Gound Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After

This is the final post in a series of four.

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In the dimension of what has been termed “effective signs,” the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was the collapse of the entire global market system.  The system itself just doesn’t know that yet.  However, that ignorance of its own condition is finally irrelevant.  Since that September morning a bit more than eleven years ago now, when the Towers collapsed, the whole system that collapsed with it but still hasn’t realized the fact has been a sort of zombie.  It has had the status of the “animated undead,” to borrow an apt phrase from Eric L. Santner:  the status of a corpse that’s still walking around, not knowing that it’s dead yet.  The gravediggers are ready to begin throwing the dirt over it, once it finally gets the message and lies down in its already open and waiting grave, so that they can get on with their job.

Who knows how long the corpse of the global market system will wander around like that in the meantime, before it finally just lets itself be decently buried, and stops stinking up the place with its already advanced corruption?  (The topic of its corruption is one to which I will probably address a future post.)  It may take a century or two, for all we know.  Nietzsche said it would take a couple of thousand years for the news of what he called “the death of God” to get around.  That may well  even include getting back to the Old Boy, “God” Himself.  The story of the death of the “New World Order,” as it got called for a while going back to the first Bush Presidency—and which belongs, in fact, to the “larger” story Nietzsche tries to tell, of “God’s” dying—won’t take that long, but may still take quite a while.

However, the wisdom of Bill Murray in Meatballs works yet again in this case:  “It just doesn’t matter!”  However long it may take for the stench to get to the nose of the still highly animated corpse of the global market system itself, convincing it to take its proper place in its own grave, its dead flesh has been reeking of corruption for better than eleven years already, at the least.  It is stone cold dead, whether it knows it yet itself or not—or perhaps even ever comes to know it.  (Indeed, maybe it will never really get the message.  Maybe it will just eventually just vanish, like smoke on the wind, or like the phantoms of one’s dreams when one wakes.)

At any rate, however long the word takes fully to get out, what is euphemistically called the “global market system,” “New World Order,” or whatever, died on the morning of September 11, 2001.  It collapsed with and in the Twin Towers.  Jean Baudrillard, for one, told us that.

At the beginning of today’s post, I wrote that it was as an “effective sign” that the collapse of the Twin Towers was as such already the collapse of the very global system the Towers themselves globally represented.  It was the failure to stand of the whole global system those Towers, when they stood themselves, so effectively symbolized for all the globe defined by that same system.  It was by standing globally for that global system that the standing Towers drew the attention to themselves of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the first place, and drew from them the intention to attack those towers themselves.  And it was by failing any longer to hold their stand at all once struck by the two planes, and falling down into massive piles of rubble that they brought down with them the whole global shebang of which they had all along been the standing emblem.

I have borrowed the phrase and notion of an “effective sign” from Christian tradition, where it is used, in such “liturgical” Christian denominations as Catholicism and Anglicanism to define what such Christianity calls a “sacrament.”  The prime example of a Christian “sacrament” is the ceremony of baptism with water and oil.  Other examples are the Christian ceremonies of marriage, or the ceremony of anointing the sick.  A sacrament is said to be “an outward and spiritual sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” to employ a classic formula.  However, the way in which that sign signifies, in effect, is itself said to be “effective” with regard to the very thing it signifies.  That is, it is a sign the very making or bestowing or signing of which accomplishes, brings about, or effects the very thing, the very condition or state of affairs, that the sign is used to point to or signify.

For example, immersing someone in water, or at least pouring a small amount of it over someone’s head, in the context of a properly performed baptism ceremony, or marking the same person with oil in the form of a cross on the forehead, does not just point to or “represent” becoming a Christian, it is the very ceremony of baptism that makes one a Christian.  Similarly, to use an example that applies not only to Christianity or is even confined to the “religious” tradition in general, assume that a person duly empowered to do so, performs a wedding ceremony.  Let that person be a rabbi, a priest, a minister, an imam, or other recognized figure in some faith tradition, or let her be a justice of the peace, or even just an average nobody, as permitted in the “common-law-marriage” state of Colorado where I live, and where I once a few years ago even performed a wedding ceremony myself, at the odd request of a good friend.  At the climactic point of the wedding ceremony, the person so empowered to perform that ceremony “pronounces” the couple not to be married.  That “pronouncment”–, that “speech act,” as it came to be called in 20th century philosophy and beyond–doesn’t just make the claim that the couple are now married; its “pronouncing” is what actually marries them.

In short, what in Christianity are thus called “effective signs” are what, in the different tradition of contemporary philosophy, following the 20th century British philosopher J. L. Austin, are also called “performative utterances” or “performative speech-acts,” or just “performatives.”  That is, they are “utterances” or “speech acts”–in a sense of the term “speech” that includes such things as burning the American flag in protest against American policies, or flipping someone off–that perform the very thing they say (or “mean”).

In just that sense, by uttering some such formula as “with this ring I thee wed” at the right time in a wedding ceremony, the person doing the uttering is not making any claim about her own status, or about the status of the other person to whom she utters those words, or even about their common status vis-à-vis one another.  Rather, by saying such a thing in such a setting the speaker actually marries the other person to she addresses those words, marries that other by and in uttering those very words in that very setting.

Considered in terms of what the collapse of the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, “meant” or “signified,” their collapsing was the performing or effecting of the collapse of that which they themselves “meant” or “signified.”  In that sense—the sense of the very “sense” of their own collapse—what they demonstrated in ceasing to stand was the ceasing to stand of the entire global power system they “represented.”  To everyone’s total surprise that morning—even and especially the utter surprise of the “terrorists” who planned and carried out the attacks of that morning, as Baudrillard rightly emphasizes—the Towers did just that, collapse, when they were struck.  Their collapsing made visible what theretofore had been hidden from all view:  Their own lack of enduring “structural integrity,” their own incapacity to continue to stand in all weather, despite all their apparent power to do just that.  By collapsing, the Towers proved that their standing, in the full sense, really never was any more than just that:  apparent.  It was nothing real.

