Labyrinth and Abyss

9/11 and the Ludovico Media.

I have always imagined Alex in A Clockwork Orange singing “London Bridge is Falling Down.” I do not think about why I have imagined thus. I have not asked the questions I would need to be able to–I have no questions ready.  I have an idea why I imagine I see Alex singing falling down, falling down .Yes,  London Bridge’s falling down, falling down, falling down; London Bridge’s falling down . . . my fair lady. Clearly and distinctly I hear Malcolm McDowell in my mind’s ear crooning this nursery rhyme, similarly crooning “Singing in the Rain.” I understand why Burgess’s book might have been disturbing to readers when published; I know how the movie was and is disturbing to many who have seen it, who still view it on DVD, as I myself have several times already. Midnight Cowboy received an X when it was first released. I do not know if anyone who finds this film equally disturbing from among those who are upset by Kubrick’s film. Malcolm McDowell managed to be menacing and charming simultaneously and I still think it is one of the top five performances never to receive an Oscar. Midnight Cowboy adjusted standards. By the time Kubrick’s Clockwork had come out, ratings had shifted. I was twelve when In saw it alone at, I think, the Marine Theater on Flatlands Avenue, just off of Flatbush; there was one around the corner on Flatbush. I am fairly sure that the Marine was the one on Flatlands; I had been at my Aunt Eleanor’s house down the block from King’s Plaza. My mother had given me money to go to the movies if I wanted––we all were watching movies perhaps we should not have been watching.

I do see why some are disturbed by the film. I can see that a film might be or in fact is disturbing without myself being disturbed. There are of course films that have disturbed me to no end. Perhaps I do not actually suspend disbelief when I re-watch the film? How many times I have I cannot count. I can watch it re-watching it while my spouse has barely been able to manage a complete first see without turning away? The thing I have found the most interesting is how the Ludovico Technique was used, what it enabled and how, and just what our media world does to each of us its viewers; spectacle and gaze. All of it amazing and amazed; the Labyrinth awaits, or is it the Abyss?

Who can watch Alex hooked up during the technique, and how can we not be revolted by the results–effective was McDowell’s ability to gain our sympathy–Burgess, Kubrick and McDowell all have a hand in readjusting our sense of sympathy and revulsion–our sense of social responsibility and our ever changing sense of our place in the world, in our families, our relationship to authority; and our perpetually shifting and projected sense of our selves to our selves, our individual responsibilities to others and ourselves . . . 

London Bridge is falling down, falling down–of course it is. Of course they were, the towers, one and two, the tewins attacked in lower Manhattan–how the media spent a few wekks bombarding is in one Ludovico moment after another, montage, Eisenstein had shown us, intensifies experience, intensifies images, imagery, the significance of the signifier and the signified.

The Twin Towers have been absent for almost fifteen years––it was not quite ten when I completed the first version of this, a draft I then revised and published just under a month shy of ten years. There used to be a hole  in lower Manhattan’s skyline, one that smacked me in the eye every time I looked over from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or the walkways of the Brooklyn Bridge or out a subway car picture window clink-clank over the Manhattan Bridge, or so I wanted to believe; that is, before the Freedom Tower reached a certain height, and has subsequently been completed. I had already noticed that the feeling of being pierced had waned, that the stabbing pain in the eye was fading fast. [. . . I wrote this at least seven or eight years ago and had even revised it several times until 9/11 was ten years old. Since then the Freedom Tower reached completion and the content of this paragraph needed revision . . . vision is one thing, vision again, another; to see and to re-see, look again, what vision did I have for this essay . . . to see or not to see depends on how we stand under what we want to understand].  

Nonetheless, this hole, this absence, I speak of here, was still bigger than the Towers were to my eyes, a paradox, perhaps, something about the size or displacing power of absence; that the absence might have greater density in our perception than does the sight of the object as a thing in space.

London Bridge is falling down, falling down . . . 

