Friday, October 28, 2011 11:30 AM
Somewhere along the way most of us have encountered a prediction by Nostradamus, and a person claiming that a sentence or two proves the man could tell the future. Most recently the events of September 11, 2001, have rekindled speculation that Nostradamus “saw” the attacks coming. A Google search turns up this quatrain as “proof” of the matter:
In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb,
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning
But, that’s exactly what Colin Dickey, writing in Lapham’s Quarterly, warns against if you really want to understand the man behind the prophecies. “Before you even begin, forget the Internet,” writes Dickey. “A Google search of his name would leave you mired in hordes of conspiracy theorists, New Age peddlers, devotees who give him the cloying nickname ‘Nosty’ and credulously recycle the same badly translated lines and outright inventions that people have always cited as ‘proof’ of his foresight.” As Dickey examines some of these translations, their absurdity becomes obvious.
So, who was this man whose “name is almost a byword for cataclysm, trotted out over the centuries in the wake of major disasters as evidence that long ago someone had figured out they had been foreordained”? The answer is a fascinating story, much more so than hackneyed translations of the man’s writing. After years of fighting the plague as a pharmacist and doctor—and losing his first wife and two children—Nostradamus turned to writing almanacs, “switching his focus from the plague to Europe’s other source of constant anxiety and speculation: the weather.” This is where he made a name for himself, which allowed him later to publish TheProphecies. But, according to Dickey, his frontline reporting about the plague is his best writing. Still, it’s the “apocalyptic tone” of The Prophecies that has kept his name current all these centuries later. “[A]fter years of futile struggling against the plague,” Dickey writes, “he seemed to have decided that it was far easier to narrate the apocalypse than try to fight it.”
So the man we remember today came to be—his mythical standing, that is—through a sort of exhaustion set upon him by “a disaster [the plague] so total that human civilization seemed to collapse utterly.” Dickey’s profile shows a real human behind the name, while also digging into why we, all these years later, try and make sense of “the garbled and the fragmented” to look for “lucid meaning beneath.” In doing so, the essay shows us as much about ourselves as it does about Nostradamus.
Source: Lapham’s Quarterly
Image in public domain.
Monday, October 17, 2011 10:35 AM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
These last weeks, there have been two “occupations” in lower Manhattan, one of which has been getting almost all the coverage -- that of the demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park. The other, in the shadows, has been hardly less massive, sustained, or in its own way impressive -- the police occupation of the Wall Street area.
On a recent visit to the park, I found the streets around the Stock Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in every form (in and out of uniform) -- on foot, on scooters, on motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy wagons or minivans, you name it. At the park’s edge, there is a police observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity. I counted more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to nothing was going on -- and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less streets.
This might be seen as massive overkill. After all, the New York police have already shelled out an extra $1.9 million, largely in overtime pay at a budget-cutting moment in the city. When, as on Thursday, 100 to 150 marchers suddenly headed out from Zuccotti Park to circle Chase Bank several blocks away, close to the same number of police -- some with ominous clumps of flexi-cuffs dangling from their belts -- calved off with them. It’s as if the Occupy Wall Street movement has an eternal dark shadow that follows it everywhere.
At one level, this is all mystifying. The daily crowds in the park remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable. (Any violence has generally been the product of police action.) On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation. There is, of course, another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at the Park’s edge doing nothing in particular: “Maybe they’re peaceable because we’re here.” And here's a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, said to me, “This is the most important piece of real estate on the planet and they’re scared. Look how amazed we are. Imagine how they feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it.”
And then there’s a third possibility: that two quite separate universes are simply located in the vicinity of each other and of what, since September 12, 2001, we’ve been calling Ground Zero. Think of it as Ground Zero Doubled, or think of it as the militarized recent American past and the unknown, potentially inspiring American future occupying something like the same space. (You can, of course, come up with your own pairings, some far less optimistic.) In their present state, New York’s finest represent a local version of the way this country has been militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11, transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state.
Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and opposition as alien and enemy-like. They are trying to herd, lock in, and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of this. They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act (as in the recent eviction threat to “clean” the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement.
Though much of the time they are just a few feet apart, the armed state backing that famed 1%, or Wall Street, and the unarmed protesters claiming the other 99% might as well be in two different times in two different universes connected by a Star-Trekkian wormhole and meeting only where pepper spray hits eyes.
Which means anyone visiting the Occupy Wall Street site is also watching a strange dance of phantoms. Still, we do know one thing. This massive semi-militarized force we continue to call “the police” will, in the coming years, only grow more so. After all, they know but one way to operate.
Right now, for instance, over crowds of protesters the police hover in helicopters with high-tech cameras and sensors, but in the future there can be little question that in the skies of cities like New York, the police will be operating advanced drone aircraft. Already, as Nick Turse indicates in his groundbreaking report [at TomDispatch], the U.S. military and the CIA are filling the global skies with missile-armed drones and the clamor for domestic drones is growing. The first attack on an American neighborhood, not one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, surely lurks somewhere in our future. Empires, after all, have a way of coming home to roost.
Read Nick Turse's essay, “America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases” at TomDispatch.com >>
Image by WarmSleepy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011 4:07 PM
As the tenth anniversary of September 11th approaches, writer and blogger Courtney E. Martin reflects on seven ways in which that fateful day shaped the millennial generation of which she is a part.
We are fundamentally practical.
For many of us, 9/11 was a wake-up call about the precious and finite nature of human life. For better or worse, many of us gravitated away from artistic dreams, or romantic notions of living abroad, far from our families, and hunkered down. Even our approaches to social change are often scoffed at by our authority-resisting parents, who see our focus on actionable goals as sometimes less-than-radical.
- We are sector agnostic in our good works.
Relatedly, we are known for conceiving of meaningful and world-improving work very widely. Just because one cares about making the world more just, doesn’t mean one becomes a lawyer or a social worker; it might also mean going to business school and becoming a social entrepreneur or becoming a chef and getting involved in the local food movement.
- We are distrustful of organized religion and Politics.
Though we are open to most vocations, we are—according to sociologist Robert Putnam—the least religiously affiliated generation in history, and also largely uninterested in becoming politicians. In part, no doubt, this stems from seeing religion distorted and political leaders let off the hook for profound failures during the post-9/11 era.
- We are resilient as a matter of survival.
Two recent studies, one in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and one in Psychology & Health, have proven that there is actual validity to the old adage that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Millenials who have faced national disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, not to mention the economic downturn, have flexed their resilience over and over again.
- We think globally and systemically.
Quite obviously, one couldn’t experience the world’s ever contracting quality over the last decade—enhanced by the internet and the connectivity it offers—without conceiving of citizenship in a truly global and interdependent way. We know what we do in Colorado Springs can have a direct effect in what goes on in Cairo.
- We innovate when it comes to disaster relief.
Struck by the successes and failures of post-9/11 relief work—from the physical rebuilding to the more amorphous rebuilding of the human spirit—we have contributed much to the field of disaster response. From the pro bono architecture movement that gets better at responding to immediate infrastructure needs to the innovations in crowdsourced mapping that helps rescue workers figure out where people are and what they need, we are changing the way the world experiences trauma.
- We know that multiculturalism is about much more than just tolerance.
Though we grew up with an often wishy washy approach to diversity, highlighted by the notion of “tolerance,” we have rejected that in favor of more rigorous race and class analysis—evidenced by so many astute publications, like Racialicious and Colorlines—and an effort to really face and engage with the most polarizing issues in a civil way. We know too much about the potential outcomes of just “tolerating” one another to do otherwise.
Courtney E. Martin is the co-author of the recently released Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.
Image from Courtney E. Martin's December 2010 TEDWomen talk.
