|Dinners, dates and dogmas 2|
September 12, or Love, War and Terrorism
The folk tales say that the monster is invincible unless you eat it up, ingest it and thus make it part of yourself. Therefore, having unrecommended daily intakes of monstrous things can really turn you into a monster. If you lived in Serbia during the nineties, you could be a member of the Addams family, to say the least. But you resist, and that is the fun of it. You look for the inner poise, and if it is impeded by life, it can be found in art.
Art changes with time. Much before Andy Warhol’s multiplied and de-sexed portraits of Marilyn Monroe, we knew that we were witnessing the birth of a new age and a new art which boldly traded an elite audience for an average consumer, an art triggered by trashy icons of consumerism. Mass culture seems to be what unites the world. At the end of the nineteenth century, young Americans, Italians and Japanese had nothing in common. One hundred years later, they share the world’s trademarks. In the zeroes, their common goal is love, and their common fear is terrorism — the finger on the trigger.
Coming home long past midnight, full to bursting with news, food, shock and great expectations, I rummaged through my books, looking for some calm. And what I happened upon was a 1995 anthology of American avant-pop fiction called — After Yesterday’s Crash! Oddly enough, the book is advertised as "writing for the new millennium", obviously implying that the millennium is going to be a tough one... The editor’s introduction is entitled ‘Avant-Pop: Still Life after Yesterday’s Crash’ and begins with an excerpt from the 1918 Berlin Dadaist Manifesto:
‘The highest art will be the one which ... has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week, which is forever trying to collect its limbs after yesterday’s crash...’
The coincidence did not end there. Leafing through the adjacent book, which happened to be called In Memoriam to Postmodernism, I found the following quotation: "Terrorism is a way to health. Health is the lusting for infinity and dying of all variants. Health is not stasis. It is not repression of lusting or dying. It is no bonds. The only desire of any terrorist is NO BONDS, though terrorists don’t desire. Their flaming, jumping passions are infinite, but are not them." Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School. There is a proverb about how the way to hell is paved, but that is not the point. Dying may be mentioned metaphorically; still, when associated with health, it feels too scary and obviously threatening. Here, the greatest American icon sounds like an Islamic fundamentalist. Not that her intentions were bad — her wisdom goes sour because of the sad and mad history of the zeroes.
The world is left marred, stained, tainted with blood, suspicion and doubt. After September 11, all lofty feelings can turn into mania, all love into pathology, all romance into tragedy. The more so because the ‘eye for an eye’ principle goes on. Retaliation makes death a natural event.
Like it was during the Great War, when Europe turned into an enormous carnival of death in which the flower of the nations was destroyed. The enormous butcheries of 1916 rendered the supreme moral ideal of the soldiers on both sides not victory, but death. Death became a familiar and compelling subject for the new generation of American writers, whose country wanted to make the world safe for democracy. In a letter to a friend, the poet Rupert Brooke wrote: ‘Come and die. It’ll be great fun.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald suspected that they would all die in war. Almost a hundred years later, what has changed? Not much. Back then, the war was more a place than a condition: American soldiers had a strong sense of going to war, since Paris remained a peacetime city of cafes and ‘continuous excitation of the senses’, although the butchery took place only sixty miles from it. Today, terrorism becomes a place, the site of the destroyed Twin Towers. Today, it is America that is hosting disaster and demolition in a perfectly unsafe world. And again, America goes on the warring world tour — its Afghanistan leg has just begun.
I cannot help wondering what life in Kabul is like, without food, water and electricity, with the bodies piling up. The Taliban stone their women to death if their elbows show from under the garment, and what they did to the Buddhist art heritage of the land is more than appalling: but is there a reason good enough to strike at them with bombs, even if those bombs go along with the right cause, and food packages besides?
The end of the world as we know it has come. A new style will emerge: it will resist big words. The revolt against lofty words, noble sentiments, deceptive phrases helped earlier in shaping the prose style which strove to evoke the real feeling of action, instead of describing fake sentiments. The new American life and art will become a mixture of experimental excitement and awareness of historical loss, permeated with a sense of decadence and cultural emptiness. We will all have to fight against dead channels. Hiding behind dinners, dates and dogmas will not get us anywhere. We have to look, to think and decide on a new path paved with good intentions and risky efforts. This will be the century of dangerous living, but tolerance is going to be indispensable. America should not take revenge — it should rather take pride in its best achievements and follow in their footsteps. Collect its limbs after yesterday’s crash for a start, and say a prayer.
Vladislava Gordic teaches English and American literature at the University of Novi Sad. She lived through the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which she reported in a diary on the Internet