Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Post-Post-9/11 World

One of my favorite spots in Bergen. In the field across
from Fantoft, there's a fountain with markers reaching
out from it showing the direction and distance from
different cities across the world.

Congratulations. We’re officially in the post-post-9/11 world.

At a Halloween party this week, my mind jumped out of my head and did a quick lap around the room before returning, completely blown. I had just seen a couple dressed up as the World Trade Center. They each wore cardboard boxes with windows drawn on, and had half a plane coming out of their fronts.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a good bit of irreverence as much as the next person. I chuckled over the shoe-attack on Bush, and can cock my head to stare at Piss Christ with plenty of aesthetic curiosity. From the time I could write, parodies and lampoons poured out of my pen. But this touched the raw. And surprised me by doing so.

In recent years, I think of September 11th less as a tragedy, and more as a paradigm shift. When it happened, it was horrible. I remember my seventh grade brain performing the following contortion: oh good, now America will understand the unbelievable fear and sorrow that Israel has been living with for years. Since then, I’ve been exposed to so much discussion of 9/11’s use as an excuse for oil-greedy grabs in Iraq and government surveillance and fuel of Islamaphobia, that it seems more a political event than an anniversary of death. Yet the Norwegian couple who thought it would be a good idea to dress up as this murder of thousands shocked me back into feeling.

I understand that ten years is a long time to some people (it’s true that my sense of historic time is so distorted that every summer I fast for the destruction of the temple 2000 years ago). But it is not so long that people are not still mourning their friends and family. I wanted nothing more than to walk up to the couple and sock them one with, “I didn’t dress up like Uttøya. You keep your hands off 9/11.” Which would have been at least as tasteless and horrid as their costumes. So instead I walked home, and opened the door to a pair of adorable trick-or-treaters with an enormous bucket of candy and change. I added a couple of quarters to their loot and shooed them back out into the scary world.

In my masters literature class the other day, the prof inadvertently raised a fascinating question. He was talking about American literature departments’ inability to cope with “The Man Who Lived Underground” properly, and include it as often as they did sentimental favorites with much less political punch. I mused a bit out loud on the humor of accusing lit departments of failing to be properly liberal and leftist, and then realized I’d hit a poser. In America, the liberals gather in the literature departments. But it’s not so here. Where do the liberal Norwegians hang out? Then I realized it was an incredibly dumb question—they aren’t enough of a minority to need their own cozy haven. In fact, whereas in the States identity and race and class are constantly clashed over in classes and pretty much every student of the Humanities walks around with a little conscience on their shoulder telling them to rethink their words and labels 24/7, the Norwegian literature department seems curiously absent of class anger or gender anxiety or inquiries of sexual definition. Though I’m certain these students have all read about identity and can speak intelligently on it when required, it seems less immediate. Perhaps its simply their European reticence and manners against American bluster. Or perhaps it really is less relevant here. Americans are so worried about defining themselves, and Europeans may be more comfortable remaining in the pack. Plus, they all look kinda the same to an American ;-)
Jonas, what do you think?


  1. Oh, wow. Let me get back to you on that one, when I have time for a longer answer, but reading that last sentence I couldn't NOT say SOMETHING. :P

  2. I think your point about the immediacy of identity being lesser here is quite correct. While most people here in Norway would definitely be acutely aware (or at least wary of) of their identity expressions made through clothing, music, haircuts on everyday levels, and race, religion, class and gender on a higher level, I don't think there is a very pronounced need to comment on it day-to-day.

    Every so often you get a debate in newspapers about bullying in schools, and people will inevitably bring up the topic of school uniforms to save the children of "poorer" parents (this all in the best-developed welfare state in the world) having to send their children to school without Levi's and whatever other fancy brands kids "depend on" to scrutinize and discriminate their peers. I think if it came down to that, school children would still find a way of expressing solidarity with what they identify with, in spite of school uniforms, whether it's hair, school bags, jewelry, shoes etc. The same applies to adults to a greater extent. Despite work etiquette demanding you wear a suit, that doesn't mean you blend into corporate invisibility. I guess that's the great thing about the Humanities, you really get all sorts, whether it's the more laid-back style or the tweed and linen blazers with elbow patches.