Saturday, February 14, 2009

Orpheus and Falling Man

The image from the action theatre group PAN.OPTIKUM recalls the photo of the "Falling Man" (refer to my previous post) from 9/11 about which DeLillo writes in his novel of the same name. It forms a connection between two texts, DeLillo's and Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost. Like the above image, both texts follow a descent and are reminiscent of the myth of Orpheus, with towers falling, terrorism, and a journey into an unknown underworld. But the descents amount to journeys that attempt to reclaim a lost love. Orpheus descended into hell on a quest to reunite with Eurydice, but he looked back before they surfaced and broke his deal with the devil. The characters in each of the contemporary novels seek a lost love, but seem to have learned the lesson of Orpheus, not to look too closely before it has returned. Can we apply this to contemporary politics, terrorism, and texts?


Katherine said...

The parallel between the characters in Falling Man and the story of Orpheus did not occur to me until brought up in this post. While the search for a lost love is obvious in Lianne's yearning for a renewed relationship with Keith, the same idea applies to America's nostalgic views of the time before 9/11 when America was seen not only as a primary global power, but also the land of liberty, opportunity, and abundance. In the novel Martin remarks that one must make themselves equal to an event, in this case 9/11, step back a bit, and approach it from a worldview which is free of prejudice and raging emotions. Lianne fails in her attempts to forge a relationship with Keith in that she does not really give him the emotional space and support he needs to effectively deal with his trauma. Days after the event she plagues him with painful memories of their past and her wishes for a better future for the two of them, however she doesn't seem to realize that Keith is dealing with 9/11 in his own way and that he may have to deal with his own hauntings over 9/11 before even thinking about his relationship with Lianne. Likewise, while Americans yearn for the days before 9/11, we have to step back as well and analyze what we thought was lost before we can attempt to reconstruct. While it may be painful and controversial, Americans have to objectively analyze both the economic and political events and policies which may have fostered such resentment towards us. We can not be too haste to play the victim card because doing so closes off any opportunity for constructive criticism of our own policies and ideologies. I am not quite sure how I feel about this because at the same time I would never wonder, for example, what a victim of domestic violence may have done to provoke their attacker. However, America does not have a passive history in the construction of geopolitics and capitalism and key events in our history to reveal our own cunning and aggression at times. Thus, before we can even imagine an American that is truly immune from terrorism and a land of opportunity and liberty for all, we have to try to analyze (without the blinds of emotion) how we could have improved our own role in the world. In this case, looking back too early would mean closing off this discussion and using 9/11 as a justification for immediate war and oppression overseas- thus, excluding any possibility of culpability on our own part.

Danielle Moyer said...

The ability to look in every direction should be viewed as a positive attribute to the power of America's views. Without looking at the past, we cannot approach the future with a clear sense of what has been. The novel Falling Man illustrates the different ways that each character is dealing with the attacks and the same can be said about the American people. Each person deals with different events in different ways. But it is with ALL these different viewpoints that we can come to a steady conclusion. Yes, Americans need to stop and smell the roses sometimes but what if we never told anyone what those roses smelled like? I think examination and communication are key. America needs to be open to both negative and positive criticism. Once we slow down the process and refrain from aggressive decisions then we can put a little room between us and the event. Only then can we see the event from all angles and possibly reach an understanding.

ashley said...

I agree with Danielle and believe that with regard to contemporary politics and terrorism, looking back is extremely important. Reflection and understanding are extremely important to have a firm grasp of a situation, and the past is full of events and explanations for events of the present and why they occur. In Falling Man, Lianne does not recognize this and is not reflective or understanding of Keith's experience and need to deal with it - in this instance, for her, it would have been helpful to understand the past, put herself in his shoes, to look back. Our country, in the same line of thought, could have used some looking back after 9/11 to assess why it happened - we answered that question too quickly without an introspective glance and acted on impulse and emotion. NOW, in this class and through discussions, literature, and I'm sure many other forms, we are looking back but it is too late. Hindsight is always 20/20. For a full understanding of our present we must look to the past, and to add on to that, in the same moment we must look beyond our country, beyond ourselves, and even place ourselves in the shoes of the groups who targeted us.

How far back do you look though? I feel like ignoring the past is a dangerous idea. It does not allow for a full understanding or view of things. Looking to the past now, many people regret their enthusiasm to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and through looking back Obama has even made some concessions about his past beliefs and what he supported and is working to correct some of America's misgivings and mistakes.