We sometimes see absence more clearly than we do presence. I know I took them for granted when they were there, persistently there, agreed upon by all, forever. How could things so large, so big, so humungous, gargantuan beyond gargantuan, how could buildings so immense–the largest buildings ever built even when they were no longer the tallest–how could they be toppled.  Who could have imagined their absence? I would never have thought of it–I do not know if anyone could have–the scenario was never imagined, except maybe by some firefighters that bureaucrats and politicians in Manhattan and Albany ignored? This does not surprise me; it no longer shocks me as I would have been when remained naive enough to still think politicians could serve The People . Don’t trust the truss was a firefighter’s mantra; it was also the subject of a video broadcast on television soon afterwards, one that had quickly disappeared from anyone’s rebroadcast list. You cannot even find it on the internet. I do find that suspect, yet, once more, without surprise.The rapidity with which the World Trade Center was completed and the desire born of greed to maximize interior space caused the designers of the building to build each floor in a manner by which warehouses or mega-large supermarkets are built . . . and anyone who knows firemen or pays attention to fires as they happen in their cities, knows that the worst fire fatalities have always been in warehouses and supermarkets where because of how the interiors were constructed, and how the roofs were supported, there were generally cave-ins, that is, roof collapses. The supports of warehouse roofs or those supercargo supermarkets were virtually identical with how each floor of the Twin Towers were built. One-hundred and ten of the largest warehouses ever built stacked on top of each other twice. No steel box construction. Collapse was imminent. Osama Bin Laden’s father owned and ran the largest construction company in the Middle East. He knew exactly what he was doing. 

There came a time when their absence was less than imposing, yet they were never minor in their absence. The initial absence I speak of imposed itself on me with a force their presence could never have had.  Even with that absence fading in presence, what exactly was falling down, falling down–all media in America is a variation on the theme of the Ludovico Technique; how we are conditioned to respond through a manipulation of images and a repetition of sound bites. Over and over–maximum effect. How are agents of the media not agents of propaganda–how have the lessons of advertising through broadcast media not informed how news is presented; how has Hollywood filming and editing not also informed how news items are presented or is it re-poresented, or should I say created. Ludovico takes Pavlov to its logical conclusion?

What then am I saying about our print and broadcast journalism [I would have said ‘media’ in the McLuhan sense, but having been co-opted by Trump, I hesitate]? That they are less than what they are purported to be, that they are not the beacons we have assumed for them, their role in our society, our protectors no more. The media manipulates for power and corporate money. Only in dribs and drabs do we get truth or some sense of standing up for the little man, standing in support of the People–really standing for a state sponsored and media managed Public. But even the Nazis did not lie all the time–there were lies, but mostly half-truths  in the Nazis propaganda machine.  Our current media has more in common with Soviet or Nazis propaganda than it does to the media being any imagined defender of democracy and freedom.

Do you recollect the images set in one montage after another montage after yet another and another and another–deadening the effect or reshaping our sense of doom, alienation, fear?  Then, after this deadening, the videos disappeared entirely, thought to be too painful for us to see again. Just in time because maybe we would look for or find by accident inconsistencies with the reported facts. The earth  is flat was once a fact.

I cannot say anything about their absence now, the Freedom Tower has replaced them in space–I do not know if they have replaced them in mind. Certainly they have not been able to replace them in memory. I sometimes, though, wish I could; but then, how much do I actually wish this, another posture set, a pose imposed. I must be content with a certain measured silence, a quiet that also signals for me a time to be self-conscious. All the world’s a stage implies we must be aware of our presence on that stage, at least aware enough to keep our performance organic, what we like to mean by saying more natural. But we must always be careful about what we want to make more natural–nature and civilization are at odds; the former is red in tooth and claw. Just look at Wall Street. How much in bed with Wall Street was the Obama administration no one wants to imagine let alone look at clear eyed; too busy playing hop-scotch with Truth and ping pong with slogans and received ideas . . . notions I have added to my personal list of cliches?

But what does it mean to be self-conscious? Is it a reflective pose? If so, then mirroring what? To be self-conscious or not to be only instructs myself; I impose on myself as much as I do others by the poses I take. How do I take what it seems I am giving? All does fall down; the house of cards we build out of our selves. Things do fall apart; yes, Mr. Achibe, centers over time cannot hold: the second law of thermodynamics is immutable. History; social science or any  one of the humanities as we had known them in their commitments that somehow we have abandoned in favor of more highly marketed popular responses . . . reflexive in the way a knee is after the doctors rubber mallet is tapped to it . . . how do these help us understand what has happened or the new ways in which we have become even more increasingly contempo-centric . . . ironically at the moment we speak in defense of honoring diversity. There was no steel box construction for the Twin Towers. Do not trust the Truss, the firemen were saying after the collapse of each building. 

Ah, the humanities, though, as I remember them or as they appear today . . . is it the study of humanity that we do, a study we once understood was without the science purported by the social scientific community for their endeavors . . . and even more stridently today than they had when I was an undergraduate now some decades ago. Are the humanities truly the study of humanity? And how have we come to market this notion of humanity if what we do today in what we name critical discourse continues as it has . . .

