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Fables for Our Time – The Feminist Wire

Fables for Our Time

I should have been grading papers yesterday. In fact, I missed my own assignments, watching coverage that I know nearly as well as the digits on my hands and feet; ten years ago, I woke up on that Tuesday morning—a teaching day most of my career—and, contrary to hundreds of days exactly like it, did not turn over in the early morning and reach for the on button of my Bose radio at bedside to catch a bit of “Democracy Now,” nor switch on CNN to find out if the world was still with us and we with it. Instead, I hit the floor running to get ready for my classes at Cornell.

I now think of my behavior that morning as a kind of civic and professional idiocy, insofar as I went about my duties, intensely focused, picking up clues, while walking over to my classroom from the university parking lot, that I would put together only later in the day as signals of a national disaster in the making.  Come hell or high water, I was going to teach Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, of all the novels one might have been talking about that day, just as if nothing had changed! And to my mind at that moment, when I had no earthly idea what had happened, nothing had! In my anxiety to get to class on time, though, I did have the presence of mind to look up, to take notice that Tuesday morning, 11 September 2001, was one of the most glorious weather days on record; to say that there was not a cloud in the sky, as far as thousands of Americans could tell, is nothing short of understatement! A full decade later, when my oldest undergraduates today were about eleven years old then, the nation not only remembers, but some people are even calling for an annual memorial to 9/11 as a federal holiday.  Given the import of those collective events, there’s a good chance that the anniversary, by legislative act, will be converted into a holiday, but in having it so, what are we remembering and to what ends?

We can say the following with some urgency: the years following 9/11 have been some of the most momentous in the nation’s history, if we think of it as the mark of the turn of the century and with it radical shifts on our political landscape. It is simply remarkable that ten months before 9/11, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a presidential election for the first time in American history. There is no connection between these two far-flung occasions, except to say that the high court’s decision turned us in the direction of events that we could do nothing about—or so it has seemed—and moreover, got us used to the idea that fear could motivate us more formidably than anything else in the citizen’s arsenal of feelings. We ought to remember that the Court stopped the vote count in Miami-Dade County, Florida, actually brought it to a halt, and declared that to continue it would jeopardize the winner of the election, which the final vote count would have decided! That decision demarcated, for thousands of us, a genuine turning point in the nation’s history so much so that I participated in my first big political demonstration in three decades, and that is to say, the Bush counter-inaugural, conducted outside the Supreme Court that harshly cold dreary January of the beginning of the Bush years. One demonstrator came garbed that miserable morning in mourning weeds in order to commemorate, her sign read, the “death” of American democracy. And if not its “death,” then a series of fatal blows to it, as the demonstrators certainly understood. That is why, after all, we had come.

With the introduction of the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision and the attacks of 9/11, we were fed a diet of fear. In fact, it is accurate to say that fear has become our daily bread in distinct opposition to FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” No one seems to recall that the Bush years, among other things, brought us a brand new federal bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, complete with a cabinet secretariat and intelligence apparatus, and this, in the very teeth of a Republican Party that declares itself hell-bent on reducing the size of the federal government to that of an entity you could drown in your bathtub, as the wisdom goes! How ridiculous we feel and must look pulling off our shoes in airports, walking on cold concrete through contraptions taking pictures of God only knows what, or holding our hands high and obediently in the air as somebody pats our behind, and yells at us like children to move it along, separate that computer from the rest of your junk that is thrown around like a sack of potatoes, belts and buckles, and coins and things in different containers, and a surly hurry up, not even “please,” all in the name of our “safety” and “security,”  and for the privilege of boarding an airliner for which single seat we’ve just doled out hundreds of dollars. It is difficult to believe that we really imagine we’ve been steeled against harm in such humiliating, wasteful, and to my mind, inefficient ways.