Standing there in Manhattan, towering over the skyline as they did for all the years they stood, the Towers symbolized the invincibility of the global market power establishment itself.  But then suddenly, on September 11, 2001, the impossible happened.  Something not only unforeseen but unforeseeable, altogether un-imaginable, un-believable, happened anyway.  It was unimaginable and unbelievable even for those who intellectually may have perfectly well known all along that it was thinkable (indeed, one could even create special effects to have them collapse in a disaster-movie).  Those who had such knowledge nevertheless never really imagined or believed what they knew, just as the outbreak of World War I was unimaginable and unbelievable to Henri Bergson, even though he knew perfectly well all along before it finally did break out, that such a war was not only possible, but probable (as I have written about before in this blog).

For all similarly self-confidently knowing knowers before September 11, 2001–as well as for everyone else, of course–the collapse of the Twin Towers proved that the impossible was nevertheless actual.   Contrary to all expectations everywhere, definitely and crucially including the “terrorists” themselves, as Baudrillard rightly insists, the Towers proved themselves unable to with-stand the very attacks they themselves–in all they stood for, and to symbolize which they were constructed in the first place–called forth.  They, and therewith the entire system they symbolized, proved finlly to be powerless to make good on the very claim to power that they, in their very standing there so erect in the first place, expressed, uttered, or pronounced—the claim whereby global power laid claim to the globe itself.

It all came tumbling down with the Towers themselves.  It all fell, and in falling shattered into slivers that all the falling, fallen power’s forces and all that power’s men could never put back together again.

Once we realize that, which means realize what really happened that day, once we finally let what happened take its own proper place, as I put it in an earlier series of posts, on the works of Jacques André, then we ourselves can finally get down to our own real business–which has never been business, to purloin for irony’s sake a phrase from an apt source.  We can crawl out of our caves to see that, yes, the worst is over now, to steal non-ironically from a very different sort of source.  When we do, we will see that a new Day has indeed dawned, a Day After that day in 1945 that nullified even it own massive nullification of the Day itself, reducing all Days to come to no more than a string of meaningless zeros.  On September 11, 2001, The Day After that Day to end all Days, after which no new Day was even imaginable any longer, altogether unbelievably another Day dawned anyway.  And the morning sun of that Day does indeed shine, not like a bright, rubber ball but with the blinding brightness of a nuclear explosion–but, un-like that nuclear sun, blinding only temporarily.

We don’t even especially need to seize that Day.  All we have to do is begin living in it, now that the endless night has surprised us by ending.  In fact, luxurious new growth in that new Day has already begun sprouting up everywhere.  We just need to grow accustomed enough to the new light to be able to see it.

We’ll no doubt just have to keep on blinking till then, in that regard still looking indistinguishable from Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” that old pest that is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle, but has nevertheless been eradicated, even if he’s still running around, like a chicken with it’s head already cut off.  Despite appearances, however, we will belong to a different human race.

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I’m certainly still blinking myself.  But as my vision continues to clear, I’ll no doubt try in some future posts to point out some places where I can see some of the luxuriant new growth.  Meantime, while you continue blinking yourself, you might want to give your eyes a little rest by re/reading Baudrillard on “the spirit of terrorism.” 

Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After–continued yet again

Day Zero, the Day that dawned when the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was not just another Day.  Rather, it was the Day that ended all Days, the point at which the Day as such vanished without trace, as I tried to articulate in my pervious post.  As Günther Anders saw so clearly, what was truly unique about Day Zero—what made it the Day to end all Days–was not the devastation of an entire city and the killing of two-hundred-thousand of its inhabitants in a single flash, as shockingly horrendous as such sudden devastation and death may be.  Unfortunately, even such awful destruction has all too many precedents, and the speed of destruction remains a difference of degree, not kind.  No, what was truly unique about Day Zero, what made it the very null point of the Day as such, was that it marked the onset of the devastation of the very devastation, the masking of the devastation under a façade that almost immediately began to take the form of rapid reconstruction.  What was truly horrible was, so to speak, not the demolition of the city, but the demolition of its ruins.

Worth noting is that another important author who, like Anders, survived the Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe—though he survived it differently, going through Auschwitz itself, whereas Anders survived by going into exile in France and eventually the United States—is concerned to make the same point.  I mean Jean Améry.  In Lefeu oder Der Abbruch (Lefeu or The Demolition), his final novel, Améry’s title character (whose name, “Lefeu,” is French for fire) resists all orders to leave the run-down, condemned, decaying apartment building in which he lives in Paris, so that the old, no longer functional dump can be demolished to permit brand new construction.  Through Lefeu Améry stages his own protest, a protest against the destruction of ruins as such.  Lefeu asserts our need to live among the ruins of our life, as opposed to our desire to bury those ruins beneath the frenetic busy-ness of everyday contemporary activity.  Lefeu himself, in Améry’s hands, becomes a call to remember the ruins, rather than to try to move “beyond them,” to build something “new” over them, burying them beneath our re-constructions.

