"!" [Hollywood Blues] July 2013 - Page 15

Yes, this is a warning, brought right into the theatre at the end of “!” [Hollywood Blues] to pull everyone – performers, audience – into its reach. In 2013, it may not be possible to hear those words (and, especially, to think of that film) without seeing the images of the Twin Towers: a plane where it should not be, the burning, the falling, the collapse. ‘9/11’: a ‘catastrophe unthinkable except as spectacle,’ as Ronan McKinney has recently put it.4 ‘The narrative ends in the rubble,’ wrote Don DeLillo, in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, ‘and it is left to us to create the counter-narrative.’5 To ‘us’? To artists, dramatists, writers – like DeLillo, so deeply absorbed by the ties between literature and terrorism – but also to anyone with the words or objects to set against what DeLillo describes as the ‘massive spectacle’ of September 11: stories, rumours, photographs, memories, lost shoes, fantasies, sheets of paper, candles – anything able to help put that spectacle back in a frame, to find the place from which to look at it. To interrupt that spectacle – however provisionally, however momentarily – is part of the wager of “!” [Hollywood Blues]; what matters, I think, is not its capacity to contain the catastrophes in which it traffics – containment that is the work of narrative and of media pictures – but to run it through a different medium. To change the conditions of looking. We have all seen them, over and over again: images of disaster on screens, mediated by film narrative or reportage. Fictions, real events. But, sometimes, what is real looks like fiction. And do we ever encounter the world without the work of imagination?6 ‘It seemed like a film’: the phrase gives voice to a difficulty of knowing how to tell the difference between the real and the imaginary – a difference crucial to a European aesthetics of suffering and the difficulty now, in the age of digital technologies, inseparable from the genre of disaster. 4 Ronan McKinney, Picturing 9/11, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex 2013. 5 Don DeLillo, In the Ruins of the Future, Harper’s Magazine, December 2001, p.33 6 In his book on genocide in Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch makes the point succinctly: ‘All at once, as it seemed, something we could only have imagined was upon us - and we could still only imagine it. This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.’ We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda, London: Picador 1999, p.7 15