Then there is the enormous lie that brings the episode of 9/11 to its “logical” conclusion, and that is to say, the “weapons of mass destruction” that Iraqi leadership was supposed to have at its disposal. On the basis of this enormous lie, the country was taken to war, the American economy wrecked as a consequence, and its people’s political witness rendered moot. In other words, it didn’t matter at all that thousands of people in the country and around the world were against the war in Iraq, brought on by the same Supreme Court appointed president and his minions. But little did we know that this was only the beginning of an ignoring the voters which processes should send chills up the collective back.

Can millions of people be blamed because they yearned for change and sincerely thought that they were going to get it with the Obama administration and that at long last, we thought, someone would have to answer for the crimes committed against others in our name? Wouldn’t someone have to tell us why regimes of torture are still in place, why Guantanamo and other sites of rendition have not been dismantled, and perhaps even how and why such considerable disparities between wealth and impoverishment have come about in the last decade, as such disparities are propped up by off-shore criminality and misrule? We should remember 9/11, but more than remember, we are compelled to pick up its legacy and walk. In other words, what is our response to our massive loss of rights, of the commonwealth, and of government’s obligation to be accountable to its people? If that’s the kind of holiday we’re talking about, then I’m down with the program.

36 Comments

  1. Michele Routhier

    September 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    The 2nd Iraq War had nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with controling the flow of oil out of the persian gulf and protecting Israel. Saddam Hussein was no credible threat to the U.S.and had nothing to do with 9/11. It was all hyped up by Bush-Cheney to give americans something to think about other than 9/11.

  2. Michele Routhier

    September 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    The 2nd Iraq War had nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with controling the flow of oil out of the persian gulf and protecting Israel. Saddam Hussein was no credible threat to the U.S.and had nothing to do with 9/11. It was all hyped up by Bush-Cheney to give americans something to think about other than 9/11.

  3. Michele Routhier

    September 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    The 2nd Iraq War had nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with controling the flow of oil out of the persian gulf and protecting Israel. Saddam Hussein was no credible threat to the U.S.and had nothing to do with 9/11. It was all hyped up by Bush-Cheney to give americans something to think about other than 9/11.

  4. Michele Routhier

    September 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    The 2nd Iraq War had nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with controling the flow of oil out of the persian gulf and protecting Israel. Saddam Hussein was no credible threat to the U.S.and had nothing to do with 9/11. It was all hyped up by Bush-Cheney to give americans something to think about other than 9/11.

  5. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    We well know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that it posed "no credible threat" to the U.S. But by capitalizing on the national memory of 9/11 and the collective fear that grew out of it, the Bush administration was able to concoct "reasons" why the nation had to go to war; the article signals that the entire affair was a put up by calling it "an enormous lie" and placing "logical" in quotation marks.

  6. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    We well know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that it posed "no credible threat" to the U.S. But by capitalizing on the national memory of 9/11 and the collective fear that grew out of it, the Bush administration was able to concoct "reasons" why the nation had to go to war; the article signals that the entire affair was a put up by calling it "an enormous lie" and placing "logical" in quotation marks.

  7. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    We well know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that it posed "no credible threat" to the U.S. But by capitalizing on the national memory of 9/11 and the collective fear that grew out of it, the Bush administration was able to concoct "reasons" why the nation had to go to war; the article signals that the entire affair was a put up by calling it "an enormous lie" and placing "logical" in quotation marks.

  8. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    We well know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that it posed "no credible threat" to the U.S. But by capitalizing on the national memory of 9/11 and the collective fear that grew out of it, the Bush administration was able to concoct "reasons" why the nation had to go to war; the article signals that the entire affair was a put up by calling it "an enormous lie" and placing "logical" in quotation marks.

  9. Monica Casper

    September 12, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Hortense,

    Thank you for this; a thoughtful, smart response.

    On that September morning, I was pregnant with my first daughter, living on an island in Puget Sound far away from events in New York; my father-in-law phoned with the news, and I sat glued to the television set for hours, one hand on my large belly. It's hard to describe what it was like knowing that my baby girl would be born into this changed world. Mason is now almost ten, and what a decade it's been.