To return to Anders, the third, final, and by far shortest (only about 30 pages total) of his three works that make up Anders’s 1982 publication, Hiroshima Is Everywhere, is The Dead:  Speech on the Three World Wars, first delivered in 1964 and first published the following year.  In it, Anders himself discusses what is required of those of us who are survivors, those who have been left behind by the dead.  Specifically, he means those who, like himself, were left behind by the millions of those who died fighting on the German side during the first two World Wars.  His concern, that is, is with the survivors of those whom Germany enlisted into its forces and sent into battle to die on the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and North Africa from 1914-1945.  Anders strongly insists that what makes the deaths of all those millions so hard to bear for their families and compatriots left behind is that they all died (page 364) “for nothing,” that they died, as he poignantly puts it, “not for their country, but to its shame.”  He goes on to insist just as vehemently that it is only when the survivors, such as himself, left behind in such cases “hold fast to that knowledge”—the knowledge that their dead died for nothing–that they can “truly honor the dead.”  Only then, in turn, can their survivors make it true that those who died did not die in vain! “Whether they died in vain or not,” he writes, “depends on us, who have been left behind.  On our incorruptibility”—on such survivors not being open to any sort of bribery to cover over the fact that their dead did indeed die for nothing.   “Only so do we pay them their due.”*

The specific millions of dead at issue in Andres’s remarks—namely, the millions of Germans and their allies who were sent to die in battle during the first two World Wars—have the distinctive status of what Anders calls “die schuldlos Schuldigen,” which literally translates as “the guiltlessly guilty,” but which we might more usefully render as “innocent perpetrators.”  At least many if not most such innocent perpetrators were also what Anders calls “victim-perpetrators” (Opfer-Täter), those whose acts inflicted suffering on others, but who themselves also suffered from their own acts as well (albeit they may well have suffered differently:  for example, from feelings of guilt, quite possibly even overwhelming ones, for what they did).

At any rate, whether “only” innocent perpetrators, or “also” victim-perpetrators, in all such cases what is at issue are those who, perhaps with what ordinarily count as the best of motives, such as love of their country, carry out acts that help accomplish or at least enable such deeds of horror as the extermination of the Jews of Europe—or, to use another example, the one for which Anders first employs the term at issue, the bombing of Hiroshima.  Anders’s uses the expression “schuldlos Schuldigen” to describe the American pilot Claude Eatherly, who piloted one of the planes flying reconnaissance and providing accompaniment to the Enola Gay as it went to drop the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, and who subsequently suffered guilt for what he had helped perpetrate against the people of Hiroshima, and the world.  The second and longest part of Anders’s book on the ubiquity of Hiroshima consists of a long exchange of letters between him and Eatherly.

The six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II may not themselves have shared any guilt for those murders–though the extermination-camp system of inmate capos and “special commands” (Sondercommandos) constitutes a moral “gray zone,” as Primo Levi famously called it.  That is, they may not have been “innocent perpetrators” in the sense that Anders applies to Eatherly, or to the German war dead from the first two World Wars.  The distinctions involved in these various cases are well worth careful reflection, and I may return to them in some later posts.  However, what I am concerned with here is one important thing these different cases all have in common, which is that in every case, from the most purely innocent victims to the most guiltily compromised ones, those who died from their victimization all died for nothing, to use Anders way of putting it.  If they were “innocent perpetrators” who died in the process of committing their deeds of perpetration, then they may have died not only for nothing, but also “to the shame of” that in whose name they went to their deaths (e.g., their country).  In contrast, of course, the millions of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis died to no shame of Judaism.  However, be that as it may, they still died for nothing—died for no good reason whatever, died without any justification for their dying.  That is what I want to address.  Specifically, I want to address the same question Anders addressed in his remarks about all the dead innocent perpetrators of German aggression during the first half of the twentieth century.  That is the question of how we can properly honor such dead, who died for nothing.

Anders not only raises that question for us, but also gives us the best answer to it, an answer I’ve already cited:  We honor such dead only by holding fast to this, that their death was “for nothing,” that they were wasted, their lives and the lives of their loved ones shattered, reduced to ruin, for nogood reason whatever.   Thus, we pay the dead who died for nothing their due only by refusing to bury the fact that their lives were squandered for nothing.  That is what it means, genuinely to honor them.  In means, in effect, to preserve the ruins of all their lives—to preserve them as ruins, and not as convenient means for marshalling resources for new accomplishments, or just as museum pieces to provide opportunities for education and entertainment for the living.

Never to forget, always to remember, all those millions upon millions who died for nothing—died for nothing in Auschwitz, in Hiroshima, or even at the fronts as German soldiers in battle–is to reject all endeavors to demolish the ruins, and replace them with glittering new fabrications.  It is to refuse to call out “peace, peace” where there is no peace, but instead to keep exposed the face of war that everywhere reigns, consigning all things to obliteration, even and especially the evidence of the very obliteration itself.  It is to remember the ruins and to preserve them as such, defying the demolition of the ruins, protesting alongside Lefeu, Améry, and Anders.

Viewed from the sort of perspective Günther Anders adopts in the final part of his three-part book on Hiroshima, what he identifies as “the three World Wars”—the first two “hot,” the third one “cold”—show themselves to be but the revelation of three faces of a single nihilistic Anti-Trinity, the Counter-Divinity of Demolition that imploded so gaudily over Hiroshima in August 1945.  Dying in 1992, Anders lived long enough to see the end of the Third World War, the “cold” one, and therewith the end of the whole process:  the finalization of the disappearance of the devastation cast up everywhere by triumphant, ceaseless war, the burial of all the ruins beneath the mask of the global market.  Anders, with his philosophical background, might have recognized that the world thereby entered into the end stage of despair, by Kierkegaard’s lights—the despair which does not even know it is in despair, but thinks it is, or at least ought to be, just pleased as punch.  From such a black hole of despair, no light of hope can any longer escape:  All genuine hope has vanished along with all the ruins.