Where was the humanity in those heinous acts. Osama Bin Laden’s father and family run one of the largest construction companies in the Middle East, I have already said. He knew how vulnerable those buildings were. It was no mystery. It was something any Fire Marshal could have told you who had ever inspected a warehouse fire or a supermarket fire. Warehouses and supermarkets are built to maximize interior space; the roofs of these broad and horizontally super-large buildings are attached by trusses on the walls and only an aluminum brace underneath maintains the integrity of the roof. As I have said before, in the Twin Towers, there was no steel box that had been developed the initial innovation and greatest security measure against collapse in skyscraper building. The Twin Towers were the largest warehouses ever built, stacked one-hundred and ten times high, twice. Collapse under those fires was inevitable–and that is what no one in power or authority wants you to know. And the pigs who made billions on the collapse may not have known about the planes and the plan for them that day, but they could have known the possibility of ultimate failure because it was far too easily accomplished for people who could have known about their vulnerabilty not to have known they were vulnerable. Unless there was access to messages from foreign intelligence agencies that alerted the owners of the Twin Towers to imminent threat which allowed then to establish a building implosion under the cover of a terror attack–maybe this information could have been received by the owners as possible and not imminent and the explosions that fire fighters swore they heard in succession as the buildings collapsed were set just in case something like this possibly happened? Questions beget questions; paranoia begets paranoid questions; just because a question is rooted in paranoia does not mean it is not true, we used to say as undergraduate political science majors. 

History is the self-consciousness of a culture, a people, a nation, its intellectual elite? Can history be populist without necessarily becoming popular, then subject to the demands of entertainment? What kind of history is a history that is entertaining in the way we mean entertaining in this culture?

Childhood was revisited that day into the next and the next one and the next one, each of them creeping in their petty paces as do all the days of recorded time. Chicken Little was I, was you, the sky is falling I said. . . the television screen another theater of a kind, and as in all theaters, we do become children once more, and the sky can fall on our heads.  Chicken Little was a prophet. What more is there to say about me, about them, about this day, the event? The impact was the impact; but do we still feel it.  I couldn’t say what it was I saw as I looked at the hole in the lower Manhattan skyline about a week after they fell; I couldn’t even say what it was I saw watching the Towers fall over and over again on TV, already one or another cut and paste montage for maximum effect–this effect being how horror-stricken we could become. The image was replayed in mind as on tv. London Bridge is falling down, falling down.  My son’s kindergarten teacher talked about it ad nauseum, as far as I was concerned.

The Woolworth Building has not imposed at this angle in almost forty years, I remember having said after the facts.  There was a time when it was the tallest building in the world; the Empire State Building was for a time again the tallest building in New York. I was in lower Manhattan to get a birth certificate so we could go to Canada, Montreal, our hostess from the hotel we were going to stay at extending her heartfelt sympathy over the phone, a solidarity she expressed to me in French and English. I cannot however forget the smell, yes, the smell, the horror of burning flesh for a week still recognizable I imagined in the nose, my fellow New Yorkers and I walking the streets around City Hall, Chambers Street and Broadway as the fires below the rubble continued to burn the missing bodies or their parts.

London Bridge is falling down, more rhymes for the nursery, I recollect having hummed then sung the words from childhood, soon after the day they fell, another day that will live in infamy, or so we believe, all the former days of infamy falling below the horizon of memory. Soon after that apocalyptic day, we said how we would never forget. This current revision is nearly fifteen years later. Fifteen years after Pearl Harbor was 1956. What did this day reveal? The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible is one and the same, The Book of Apocalypse. Apocalypse is from the Greek and means ‘revelation,’ but today means something else because what John revealed was the Chrtistian End Time; his prophecies represent the teleological myth of Christianity. What did we see in those planes crashing into the Twin Towers, the largest buildings ever built, even if they were not the tallest. John’s book owed everything to Hebrew millenialist teleologies; how do we not learn from our mixed cosmogonies and myths of the End. Osama Bun Laden was paying Western Civilization back for the Crusades; I remembered how Milosovich in the fragmented Yugoslavia of the Serbian/Bosnian conflict in the 90s blew up a mosque because the Ottoman Turks had destroyed a church on the same site 500 years before.

The clouds dividing on Patmos; the smoke eventually clearing over lower Manhattan; the smell, the acrid taste in my  mouth and residually evident in my throat as far from the site as Chambers Street at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. I looked to the medieval arches of that bridge, evoking for me again the image of the Crusades. I looked for John the Divine’s Horsemen in the sky when the Towers were falling down, falling down, replayed on the television all week. What do I remember having said? Words never mean what they say at, I recall Addy saying at the close of her narrative in As I Lay Dying. What did we uncover there then? When will we know? Can we?