    Yours,
    Monica

  10. Monica Casper

    September 12, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Hortense,

    Thank you for this; a thoughtful, smart response.

    On that September morning, I was pregnant with my first daughter, living on an island in Puget Sound far away from events in New York; my father-in-law phoned with the news, and I sat glued to the television set for hours, one hand on my large belly. It's hard to describe what it was like knowing that my baby girl would be born into this changed world. Mason is now almost ten, and what a decade it's been.

    Yours,
    Monica

  11. Monica Casper

    September 12, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Hortense,

    Thank you for this; a thoughtful, smart response.

    On that September morning, I was pregnant with my first daughter, living on an island in Puget Sound far away from events in New York; my father-in-law phoned with the news, and I sat glued to the television set for hours, one hand on my large belly. It's hard to describe what it was like knowing that my baby girl would be born into this changed world. Mason is now almost ten, and what a decade it's been.

    Yours,
    Monica

  12. Monica Casper

    September 12, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Hortense,

    Thank you for this; a thoughtful, smart response.

    On that September morning, I was pregnant with my first daughter, living on an island in Puget Sound far away from events in New York; my father-in-law phoned with the news, and I sat glued to the television set for hours, one hand on my large belly. It's hard to describe what it was like knowing that my baby girl would be born into this changed world. Mason is now almost ten, and what a decade it's been.

    Yours,
    Monica

  13. Kalen Young

    September 12, 2011 at 6:58 am

    My partner is an US Army Infantry Officer and spent the last year in Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Army in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. To this day has dedicated ten years of his life to the US Army, deployed to Afghanistan, missed the birth of his first child, and suffers from the consequences of TBI and PTSD. Yesterday, on September 11, 2011, the greatest source of pain for our family was not derived from the remembrance of Sept 11, 2001. Rather, it boiled over from years of abusive federal acts that diminish civil liberties, federal departments that institutionalize violence and racism, and a significant reduction in political participation and honest democratic debate. The military is used as an arm of this sovereign power that has begun to reduce us all to bare life. I hope that this anniversary reminds people to embrace opportunities for civic participation, disrupt and challenge policies that limit civil rights and liberties, and demand that an alternative socio-political reality be created.

  14. Kalen Young

    September 12, 2011 at 6:58 am

    My partner is an US Army Infantry Officer and spent the last year in Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Army in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. To this day has dedicated ten years of his life to the US Army, deployed to Afghanistan, missed the birth of his first child, and suffers from the consequences of TBI and PTSD. Yesterday, on September 11, 2011, the greatest source of pain for our family was not derived from the remembrance of Sept 11, 2001. Rather, it boiled over from years of abusive federal acts that diminish civil liberties, federal departments that institutionalize violence and racism, and a significant reduction in political participation and honest democratic debate. The military is used as an arm of this sovereign power that has begun to reduce us all to bare life. I hope that this anniversary reminds people to embrace opportunities for civic participation, disrupt and challenge policies that limit civil rights and liberties, and demand that an alternative socio-political reality be created.

  15. Kalen Young

    September 12, 2011 at 6:58 am

    My partner is an US Army Infantry Officer and spent the last year in Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Army in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. To this day has dedicated ten years of his life to the US Army, deployed to Afghanistan, missed the birth of his first child, and suffers from the consequences of TBI and PTSD. Yesterday, on September 11, 2011, the greatest source of pain for our family was not derived from the remembrance of Sept 11, 2001. Rather, it boiled over from years of abusive federal acts that diminish civil liberties, federal departments that institutionalize violence and racism, and a significant reduction in political participation and honest democratic debate. The military is used as an arm of this sovereign power that has begun to reduce us all to bare life. I hope that this anniversary reminds people to embrace opportunities for civic participation, disrupt and challenge policies that limit civil rights and liberties, and demand that an alternative socio-political reality be created.