Fundamentally, August 6, 1945, was Day Zero not because on that day such horrendous ruins appeared, the ruins of an entire city, reduced to rubble in less than the blink of an eye.  Rather, that day was Day Zero–the nullification of the Day itself, the multiplication of zero days to infinity—because on that day the ruins themselves began to be dis-appeared, like Argentines under the Junta.  It was Day Zero because that day  “the Demolition”—the Abbruch to protest against which Lefeu/Améry give their very lives–began.  Day Zero was Demolition Day, the Day the ruins went away.

But then, beyond all possible expectation, suddenly, on September 11, 2001, the impossible happened.  On that day, the ruins returned.  In the vast void of endless accumulation of zero days, all the countless string of days during which the global wasteland just stretched on and on, history itself having come to its end, or rather the end of its end—suddenly the whole façade began to shimmer, and then to break apart, and to collapse, revealing beneath its gaudy, fun-house veil the nullity it had till then concealed.  The ruins reappeared.  A Day again dawned, even “after” Day Zero, the day all days were reduced to zeros, another Day “after” the Day the Day itself died.

September 11, 2001:  The Day After.

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There is more to explain about that.  So I will need to continue this series on “Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After” for yet one more post.


* In The Open Wound:  Trauma, Identity, and Community, which I have just published (available through amazon.com), I try to make the same point in a different way, without using the same verbal distinction Anders does between dying “for nothing” and dying “in vain.”  I am in full agreement with what I understand him to be saying through such locutions, however.  The difference is solely one of formulation.

Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After–continued

Toward the end of The Man on the Bridge, his journal of his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1958, Günther Anders recounts a lengthy conversation he had with a fellow passenger during one leg of his return journey to Europe–a conversation  about Hiroshima, nuclear arms, the Cold War, and related matters.  Anders’ seat-mate has bought the official party line of the powers that be. He proudly spouts the dictated slogans about the unprecedented threat of “totalitarianism” and the supposedly regrettable but necessary reliance on the strategy of “nuclear deterrence” and “mutually assured destruction” until that threat can be eliminated.  In short, he marches with the compliant masses who back in those days contentedly and complacently reduced everything to the thought-imploding chant of  “Better dead than Red!”

In the course of the conversation Anders attempts to explain to this self-satisfied conformist a theme with which the readers of Anders’s journal are already well familiar by that point.  That theme is embodied in his observation to his fellow passenger that the most disturbing thing about the Hiroshima he visited in 1958 was precisely how, thanks to the massive, sustained efforts to rebuild the city after its nuclear devastation in 1945, virtually all signs of that very devastation had been erased, buried beneath the gleaming new skyscrapers, shops, office buildings, and homes that had been erected over the ruins.  The only visible evidence of the devastation that remained was confined to a carefully, officially selected section of the city.  There, the ruins were not replaced and erased by new construction.  Instead, they were deliberately preserved and protected.  So maintained, those ruins were put on exhibition for all who live in Hiroshima and all who visit the city to go and see.  They stand there as an officially sanctioned “memorial” to what happened in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a sobering “warning” to all future generations, lest they be tempted to any relaxation of the perpetual vigilance that must be kept alert if the world is to avoid the same sort of devastation, only this time going global, in effect.  So, at least, went—and still goes–the official party line.

To his seat-mate Anders tries to make the point that what is really most sobering is noticing that the unprecedented annihilation, not just of property but above all of two-hundred-thousand human lives, that took place in Hiroshima on that August day in 1945 is itself annihilated by the furious reconstruction that rebuilt the city after the disaster.  That annihilation of the annihilation, the erasure of the erasure of human life and habitation that took place there, is in no way countered by the special preservation of evidence of the devastation in one confined area of the city.  By being reduced to the status of a sort of museum, which one can visit as tourists have long visited the excavated ruins of the ancient Pompey, to gawk at what the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius did in the days of ancient Rome, only distances the devastation further.  Far from fostering any genuine recollection, it institutionalized forgetting, and buries what happened even more deeply beneath the façade of pious pretenses.

Anders tells his companion (page 161 of Hiroshima Ist Überall, the first of the three parts of which is his Hiroshima-Nagasaki journal, once again in my own somewhat free translation) that “the reconstruction is a betrayal of the dead.  They themselves don’t complain about it, of course.  I mean the dead.  They never complain.  And they who in that way make no appeal, they never even put in an appearance.  As missing, I mean.  It’s not that the dead are invisible that’s the scandal.  Rather, it’s that their being missing is missed.  That their being missing is not visible.”

If there is any duty to remember those who died on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, and honor them in the memory, then it is not by making fetishes of their names or of pictures or trinkets kept as tokens of them that we fulfill that duty.  It is, rather, by keeping the wound of their absence open, in remembering that they have been forgotten.  It is by keeping their absence, their still being missing, ever before our minds–which doesn’t even require that we know their names, and may even be hindered by such knowledge—that we remember, and honor, those whose deaths are not to be forgotten, and who are to be honored in their absence.  What is at issue with regard to remembering Hiroshima is the same sort of thing that is at issue, to give a different example, by the still ongoing admonitions, on black flags, bumper-stickers, and elsewhere across America, to remember all those American troops who went—and are often still–Missing in Action (MIA) and/or were Prisoners of War (POW) during the American debacle in Vietnam.

