insight and emancipation…(which is) philosophy’s central premise: that reason is the key to human flourishing, to a life well lived…
As one of deconstruction’s French critics has aptly observed: ‘Deconstruction is the ruse that makes it possible to speak at the same time as there is nothing to say.’”

Yes, this is barely scratching the surface, and I’m sure I’ll be saying a lot more about deconstruction later, but for now, M. Derrida seems bent on proving the truth of that critic’s comment as he answers Ms. Borradori’s question: were the events of September 11 historically unique?

“We perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name…this ‘thing’ that has just happened, this supposed ‘event’…’Something’ took place…but the place and meaning of this ‘event’ remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept…out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date…as a kind of ritual incantation…We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way…What remains ‘infinite’ in this wound is that we do not know how to describe, identify, or even name it.”

Pardon me, M. Derrida, but initial numb shock and incomprehension in the face of such a horror are NOT the same thing is “having no concept and no meaning available” to name it. And as for the “place” remaining “ineffable,” didn’t you bother to watch any TV, read any papers or magazines, or even ask any New Yorkers while you were teaching there? If you had, you might have found out about a ghastly, smoldering pile of ruins, a mass grave where two tall buildings used to leap proudly towards the sky, at the south end of an island called Manhattan…and there was something about these terrorists who hijacked jets and turned them into bombs, or did you miss that too? Were you even aware that you were in New York City, or does the “powerlessness” of language (your type of language maybe, but not mine!) extend to an utter inability to deal with geography? If that’s the case, I sure hope to heaven you have a good secretary to make your airline reservations for you!!!

And, M. Derrida, while you may think, from your rarified heights of academic abstraction, that “we do not know how describe, identify, or even name” what happened, well, I have a big, neon-lettered, all-caps news flash for you. A lot of we lesser mortals who actually deal with the real world know precisely what happened; this was an act of war, an atrocity, an abomination…My, aren’t real live words amazing? Yes, they DO actually convey something – surprising, isn’t it? Ultimately, there is one nice, simple word that wraps it all up – E* V* I*L – can you say that word, M. Derrida? Just what part of it don’t you understand? Because that’s what that “event” was – Screaming, foaming at the mouth evil, red in tooth and claw, set on fire of Hell itself!

But there are some more words, M. Derrida, that describe how so many, on that day and after, responded – words like heroism, bravery, sacrifice…that can be wrapped up into another nice, simple word - maybe you think it’s too simple for your finely tuned, esoteric mind, but a lot of us still find it very appropriate. And that word, Monsieur, is G*O*O*D –because when evil threw its worst at them, New Yorkers came back right at it with their best, as a sign I saw shortly thereafter said so well; “You do us proud, New York, New York!” And just what part of “good” don’t you understand, M. Derrida?

And it gets worse, believe it or not, as Mr. Wolin, seeming a bit bemused, tries to explain what M. Derrida sees as the cause of Sept. 11 (I use this long quote because, odd as it sounds, it’s easier to follow than M. Derrida’s explanation, which should tell you something right there):

“In (Derrida’s) view the attacks are best described in terms of the biofeedback mechanism of the human autoimmune system (Yes, really)…the autoimmune system secretes antibodies to attack unwanted foreign invaders. But at times the process miscarries, and the antibodies mistakenly attack the host. According to Derrida, the September 11 attacks were born of an analogous process. As the epicenter of globalization and neo-colonialism, the West has become entangled in depredations and corrupt dealings well beyond its own borders…
On September 11, the West at long last reaped what it had sown. According to Derrida, as a reaction to American foreign policy, the brand of Islamic fundamentalism practiced by Al Qaeda was a type of ‘antibody,’…an indigenous response to…American political overreach. Usually these ‘antibodies’ thrive at the Third World sites where they are originally ‘secreted.’…But…The West’s usually reliable autoimmune system…miscarried, and the ‘antibody’ known as ‘Al Qaeda’ attacked its host. The September 11 attacks thus serve as a cruel reminder of the inequities and injustices of American ‘hegemony.’”

M. Derrida’s penetrating, earth shaking conclusion:

“What will never let itself be forgotten is thus the perverse effect of the autoimmunitary itself. For we now know that repression both in its psychoanalytical sense and its political sense…ends up reproducing and regenerating the very thing it seems to disarm.”

Well, M. Derrida, I have to give you a prize for one of the most badly strained, if not actually dislocated or fractured, uses of imagery I’ve seen in quite awhile. So if Al Qaeda were “antibodies,” what, in your opinion, were the people who died in the towers? And how would you describe our military response? (Or, on second thought, do I really want to know?)

You’ve also managed to do two things that I wouldn’t have thought possible at the same time – assert that whatever happened on Sept. 11 was All Our Fault, even though you insist that we can’t even describe what really happened. But it seems that you’ve finally found a bit of what you might call moral clarity somewhere, though if you think everyone who died because they went to work or boarded a jet simply “had it coming,” I would call your “moral clarity” immoral, repulsive or outright depraved (or are those other words you don’t quite understand?).

