The world has
changed. Things will never be the same.
Right now we are awash in a sea of 9/11 cliché. Nabokov spoke of
art and literature as the war against cliché. And Kundera wrote
that resistance to cliché is what distinguishes art from life.
I think that what has changed is that a sense of dread has been reawakened
in our imaginations, a dread that had dissipated and gone dormant with
the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. That
old nuclear dread had become familiar, over the decades, abstract and
unreal. Academic. Unimaginable.
This new dread has the sharp tang of reality to it. It is all too imaginable
all too imaginable that a dirty bomb will be exploded some day
or year in the near future, and one of the great cities of the West, New
York or London or Paris, will be rendered uninhabitable for thousands
of years and we will find ourselves living, in Don DeLillos memorable
phrase, in the ruins of the future.
Today, again, the world narrative belongs to terrorists . . . .
We are rich, privileged and strong, but they are willing to die. This
is the edge they have, the fire of aggrieved belief. . . . Two forces
in the world, past and future. With the end of communism, the ideas and
principles of modern democracy were seen clearly to prevail, whatever
the inequalities of the system itself. . . . But now there is a global
theocratic state, unboundaried and floating and so obsolete it must depend
on suicidal fervor to gain its aims. Ideas evolve and devolve, and history
is turned on end. don delillo, in the ruins of the future
I imagine, too, that we will learn to live with this dread, that in fact
we are already doing so, that this dread will become as familiar to us
as the old cold war nuclear dread, at least until the next Event, the
one that obliterates 9/11 as the mother of all events, and becomes our
new benchmark of terror. Imagining what that event will be, and what the
world will be like for my seven-year-old daughter, is what haunts my day
dreams and keeps me awake at night.
The world is a burning house, and a door has
been opened in that house that will never be closed.
am a Buddhist. But Buddhism has, alas, no good answer for genocide and
mass murder, no self-defense against slaughter but unrequited compassion
and acceptance. History is littered with vanished Buddhist kingdoms, put
to the sword by (ironically, often Islamic) conquerors, for whom violence
was not only a way of life but a divine imperative. History, hell. China
has been grinding Tibet to dust for half a century now, and Tibet will
be only a memory in another generation or two. Clichés like What
goes around comes around, You reap what you sow, An eye for an eye makes
the whole world blind, and Love is the most powerful weapon of all are
cold comfort to the citizens of Sarajevo suffering under the Serb siege,
Tutsis being hacked to death by Hutu machetes, or the victims of 9/11
and touch the perpetrators not at all.
I am also by temperament a pessimist. War with Iraq is coming. To quote
Baudrillard once more: What the terrorists achieved in the attack
on Manhattan . . . provides a good illustration of chaos theory: an initial
shock provoking unforeseeable consequences. The new war will undoubtedly
also provide us with another nifty example of chaos theory. What the CIA
calls Blowback. And how well we will weather the consequences remains
to be seen. Its been suggested that Saddam already has in place
a Dead Mans Switch: as his regime is destroyed, in his final act,
to seal his place in the pantheon of murderers of millions, alongside
Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, he finally triggers his weapons of mass destruction,
launching bio-chemical missiles at Israel, decimating the Kurds in his
own country, and detonating dirty bombs in the West.
Theres psychological evidence that a realistic view of the world
and depression are linked; that the depressed tend to be more realistic
in their assessment of life or perhaps, that looking at the world
realistically leads inevitably to depression, and that a certain amount
of denial is essential to maintaining a positive, optimistic outlook on
life. So as we commence World War IV, as we learn to live in the ruins
of the future, engaged in a perpetual Orwellian conflict against Islamic
fascism, terror, and the wretched of the earth heres to denial,
the triumph of optimism over the paranoid imagination
and the never-ending war against cliché.
|Eric Overmyer 73 is co-executive producer
of the award-winning television show Law & Order. He is also a
celebrated New York Citybased playwright with Emmy and Writers
Guild nominations for his work in film, theater, and television. Overmyer
spoke about the Great Nuance Crisis at Reeds 1995