Anders saw and said that is not the gaping void opened by the horrible, sudden snuffing out of so many human lives—the two-hundred thousand disappeared, as it were–by the nuclear bombing of August 6, 1945, that is so scandalous.  Rather, it’s that that void itself is given no void—no room—wherein it might manifest itself with any force, to make itself felt.  What’s truly scandalous is that the ghosts of all those killed that day are not even granted any site where they might haunt the living, but are made instead to pass on beyond recall.  Every nook and cranny, every dark corner or place aside where they might make their ghostly presence—which is always just the sort of presence of an absence, a void, a going missing, that Anders is talking about—known to us whom they have left behind.  Thus robbed even of haunting places, those who have died can no longer be honored by genuine mourning among us from whom they have been taken.  And we, in our turn, are denied any presence of the dead—they themselves, as dead, as absent, as leaving a hole never to be filled again.  We are bereft of our very bereavement.

Days before his trip home, when he was still in Hiroshima itself, Anders had a similar conversation with a dissimilar companion, this time a Hiroshima resident who, as a member of the Japanese army, was doing duty elsewhere when the bombing occurred.  He tells Anders (page 62) that now, upon his returning to the city, he has a strange feeling of “not being there, where he is,” namely back in Hiroshima.  Standing on the bridge into the newly rebuilt city, and recalling when he first came home there at the end of the war, he cries out, “Yes!  When I [first] saw the city again, when it still lay in ruins, then it still was itself.  But now!”  Now, he has the strange feeling already described, of not being where he is.  (As an aside my regular readers may appreciate, let me add that he’s right, he’s not in Hiroshima, where he is, because it really is Hiroshima no longer.  It’s become Las Vegas.  Hiroshima is everywhere/Las Vegas is everywhere:  those are jus two sides of the same coin.  Or, to say that a bit differently, those are just two different ways of pointing at the same thing.)

Anders writes that he easily identified with that feeling, of not being where one is.  Back at his own home in Europe, the same phenomenon of massive, amazingly rapid reconstruction had occurred, after so much of greater Germany had been reduced to ruins by the Allied forces.  Anders writes that he and the other inhabitants of rebuilt central Europe have even grown used to such erasure of the erasure, so that by the time he is writing (1958) it had “almost ceased being  shocking.”   It had become “the new normal.”  No one really even noticed it any longer–and, not noticing, also didn’t even notice that they had failed to notice, so that not only did the former devastation vanish altogether from view, but so did it’s very vanishing.   Everything appeared to be there after all, with nothing absent. “For,” Anders writes (with his own emphasis), “the reconstruction is even the destruction of the destruction, and thereby the culmination of destruction.”  He goes on to write that he himself can no longer see anything of what happened there, in Europe or in Japan.

Everything visible—the new houses—they hush up what took place exactly as do the newspapers or everyday chatter [which bury what has happened under the din of “the news”].  Everything looks to be “time-neutral,” that is, everything looks as if it has been that way since who knows when; what’s now present masks itself with the sense that “it’s always been this way”; and mere appearance of its having always been this way masks what really happened.  History is falsified backwards, and even (for the reconstruction is also history) by history itself.  History—the history of its own falsification.

It strikes me that what is at issue here is akin to when those who are abused are denied even the linguistic means necessary to complain about the abuse, since the language made available to them has already been laundered to mask and perpetuate that very abuse.  If one’s very language, the language into which one is born, the only language one has available, is such that it already institutionalizes sexism, for example, then not only are some members of society targeted for victimization by sexism, but are also in the process denied access to the means whereby they could even become conscious of their plight, let alone protest against it.  In just the same way, Anders is saying that the reconstruction which erases evidence of the earlier destruction is really a double erasure, which also and above all erases any evidence that anything was destroyed in the first place—just as Himmler and the other Nazi murderers sought to exterminate all signs that they had exterminated the Jews of Europe.  As Anders rightly observes, no destruction could conceivably be more complete than that which destroys all access to the very fact of destruction, no dishonoring of the dead greater than that which buries their very burial.

There are absences, and then there are absences.  There are voids, and then there are voids.  The fertile womb is a void, as is the Nothing from which all things come.  Then there is another sort of void.  For instance, the void, the absence, the not-being, of that second sort is what is at issue in what Kierkegaard—in The Sickness Unto Death, written nearly a full century before the bombing of Hiroshima, which means nearly one-and-two-thirds centuries before September 11, 2001–identified as the very worst form of despair, the most devastating form of hopelessness, with really no chance at all of ever recovering.  That worst, most ineradicable form of despair is the despair that doesn’t even know it is in despair, and is therefore barred from any possibility of changing its condition.  It is the despair that thinks itself to be happiness.  In a kind of anticipation of those remarks on despair, a few years earlier in Works of Love Kierkegaard had written these lines (in the translation by Howard and Enda Hong) about such deception:  “People speak of [life’s] falsity and immediately take it to mean that it deceives one in respect to earthly goods, disappoints one’s great expectations, makes sport of one’s darling plans.  But that it can be most dangerously deceiving when in these respects it honourably maintains everything, almost more than it has promised—that this is the most dangerous falsity [we] seldom think about.”  A misery so deceptive that it makes the miserable think they are happy, or at least ought to be, is the deepest imaginable misery, a despair altogether beyond hope.

The void that opened over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, was that sort of void, the kind that results from voiding the void itself—from cancelling it out, effectively erasing it, burying it beyond possibility of recall.  As Jean-François Lyotard would say a few decades after Anders wrote his remarks about Hiroshima, with reference not to Hiroshima but rather to Auschwitz, it is the void, the erasure, that comes from forgetting that we have forgotten.  What really happened during World War II in Auschwitz and then, at the War’s end, across the globe in Hiroshima, was above all just that:  the forgetting that we had forgotten.  It was the opening of a Day that consumed all days, that gobbled them all up at once, wolfed them all down whole, and then digested them completely, transforming them all into itself–which means, as Anders has told us, into one endless nullity, one endless, endlessly unnoticed absence, of any actually new Day at all.  From that Day Zero on, every day was nothing more than that same zero Day, over and over and over again.