And I would strongly advise you NOT to try out that line on anybody who lost a friend, family member, or loved one on Sept. 11, or who helped in the clean up, because, believe me, they DO understand what all those words I’ve mentioned mean…And you might find yourself on the receiving end of some other concepts you no doubt wouldn’t understand – some blunt, pointed, and oh-so-uncultured Anglo Saxon idioms, perhaps topped off with something called a Bronx cheer…

After this little introduction, which I hope has shown at least a little bit of the problem, I’m going to continue taking aim at this rotten philosophy – this might take a while, since M. Derrida is, I’m sure, going to be about as much fun to read as getting teeth pulled…And I still haven’t finished with just war yet…so stay tuned!

  posted by Liz L @ 8:53 PM

Sunday, February 22, 2004  



Well, at long last, we have supposedly final plans for the Freedom Tower (or Freedumb Tower, as a few of my fellow posters on the architectural forums have been calling it) and for the memorial.

First, the tower; it’s better than the Think Group’s twin jungle gyms, to which the actual buildings have to desperately cling for dear life. And it’s better than a lot of the abominations that were displayed at the Max Protech gallery, such as the “pre-exploded” hulk riddled with as many holes as a giant piece of Swiss cheese, the lime green and purple thing that reminded me of a vase my great aunt used to have in her window, or the immense metallic hairball. Of course, that may NOT be saying too much…

It’s slim enough toward the top, at any rate, to reach for the sky fairly well, and it is does have a nice, shiny glass façade that should dance with the light.

But instead of becoming slimmer through a series of setbacks (think Empire State or Chrysler), the tower is tapered, like the John Hancock Tower in Chicago – only, unlike “Big John,” it doesn’t really pull it off. And in some of the pictures I’ve seen, the tower seems to be twisted, which it also doesn’t manage to pull off. (Ouch! That poor building needs a chiropractor!) Throw in roofs that slope wildly downward from one corner, and that tower has incredibly ungraceful, awkward lines and a fat, bulging base that, in spite of its height, almost make it appear to be slouching a bit.

And, yes, it’s supposed to be the world’s tallest, at 1,776 feet, but it’s really cheating; since several hundred of those feet are going to be a hollow framework, like a jungle gym, the whole thing will have less useable height than the Chrysler Building, for crying out loud. I’m also aware that I’ll never be able to “put my money where my mouth is” by working in a super-tall building. But I can still hear the movers and shakers whispering to each other, “Well, we don’t want to build anything TOO tall or impressive, because it would only be a tempting target; but on the other hand, we don’t want to actually look like we’re scared, so if we put a GREAT BIG gee-gaw whimmydiddle on top maybe no one will notice…”

I would shake my head in utter disgust that, surrounded as they are by a skyline full of inspiring, soaring, beautiful towers, this was the best the architect or architects could come up with, until I remember that for these bleeding edge architects, who inhabit visionary worlds that we mere mortals who have to put up with what they build can never aspire to reach, the obsessive quest for originality simply forbids any reference to the aforesaid skyline … **GNASH TEETH** And then there’s the old proverb, which they’ve once again proven true, that “For God so loved the world that He DID NOT send a committee”…

I’m afraid I have to agree with James Gardner, who says:

“Weird as it may sound, I almost feel bad for the building. It didn’t mean to be ugly. It didn’t seek to have so many hopes and delusions foisted upon it. The only redemption I can see is that the thing will be so oddball – a sort of Rodney Dangerfield of a building – that the public will be moved to pity and one day come to embrace it.” (“A Monumental Mediocrity”, New York Sun, 12/22/03, p.16)

As for Reflecting Absence, well, you walk down a dark, gloomy ramp into the footprint of one of the towers, and – Lo and Behold! – you find a reflecting pool, with the names of the dead scattered at random along the surrounding walls. That should look REALLY impressive, when the motionless water begins to collect dead leaves or whatever other crud can find its way down there, and whatever the pools are made of starts to collect lime or rust – and we all know how dicey maintenance of public spaces can be. Actually, what this plan really reflects to me is an absence of any resolve to move beyond the first grief and horror; it says nothing at all about determination, heroism, or fighting back against the barbarians who started this. Of course, for that, you might need (GASP!) statues or something that actually sends a message, which is simply TOO, TOO unoriginal for our architectural elite…

Actually, I’d love to see everyone responsible for this fiasco, even “70 story Silverstein,” get a good slap upside the head, and the so-called architects get their walking papers. Then maybe they could find an architect who can actually build proud, soaring skyscrapers, like Cesar Pelli, for instance…As it is, I just hate to see my favorite city get suckered into this architectural con job…

Finally, Michael Lewis points out a deeper problem:

“Before Modernism, the meaning of architecture was provided by settled traditions of decorum, custom, and above all belief that architecture was a high and noble art that art that did more than fill the mundane need for space and shelter, making civilization itself visible in permanent form. Until we can do this again, we cannot reassemble the broken pieces at Ground Zero…We seem able to make objects that proclaim ‘we suffer,’ ‘we mourn,’ or ‘we repent’ - but not ones that convey the simple assertion, “we are good.” And a culture that cannot say that will build no pyramids or cathedrals, and in the end not even a very good house.” (“’All Sail, no anchor’: Architecture After Modernism” The New Criterion, Dec. 2003, p. 16)

Too true, I’m afraid; more on that later…

  posted by Liz L @ 7:26 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  
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