I have a problem with this: the default critique these days for books and albums of a somber mood seems to be to imply that they reference or obliquely address a post 9/11 world. The ashes from that day seem to pall every important new work of art. “Clearly a reference to” is a nightstick critics wield with a certain swagger. Of course, as usual when I let myself topple into tirade, I have no example to point to or truck out in my defense except a certain impression of surfeit that must be the result of accumulated instances, right? America suddenly has a copyright on disaster; let no one else’s grief infringe thereon. Of course our Promised Land, ’tis of thee, has always taken woe quite personally, or do I mean myopically and hubristically? Even our disasters, supersized, are bigger than your disasters, and ditto with our suffering, or so the t-shirts for sale in the French Quarter would have had me believe when I was there in November ’05 as a volunteer. Walls plastered with wreaths and photos of missing loved ones existed elsewhere before Ground Zero and Union Square—notably, the 1999 Taiwan quake—though we see them only as 9/11 references.
I suppose I bridle at this because I don’t feel it—I don’t feel part of the so-called post 9/11 world emotionally enough to know what critics are reacting to. Of course, exclusion rankles. I was in New York then. Was it only because I left shortly thereafter that I’m not privy to the “change”? But I came back. Apart from airport annoyances, has my life changed? As always I feel out of step with the zeitgeist, but this time as though tragedy accused me of some emotional deficit.