That was the Day Zero, the null Day.  It was  the Day that marked the vanishing point of every Day, the Day “after” which there is no more “after that Day”:  as already noted, zero multiplied by any number up to and including infinity is still just that–zero, zilch, nada, null.

Day Zero:  that was the Day the Day died, and died so completely that even its death died away unnoticed, not even forgotten but just erased, never to be recalled.  And thus Day Zero was the Day without end, that repeats itself endlessly, day after day after day after dead and deadening day—a limitlessly wasted expanse of ever expanding wasteland, with no outer boundaries.

And yet, despite all that, despite the dying of the Day beyond any renewal,  another Day did dawn one day.  At least it did if Baudrillard and his like are onto something.  To everyone’s surprise, what was in principle beyond any prediction, because it was beyond any realm of possibility that remained after Day Zero, happened anyway, as impossible, as inconceivable as it may have been.  A new Day did dawn one day—on one of those endless zero days after Day Zero.

It dawned on September 11, 2001.  What happened that day was the dawning of the Day After, that is, the Day After that Day Zero, after that Day after which there were no more Days to dawn.

September 11, 2001:  An impossible day–The Day After!

More on that next time.

Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After

As my regular readers will recall, I recently revisited Hiroshima, via German philosopher and anti-nuclear activist Günther Anders’s journal of his own visit there in 1958.  My trip was very rewarding—with the added bonus of being inexpensive, since all it took was the price of a cheap paperbound book.  In a recent post I shared some of those rewards, and in this post and the next few I will share some more—this time in connection not only with the traumatic detonation of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, but also with the traumatic destruction of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, 11 years ago today.  Indeed, revisiting Hiroshima via Anders has helped me to deepen my insight into the traumatic connection between those two traumas themselves, and that is my overall topic now.

Almost immediately after the Twin Towers fell, American media and officialdom began referring to the site where the Towers had stood as “Ground Zero.”  That usage stuck, and today when someone—at least some American–speaks of “Ground Zero” it is safe in almost all everyday contexts to assume that the speaker has that site in Manhattan in mind.  However, the use of that term to designate a single, specific location of special historical significance, did not originate with the events of September 11, 2001.  That was not what the capitalized version, “Ground Zero,” was originally used to signify.  Rather, it was used to refer to Hiroshima, insofar as Hiroshima was the site where a nuclear device was first used as a weapon.  Thus, it was used as the name for the place where what came often to be called simply “the Bomb” was first dropped—so far, the first of  only two times it has ever been dropped, the second and to date last time coming just three days later, when America, having so recently dropped its first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, dropped its second one over Nagasaki

Way back when “Ground Zero” still meant Hiroshima—that is, way back before the September 11 of 11 years ago—in the journal of his visit to the original Ground Zero thirteen years after it became the first Ground Zero, Günther Anders connected that spatial notion with a corresponding temporal one, by writing about the day the Bomb first dropped and calling it “Day Zero” (in the German in which Anders wrote his journal, der Tag Null).  Here is the most relevant entry, which Anders wrote while in Hiroshima on August 6, 1958, the anniversary of that same Day Zero, when Hiroshima became the first Ground Zero (what follows is from page 66 of Hiroshima Ist Überall–“Hiroshima Is Everywhere”–in my own free translation):

Time-reckoning:  The 6th of August 1945 was Day Zero.  This day—the day that proved world-history might have no more days left; in any case, that we now have the capacity to cut through the threads that hold world-history together–inaugurated a new age of world-history.  A new age, the very essence of which is that there may be no more ages.  We are living [in 1958, the year Anders wrote this passage] in Year 13 of this age of disaster.  I was born in Year 43 before it.  Father, whom I buried in 1938, died in the Year 7 before it.  Before it–in another age.

Anders’s name for August 6, 1945, the day the Bomb was first dropped, is most apt.  “Zero” is not itself a quantity, either positive or negative.  Rather, it marks the point at which all quantity vanishes, the null point of quantity.  Just so, Day Zero—as such, that is as “zero”–is not itself one day among all the others.  Rather, Day Zero is the zero point of all days.  It marks, not one day among all the others that belong together within the unity of any given “Day”–in the sense of an Age, a Time (for instance “the Modern Day,” or “the Day of the Internet”)–consisting of a multitude of different days of that same broad Day.  Day Zero is, instead, the null point of all Days, the point at which the Day itself vanishes.

Every day after that, is a day that belongs, paradoxically, to no Day.  Every day “after” Day Zero, “after” the point where the Day itself vanishes, is a day destitute of any Day, any belonging together with others days to make up an Age, a Time.  Every day after Day Zero is thus a timeless day.  After all, zero multiplied by whatever, all the way to and including infinity, is still zero—zilch, nada, nil, naught, nothing, not anything at all.  After Day Zero, every day was just a zero day, day after day after day after day.  A “vast wasteland” (pace Newton Minnow, who one of those days tried to lay claim to that title, not without reason, on behalf of network TV).

Anders lived well into those days after Day Zero, that endlessly vast wasteland of zero days, living through many years of it, as I’ve already noted.  As for me personally, I was born early in the morning of the first day of Year 1, ADZ (After Day Zero), Mountain Standard Time.  Furthermore, today, this day that begins the 12th year after September 11, 2001, CE, we are all living in Year 67, ADZ—assuming, at any rate, that we still live in the same Age Anders, unlike his father, lived to live in, Anders dying as he did in December 1992, CE, which means in Year 47, ADZ.