  16. Kalen Young

    September 12, 2011 at 6:58 am

    My partner is an US Army Infantry Officer and spent the last year in Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Army in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. To this day has dedicated ten years of his life to the US Army, deployed to Afghanistan, missed the birth of his first child, and suffers from the consequences of TBI and PTSD. Yesterday, on September 11, 2011, the greatest source of pain for our family was not derived from the remembrance of Sept 11, 2001. Rather, it boiled over from years of abusive federal acts that diminish civil liberties, federal departments that institutionalize violence and racism, and a significant reduction in political participation and honest democratic debate. The military is used as an arm of this sovereign power that has begun to reduce us all to bare life. I hope that this anniversary reminds people to embrace opportunities for civic participation, disrupt and challenge policies that limit civil rights and liberties, and demand that an alternative socio-political reality be created.

  17. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Thank you very much, Kalen and Monica, for your responses to this article; Monica, the image of a pregnant woman with her hand on her stomach and therefore having a reflexive response to defending it against harm and intrusion is quite poignant to me and gives a whole new dimension to the meaning of that day.

    Kalen, I think you are right on the money about the uses of the military and the role it plays in reducing us to "bare life." Every time I see these sons of gun rationalize their stupendous lies and bad faith, I nearly go out of my mind. Dick Cheney, for instance, should keep his mouth closed for the rest of his life, however long that might be. But instead he's out in public, bragging about torture practices that took place under his watch. The nerve of him and his pals is simply astonishing! I join you in wishing that this anniversary, rather than mollify us, get us mobilize against the drive to cut us down.

  18. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Thank you very much, Kalen and Monica, for your responses to this article; Monica, the image of a pregnant woman with her hand on her stomach and therefore having a reflexive response to defending it against harm and intrusion is quite poignant to me and gives a whole new dimension to the meaning of that day.

    Kalen, I think you are right on the money about the uses of the military and the role it plays in reducing us to "bare life." Every time I see these sons of gun rationalize their stupendous lies and bad faith, I nearly go out of my mind. Dick Cheney, for instance, should keep his mouth closed for the rest of his life, however long that might be. But instead he's out in public, bragging about torture practices that took place under his watch. The nerve of him and his pals is simply astonishing! I join you in wishing that this anniversary, rather than mollify us, get us mobilize against the drive to cut us down.

  19. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Thank you very much, Kalen and Monica, for your responses to this article; Monica, the image of a pregnant woman with her hand on her stomach and therefore having a reflexive response to defending it against harm and intrusion is quite poignant to me and gives a whole new dimension to the meaning of that day.

    Kalen, I think you are right on the money about the uses of the military and the role it plays in reducing us to "bare life." Every time I see these sons of gun rationalize their stupendous lies and bad faith, I nearly go out of my mind. Dick Cheney, for instance, should keep his mouth closed for the rest of his life, however long that might be. But instead he's out in public, bragging about torture practices that took place under his watch. The nerve of him and his pals is simply astonishing! I join you in wishing that this anniversary, rather than mollify us, get us mobilize against the drive to cut us down.

  20. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Thank you very much, Kalen and Monica, for your responses to this article; Monica, the image of a pregnant woman with her hand on her stomach and therefore having a reflexive response to defending it against harm and intrusion is quite poignant to me and gives a whole new dimension to the meaning of that day.

    Kalen, I think you are right on the money about the uses of the military and the role it plays in reducing us to "bare life." Every time I see these sons of gun rationalize their stupendous lies and bad faith, I nearly go out of my mind. Dick Cheney, for instance, should keep his mouth closed for the rest of his life, however long that might be. But instead he's out in public, bragging about torture practices that took place under his watch. The nerve of him and his pals is simply astonishing! I join you in wishing that this anniversary, rather than mollify us, get us mobilize against the drive to cut us down.