Friday, September 02, 2011 12:11 PM
On September 11, 1973 a coup against the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende began with planes bombing the presidential palace in Santiago. Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-American writer, was in that city on that fateful Tuesday. “By the end of the day,” Dorfman writes, “Allende was dead and the land where we had sought a peaceful revolution had been turned into a slaughterhouse.”
Twenty-eight years later, on another Tuesday, September 11, another city Dorfman had called home was “attacked from on high.”
In a moving essay at The Nation Dorfman explores the reaction of the countries affected by these two tragic events. Ultimately Chile’s nonviolent response—which echoed “unawares another September 11, back in 1906 in Johannesburg, when Mohandas Gandhi persuaded several thousand of his fellow Indians in the Empire Theatre to vow nonviolent resistance to an unjust and discriminatory pre-apartheid ordinance”—is the response Dorfman praises. As for the response of Dorfman’s other home country, he writes, “If 9/11 can be understood as a test, it seems to me, alas, that the United States failed it.”
UPDATED 9/8/11: Watch Ariel Dorfman discuss his essay on Democracy Now!
Source: The Nation, Democracy Now!
Image by Patricio Mecklenburg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 12:07 PM
In an article about “9/11 fiction” in Prospect, Adam Kirsch points out one difficulty in writing about that day: It was a television event, and that is the medium through which the vast majority of us learned about it. Of one writer’s experience escaping one of the towers, Kirsch writes, “Like everyone else, he had to watch TV afterwards to piece together what had happened.” (I previously wrote about Kirsch’s article here.)
I hadn’t realized just how true this was—just how attached the attacks were to television—until I heard Brewster Kahle and Rick Prelinger on Democracy Now!this morning. Kahle, a 2009 Utne Reader Visionary, and Prelinger are Internet archivists who have put together a project called “Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive.” “[9/11] was a major event, that was really a television event,” says Kahle. “People understood this through television.”
The archive is a collection of 3,000 hours of television news from around the world from September 11 to September 17. The project is exhaustive and impressive, at times even overwhelming—seeing all the news organizations’ coverage in one spot. Watching Charles Gibson reference New York fashion week going into a break, on the other side of which would be footage of one burning tower, has an effect like nothing I’ve felt on the page. It brings you back to that exact moment.
Kahle and Prelinger are looking to television as “a medium of record,” which is somewhat antithetical to the way it is usually used. News on television is here and then it is gone, never to be referenced again, at least not with any depth and analysis. “When we can watch the real-time coverage [of 9/11],” says Prelinger,
not just the famous images that get broken out and repeated all over again, but capture the full stream of that day and see how consciousness developed and how events were covered, it gives us a lot of grounding and enables us to begin to really think kind of analytically, critically about these events and about the way that television works.
Source: Democracy Now!, Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:29 PM
Many American novelists have tried their hand at what is now widely referred to as “9/11 fiction,” more often than not, to mixed reviews. Often novels by writers from other countries are cited as the most successful books on the matter. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, who was born in Ireland and schooled in The Netherlands, is often said to be the best novel about September 11, 2001.
This, too, is the conclusion reached by Adam Kirsch in “In the shadow of the twin towers” (Prospect, June 2011). Naming the (in Krisch’s view) failed attempts by some of America’s heavy weights, like Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (“But style defeats itself in these cool, hypnotic sentences, precisely because DeLillo knows that he is wagering everything on style.”) and John Updike’s Terrorist (“Sex, not God, is Updike’s God, which is why he overdetermines Ahmad’s rage by giving him a clear Freudian grievance…”), Krisch is left to conclude that American writers may just be “ill-suited to a subject that, like the sun, does not bear looking at directly.” This conclusion seems a bit simplistic to me, as do others in this article, like when Krisch uses a description from a nonfiction book about one man’s descent from the south tower on September 11 to criticize a novelist’s decision to devote “the last ten pages of his novel to the thoughts of his protagonist, Kevin, while he plunges to his death from the 52nd story of a burning building.” In fact, as we learn from the nonfiction writer, nothing enters the mind, much less ten pages worth of thoughts: “My mind switched off. I didn’t start praying. I didn’t have visions of childhood. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It was a puzzling feeling.” Putting aside the discussion of how the thoughts of someone falling to his death from a skyscraper might differ from those of someone trying to run for his life from one, no matter what appears on those last ten pages of a novel, it is unfair to compare them to a work of nonfiction. I am not one to claim that there is no imagination in nonfiction—that it’s a simple task of retelling—but surely there is a distinction between someone trying to relay their experience in a book and someone trying to possess “the imagination of disaster” (a term coined by Henry James and used by Kirsch) and fictively tell the story of a character falling through the sky. Now, if the thoughts of the falling character are unbelievable, that’s another story, but comparing them to a work of nonfiction seems arbitrary to me.