But do we?  Do we still live today just another of the endless round of zero days that follow after Day Zero? Do we continue to live in the same Age, the very Age of vanishing Ages, the Age that appeared when Hiroshima dis-appeared under the plume of the nuclear mushroom cloud on August 6, 1945, CE?

Or do we live in a different Age—a new one, calling for a new time-reckoning?  Has another Day dawned, one that would truly be a New Day, at last? A truly New Day dawning “after” Day Zero, that Non-Day, when for the first time the possibility of the impossibility of any New Day announced itself?

Perhaps.

Perhaps September 11, 2001, CE, was no longer just another zero day After Day Zero.  Perhaps that date is the date of the dawning of a New Day.  The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, who has since died, thought so, in effect.  To combine him with Anders, we could say Baudrillard thought that September 11, 2001, CE, was the day that Day Zero, the day of the cancellation of all further Days, was itself cancelled.  For him, on September 11, 2001, CE, with the collapse of the Twin Towers, history itself was reborn.

If we express what Anders’s points to in speaking of “Day Zero” with regard to the idea of history, we can say that Day Zero was the day history itself was cancelled.  As the Day the Day itself vanished, Day Zero was the Day history as such disappeared, vanishing into the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, to be replaced by the façade of history taken to be just “one damned thing after another,” to borrow a famous or infamous definition I’ve used in this blog before.   For Baudrillard, on September 11, 2001, history—genuine history, in which something new can still happen under the sun—returned.  History returned on that day with a vengeance, as it were.

If Baudrillard is right, then September 1, 2001, was the Day that ended the end of Days that came in on Day Zero.  A New Day dawned.

How fitting that would be!  Then the new “Ground Zero,” the site in Manhattan for which that expression was taken away from Hiroshima, the original “Ground Zero,” would prove, ironically, to be the place where a New Day first dawned, a Day that would at last cancel out Day Zero, from which nothing but an endless string of zero days could follow.  And then, ironically, the Day that first dawned when the new Ground Zero became Ground Zero would no longer be Day Zero any more.  It would be, instead, The Day After.

What remembering September 11, 2001, would then put at issue would be the decision about what Day we live in today.  Do we still live in Zero Day?  Or do we live today in The Day After?

Today, on the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001, we cannot properly honor the memory of all those who died on September 11, 2001—we cannot render them their due for all we owe them—without giving thought to that decision, continuing to give it thought until that decision itself can be made.  So at least does it seem to me, and I would like to honor their memory, render all those dead their due for what I owe them.

It is toward that end that I offer this post, at any rate—this post, and my promise to continue thinking about these same things in my next post, at least.

Still on the Bridge: Locating Hiroshima Today

Sixty-seven years ago today—on August 6, 1945–the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima.

In 1958 German philosopher Günther Anders, who was also Jewish and as such had had to leave Germany under the Nazis, spending most of the years from then until the end of the Second World War in the United States, flew to Japan to take part in the Fourth World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and for Disarmament taking place in Tokyo that year.  While in Japan he visited, along with fellow delegates to the Conference, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two cities so far ever subjected to nuclear bombing.  On August the 6th that year, the thirteenth anniversary of the bombing, he was in Hiroshima.

Anders kept a journal of his visit to Japan that year.  In 1963 he published that journal under the title Der Mensch auf der BrückeThe Man on the Bridge—a title he took from his own closing remarks at the Conference, delivered in Tokyo on August 20, 1958, two weeks after the anniversary at Hiroshima.  Here is my translation of those remarks, by the citation of which Anders begins his published book of 1963:

On one of the bridges of Hiroshima stands a man who strikes a tune and sings.  Look at him.  Where you would expect to see his face, you find no face, rather a veil:  Because he no longer has any face.  And where you expect a hand, you would find no hand, rather an iron hook:  Because he no longer has any hand.

So long as it not granted for us to accomplish what we have come together here [namely, in Tokyo at the Conference he is attending] to accomplish:  the exorcising of the danger that took two-hundred-thousand with it when broke out for the first time [at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945], just so long will that robotic figure stand on the bridge and sing.  And so long as he continues to stand on that bridge, just so long will he continue to stand on all the bridges that might lead into our common future.  As a sign of our disgrace.  As a messenger.

Let us release that man from his office.  Let us do what’s necessary, so that we can say to him:

“You have become unnecessary.  You may be go.”

Later yet, in 1982, twenty-four years after first delivering those remarks and nineteen after first publishing them, Anders reissued The Man on the Bridge, along with two related other works of his, under the title Hiroshima ist überallHiroshima Is Everywhere.  That is certainly a fitting title, since so long as that man remains on that bridge, then, to be sure, wherever we are, there is Hiroshima.

As Elie Wiesel once observed, after “Auschwitz,” after the occurrence of all that that name has come to stand for, “we are all Jews”—all of us, regardless of who else we may be, Israeli or Arab or German or American or Yemeni or Zulu or Zuni or whatever, it just doesn’t matter which.  Similarly, as Anders in effect said back in 1958, after “Hiroshima,” which means after the dropping of the atom bomb over that city on August 6, 1945, we all—all of us Jews, whether Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or Shinto or Wiccan or atheist or all or none of the above–live in Hiroshima.