There were four of them that John saw in the sky dividing the clouds; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  What then did I say in diatribes unfit to print? I later said their absence was almost as big as were the towers themselves, again, the largest buildings ever built, even after they were no longer the tallest, the debris covering how large an area? We once knew. I forget. We will no longer remember, forgetting more and more of this event. It is natural, I imagine. I felt something I could not name for weeks,  for months, how long did it last, this inability to suit word to action? I noticed for a time we shared more camaraderie in our travels  about town; I imagined we had become friendlier. Was it myself who had become so and others did not change? Does it matter who changed and how?

It is now nearly fifteen years ago, soon to be more. There are children born after the fact who are now fourteen years old. Will we remember? I ask rhetorically, as if you know what the answer is–no. I doubted it immediately, knowing how we have forgotten so many days that were destined to live in infamy, days I had lived through, only to see them fade. We have not completely forgotten but there are children ready to enter middle school this fall who were born after it happened. Children who were alive that day but who could not possibly have any recall of the facts as they happened as they were made are themselves perhaps entering high school. . . I am not a skeptic; in fact I have been considered by many to be an optimist. The fact is, do we really remember anything? Do we realize a decade and a half has passed. What was the difference between 1941 and 1956; 1961 and 1976; October 1991 and October 2006? It would be other than optimism if I avoided the facts I use to infer our future lapse in memory. I am sure there were atrocities of the Franco-Prussian war that were infamous to never forget. The Reign of Terror was sure to live in infamy forever–how far have the French come from the lessons of les Jacobins. The further they get away from the blade of the guillotine, though, the less free they are in face of new power and new elite money vritually fearless in their contempt.

We watched with deadening rapidity day after day, in and out and out again, one montage after another, how many angles, how many cuts, the media trying to rival Eisenstein or Hitchcock. The North and South Towers of The World Trade Center were falling down, first one, then the other, then the first again and the first from another angle, at what range were they taken the videos that the media had in how much footage? The towers were falling down in front of us, over and over as if no one could have seen it however many times they watched. This is the footage that will reveal something true–Revelation. Repeatedly on the television news, one station and another and another in a special pace. The only real gain was our deadened sensitivity.  The Ludovico Technique was never so effective.  My brother Alex’s forays into redemption aside, and for you, my hypocrite reader, I assume, as I do for myself, we will not long remember.  How many people lose the memory of horror? How many people’s minds enforce forgetting on them for things too terrible to remember?

Will we come to forget this day, but not through the processes of a collective unconscious amnesia, no.  I am sure the answer is yes that we will forget, as certain as I am that we have forgotten Pearl Harbor.  We have also forgotten Hiroshima, not a special roll at your favorite sushi bar. I try, though, to remember this day, September 11th, 2001, but the recollection is fractured, fragmented, fading in color, intensity, definition. What I see I am not certain I had seen; what I saw is somewhere I could not go to as I do a dictionary, the internet, an old tape recording or video record of a vacation. Searching again the lost recesses of mind, or is it time–time is only ever a state of mind, at least as far as we have dogmatically construed it. Success in recollecting has become difficult to gage.

To see is to believe, of course, and then it is to know, it is a special kind of understanding, one where standing under is imagined although not really enacted.  Of the body, of the mind, of course, we only learn through the crucible of recollection.  How we remember today though is equal  to being blind.  Oedipus set himself on the road to truth after he gouged out his eyes; in blinding himself, Oedipus proclaimed a life of blindness needs no eyes.  Eyes were wasted Oedipus.  What are ours for? Would you or I have his courage? Could we be as just? Ah! The tranquility that recollection requires–I remember my Wordsworth. What then is this language of men, which we must extend to women, and to men and women not privy to our language, our sociolect. Can we do such a thing, take Wordsworth’s maxim for poetic expression and make it apply to those who do not speak our language? We must know that Shakespeare spoke to both Kurosawa, the great 20th century Japanese film director and Dostoevsky, the great 19th century Russian novelist. Did he speak to them the same way he speaks to me; he speaks to me in a way differently than he speaks to every other native English speaker.