Kirsch’s argument also falls short for me when he addresses attempts by writers to focus on the perpetrators of the attacks:
There is something admirable about the dogged attempts of American writers to inhabit the minds of the hijackers. After all, the terrorist act involves a radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim. By contrast, the novelist’s insistence on his obligation to inhabit the mind of the terrorist can be seen as an exemplary liberal response.
In practice, however, this kind of liberal imagination depends on a psychological and materialist understanding of character, which leaves the novelist ill-equipped to understand religious fanatics whose deepest motives are theological and absolute.
Couldn’t the same be said about any individual throughout time whose “deepest motives” were “absolute”? Isn’t this and the “radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim” what make up any number of novels about murder?
While I disagree with much of Kirsch’s reasoning, I appreciate his attempt to address these books, writers , and topic with a level of respect. Kirsch reminds us that after a brief moment of a new national “sobriety and sternness of purpose,” most of the country went back to business as usual. The fact that so many American writers to this day are wrestling seriously with this subject matter shows Kirsch that at least that demographic has remained steadfast toward that sobriety and sternness. “American writers, to their credit,” Kirsch writes, “have taken the exhortation to seriousness quite seriously.” And who am I to say that his ultimate conclusion is not correct? Maybe “there is no need for the novelist to re-imagine 9/11 when, on some level, Americans have never stopped thinking about it.”
(Note: The online version of this article includes interesting responses from three American novelists, Siri Hustvedt, Stefan Merrill Block and Teddy Wayne.)
Image is in the public domain.
Thursday, April 28, 2011 12:56 PM
With this cool interactive map, you can trace 23 historic journeys, from Amelia Earhart’s attempt to fly around the world to Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test trip.
Do you have writer’s block? Go back to bed, and take your laptop with you.
In the shadow of the lunacy surrounding Obama’s birth certificate, Superman and DC Comics have an announcement of their own regarding the Man of Steel’s citizenship.
Clothes make the dictator.
Should travel writers be held liable for the things stupid tourists do?
The Breakthrough Institute has made a cottage industry of criticizing the green movement. David Roberts at Grist rakes “the bad boys of environmentalism” over the coals.
Bicycle wine rack.
As the world looks on adoringly at the proceedings of the royal wedding, Charlie Harvey at New Internationalist looks thinks the police force “has been turned into an organ of the monarchy’s PR people.”
The attacks of September 11, 2001 are, like the 1960s, becoming a cultural litmus test
Some studies have argued that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect any skill. Dan McLaughlin is up for the challenge, learning golf from the green up—practicing six hours a day, six days a week. It will take him six years.
Ever wonder how to make a magazine? This is sort of how it goes.
The oral history of the pressurized spacesuit.
Monday, March 17, 2008 11:01 AM
September 11 rescue workers aren’t the only professionals suffering the aftereffects of prolonged toxic exposure. Photojournalists who captured early images of Ground Zero also breathed in toxic fumes and debris, and some have suffered from related health problems. Photo District News Online reports that New York Times photographer Keith Meyers, whose photographs of the still-smoking towers earned him a Pulitzer, has asthma and other health problems so severe he can no longer work.
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