In fact, in far more ways than one Auschwitz and Hiroshima are inseparable.  That is, the going-universal of being a Jew and the going-ubiquitous of Hiroshima are forever yoked to one another, and that yoke cannot be thrown off.  That both occurred during World War II–a war in which Germany, which perpetrated “Auschwitz” (that is, the extermination of the Jews of Europe), and Japan, upon which America perpetrated “Hiroshima” (that is, the nuking of human beings), were allied, on the losing side—is only a relatively superficial dimension of a far deeper connection.  To formulate that connection in short:  After Auschwitz, which made all of us Jews, the dropping of the atomic bomb in August, 1945, made Hiroshima into the only place available any longer for human habitation.  When the bomb dropped, Hiroshima became the universal human habitat, the single, singular place where we human beings, who by then had all been made Jews, can–and must–live.  From now on, Hiroshima is where all human being have to live.

The only question is:  When, if ever, will we start living there?  Since that’s the only place we have left where we can live after August 6, 1945, that question could also be asked this way:  When will we start to live at all?  To live, and not just hang on till our lives are over, letting them run on beside us, as it were, while we sit there next to them, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for it all to end?  When will we begin to set up at last a human habitation, now that our old haunts are no longer haunt-able?

Early on in The Man on the Bridge,Anders remarks that after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima anyone of conscience had to be ashamed to be a member of the same race that could do such a thing.  Anders is very careful to explain that the “race” he means in that remark is the human race, the one and only race to which we all–all human beings whatsoever, whoever we are, with no exceptions—truly belong, the only truly “natural” race, as opposed to such arbitrary, fictive entities as “the Jewish race” or ‘the German race,” “the white race” or “the black race.”  The race Anders is talking about is, then, the same one that gave Robert Antelme, who survived the Nazi camps as a French prisoner of war, the title for his memoirs of life in those camps—The Human Race, a resounding document of enduring resistance.

Finally to inhabit Hiroshima, the only humanly habitable place left anywhere on earth (or “off-planet,” for that matter), is the only way we human beings, universal Jews that Auschwitz has made us be, will ever again, after “Hiroshima,” be able to stop being ashamed of ourselves for simply being human.  It is no less true to say that only by such real inhabitation, such actual dwelling and home-making, can we at last truly join the human race—the truly human race—instead of just hanging out around its fringes while we wait to be buried.

Anders is wonderfully clear, at least in the essentials, about what it would take, really to join that race—what it would take to at last be able to dismiss the man on the bridge from his station, with our thanks for doing his duty so faithfully for so long.  He is especially clear that to “exorcize the danger” that was unleashed and set lose to roam the earth on August 6, 1945, involves something far more and altogether different from just enacting and then enforcing, however widely, stringently, and effectively, treaties or pacts or vows or laws or rules or regulations or intentions or resolutions for everyone everywhere never ever forever anywhere at all to drop “the bomb” again.  As Anders puts it, even if we were to succeed in altogether dismantling the global nuclear arsenal, we would still not be able to address the real danger, which lies in this, that we still know how to make those bombs again.  In effect Anders points out that, try as we might, we cannot lobotomize ourselves into forgetting that knowledge, that know-how or techo-logy.

Let nuclear disarmament be global and enduring as it could conceivably be.  Let all the bombs be defused and beaten into plowshares.  Let all the resulting radioactive garbage be miraculously disappeared.  What Anders calls the danger would still grow no less.  If anything, it would become even greater, since that absence of all the toys of the nuclear warriors would just spawn a deep and deeply betraying sense of complacency and safety, calling out “peace! peace!” where there is no peace and where, as Nietzsche taught more than a century ago, the devastation just keeps on growing.

Anders took an active role, alongside such more famous colleagues as Bertrand Russell, in the burgeoning anti-nuclear movement of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, as he tried forcefully to call attention to what he saw as the very real danger that then and still faces the whole human race.  Around the same time, Heidegger, a very different figure who would never have joined such a movement and even made various remarks that might be taken by the unthinking to speak against what Anders says, actually pointed in the same direction.  The real risk, according to Heidegger, was not that another atomic bomb might be dropped over another city and citizenship, or even over scores of them.  The real danger emerged, he consistently argued, even if “that day” never came.  The real danger manifested when the bombs did not fall, and had even been neutralized.  The real danger was that then the monstrous distortion of human being and habitation that the bomb only symbolized would cease even to be visible at all to anyone any longer.  In effect, we might say, Anders’ man would still be on the bridge, but no one would any longer be able to see him there—or even that there was a bridge.  Then, to use the way of putting it I’ve been using above, all prospects for our race, the human race, would truly be eradicated once and for all, beyond hope of all resurrection, however miraculous.

To paraphrase a famous line from Alcoholics Anonymous, “the bomb” is not the problem.  The bomb is just a symbol of the problem.  The problem, as usual, lies not in our stars, but in us.  The problem is ourselves, the human race itself—or, rather, that so far that race remains without members, since the solution to the problem the scandal of which the man is sent to stand on the bridge to keep us all mindful is joining that race.  To put the same point just a bit differently, as I also suggested above, the solution, if there is one, is truly to inhabit Hiroshima, our henceforth only universal habitat, home for all us Jews.

Anders gives us the hint and continuing guide that we need to begin doing just that.  I will end this post after citing it.

He writes early on in his Hiroshima-Nagasaki journal, that the solution is to insist on maintaining, not our cherished security, but our in-security.  “What faces us,” he writes, is “the endlessness of insecurity.  And our never-ending task consists of this, that we be careful that this very insecurity never ends.”

Today, sixty-seven years to the day after Hiroshima went global, thanks to America’s gifting it with “the bomb,” Anders’ man is still standing sentinel on his bridge.  Hiroshima is still everywhere.  We should all still be ashamed of ourselves for belonging to the human race.  We are all still far too secure.

Published in: on August 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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