Anyone born on December seventh nineteen forty one is now nearly seventy-five years old. The youngest possible person alive on that day is a certain member of the elderly.  Ask any incoming freshman in college to tell you what happened on that day–ask any one of these freshman to tell you what the significance of August 6th is, what happened on that day in 1945.  I have, although I know that I repeat myself.  The responses were frightening from my students in Freshman Composition classes in The City University of New York; what was most frightening was how human they were, all too human, in their ignorance, which is dependent on a culture’s forgetting or its amnesia, which amounts to the same thing. Historical awareness in a culture as tempo-centric as ours is terribly foreshortened.  

What did happen on that day, though?  We know the physical facts of the day; the conclusions to draw from those facts are other things. What lessons can we learn from this event? What lessons do we usually learn from history? Very few, right?  This history is one that has been conveyed through a historiography too susceptible to the backspace key.  We love the eraser; educated people who resent usually do. Wilde was right when he said a fool can always ask a question that a wise man cannot answer. We imagine ourselves geniuses because we do so on and on and on as we have now for several decades; intellectual hegemony won by those who are no better than that famous emperor whose new clothes were so shocking to everybody’s fashion sense. We all have a new set of intellectual clothes to wear on parade or promenade. 

We do not study history as much as we imagine what history might have been as if there were no way to discern facts, to weigh accounts, to manage our research, if we were even to attempt such a thing. We are too in love with doubt as the highest form of wisdom, articulating an epistemology where there are no truths let alone a capital ‘T’ Truth, where all opinions are special simply because they are opinions. But then they are no more than opinions. No one corrects anyone’s opinion because then anyone would not be able to say anything about anything the way they want to be able to say their opinions, off the top of their heads? We would have to know something to be able to judge opinions in their quality, but we do not believe we can know enough for any of us to do such a thing. Knowledge has become impossible, so why endeavor at all. There is no knowledge; there are only an infinite number of opinions which leads us to imagine things like infinite possibility. However, infinity is unreachable, not knowledge. One billion is equally far from infinity as is one. But then knowledge today is confused with facts, facts themselves never knowledge, but who’s to say remains our favorite rebuttal. 

All historiography is more l’histoire in one sense of the word, a story told, something to tell, perhaps; or, it is most likely a fiction, again, a thing made. I don’t have as much objections to the makerliness of historical texts as I do to the intellectual dilettantism that rules our social discourse, sometimes, even, discourse in the Academy. Anyone can say because where anyone can say no one can say you can’t say. Everyone respects another’s opinion no matter how ludicrous because he wants his opinions respected whether they deserve to be or not.

On any of the days that fall below the horizon of history, what will happen, what could, or would or should happen?  We love saying we do not know; but then, what kind of people draw comfort from perpetually saying I do not know; I cannot know; I will not know; knowing is impossible; knowledge is impossible; my doubt is the highest wisdom I can attain. The horizon of memory, the horizon of time, the one of being too.  9/11 will converge with December 7th and August 6th in a metaphysical parallax. It is inevitable.

One difference today is how few monastic oases of learning, of knowledge, of cultural memory we have in the desert of our waning civilization. As concerns the parallax, there are metaphysical ones as well as physical ones; the railroad tracks converging on the horizon is not an illusion, though; it reveals the curvature of the earth, which we see as flat on the ground we walk on. Perception  cannot always be the sole verifier of our reality, but it can aid in gathering information; empiricism has its limits; doubt is something a genuine First Philosophy can start with, but to end with it is a disingenuous philosophy perpetrated on a people in the name of other hegemonies, The Will to Power has everywhere been the will to power.

Soon this day, 9/11, will be below the horizon with all the other days that were once days that will never be forgotten. Who remembers Gettysburg? Who remembers Lindberg? Do you remember when we still called Veteran’s Day, Armistice day . . . the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month? Do you remember anyone using the phrase, the eleventh hour? That’s where it came from. Do you even know what I am referring to when I say the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month? Who remembers 1918? Do we remember Europe’s armies rising at dawn to bombard and shell into a final submission until the 11 AM ceasefire, when all fronts went still. How psychopathic could they have been?

There were limits that day in the skies above lower Manhattan, the limits they set, the ones we had put in place prior to the event, the result had set another set; each differing by varying from the others in ways we have lost to inevitable forgetting–but then forgetting is just that, something for  getting, but do we look for what we should be getting?  The limits of remembering had been set too, much by the way we think, by how we react, not what we do, or how we do it, but by what and by how we determine ourselves capable of doing anything.  What is thinkable will always determine what gets thought, and in this we have no sense of our limits or our limitations. 

A clockwork Alex, I am; what more can I say when I know that this is true for each of us.


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