  21. Tamura A. Lomax

    September 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

    This is brilliant!! Many thanks for it! I love how you contextualized 9/11 in what happened in Miami-Dade County, FL.
    TAL

  22. Tamura A. Lomax

    September 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

    This is brilliant!! Many thanks for it! I love how you contextualized 9/11 in what happened in Miami-Dade County, FL.
    TAL

  23. Tamura A. Lomax

    September 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

    This is brilliant!! Many thanks for it! I love how you contextualized 9/11 in what happened in Miami-Dade County, FL.
    TAL

  24. Tamura A. Lomax

    September 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

    This is brilliant!! Many thanks for it! I love how you contextualized 9/11 in what happened in Miami-Dade County, FL.
    TAL

  25. Nakia Collins

    September 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for providing a critical, thoughtful piece examining the historical and political context of those events. Many do not make the link between the political atmosphere then and the political atmosphere now. Awesome scholarship!!

    • Hortense Spillers

      September 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Thank you very much, Nakia, for writing. If they get us crying long enough and loud enough, they know we might forget what all happened, but we musn't!

  26. Nakia Collins

    September 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for providing a critical, thoughtful piece examining the historical and political context of those events. Many do not make the link between the political atmosphere then and the political atmosphere now. Awesome scholarship!!

    • Hortense Spillers

      September 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Thank you very much, Nakia, for writing. If they get us crying long enough and loud enough, they know we might forget what all happened, but we musn't!

  27. Nakia Collins

    September 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for providing a critical, thoughtful piece examining the historical and political context of those events. Many do not make the link between the political atmosphere then and the political atmosphere now. Awesome scholarship!!

    • Hortense Spillers

      September 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Thank you very much, Nakia, for writing. If they get us crying long enough and loud enough, they know we might forget what all happened, but we musn't!

  28. Nakia Collins

    September 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for providing a critical, thoughtful piece examining the historical and political context of those events. Many do not make the link between the political atmosphere then and the political atmosphere now. Awesome scholarship!!

    • Hortense Spillers

      September 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Thank you very much, Nakia, for writing. If they get us crying long enough and loud enough, they know we might forget what all happened, but we musn't!

  29. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Some things you never get over, and that Decision is one of them. Associate Justice Scalia, when confronted not too long ago about his part in Bush v. Gore, actually showed disdain for the question, and said something like, "get over it already!" I'll NEVER get over it, NEVER "move on," as we've been instructed to do! For me, that Decision yielded another kind of "terror" because it said that the voters didn't matter, and when the high-ups come to that conclusion, well, look out! Thanks for writing!

  30. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Some things you never get over, and that Decision is one of them. Associate Justice Scalia, when confronted not too long ago about his part in Bush v. Gore, actually showed disdain for the question, and said something like, "get over it already!" I'll NEVER get over it, NEVER "move on," as we've been instructed to do! For me, that Decision yielded another kind of "terror" because it said that the voters didn't matter, and when the high-ups come to that conclusion, well, look out! Thanks for writing!

  31. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Some things you never get over, and that Decision is one of them. Associate Justice Scalia, when confronted not too long ago about his part in Bush v. Gore, actually showed disdain for the question, and said something like, "get over it already!" I'll NEVER get over it, NEVER "move on," as we've been instructed to do! For me, that Decision yielded another kind of "terror" because it said that the voters didn't matter, and when the high-ups come to that conclusion, well, look out! Thanks for writing!

  32. Hortense Spillers

    September 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Some things you never get over, and that Decision is one of them. Associate Justice Scalia, when confronted not too long ago about his part in Bush v. Gore, actually showed disdain for the question, and said something like, "get over it already!" I'll NEVER get over it, NEVER "move on," as we've been instructed to do! For me, that Decision yielded another kind of "terror" because it said that the voters didn't matter, and when the high-ups come to that conclusion, well, look out! Thanks for writing!