Thursday, March 19, 2009

Many Falling Men and Women

Every week or so, I read through the New York Times obituary section to see who has died, and if any of them are interesting to me. I discovered a few days ago, the death of Ernest Trova, described in the headline as "Falling Man artist." I was immediately intrigued, though even more fascinated to discover that this was a completely different person from the Falling Man that I first thought they were talking about.

You can see a picture of Trova's statue at the linked obituary, and I was fascinated when I found out this existed. I think it makes an intriguing parallel for what I think was a transformative moment in world history. The intellectual movements that dominated the twentieth century shared a yearning for perfect rationality, societal unison in accordance with a master plan. The fascist and communist political movements, Le Corbusier-influence architecture of segmented machine-like functionality, the uniformity of mass production systems. I could go on, but I won't. Also, I should qualify that there was rebellion against these ideas that had equally powerful affects on humanity: the explosion of democracy and its freedom-encouraging offshoots. But these democratic ideas articulated themselves as rebellions and reactions to the totalitarian conformist ideas. Without the power of totalitarian structures in human society in the twentieth century, I don't think the democratic movements would have developed in so many diverse ways as they have.

Here's what this has to do with Trova's Falling Man. This is a sleek, perfectly crafted image, symmetrical along many axes, and implying a spherical perfection. Trova's sculpture is crafted in strict conformity to a very simple set of rules. Man is made into an abstract, sterile shape. Now contrast that with this image, Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman. It's visceral, bumpy, irregular, asymmetrical, disturbing, and violent. This is an image of death that was so frightening to people that it was quickly hidden after its initial display. We stare in awe and quiet contemplation in Trova's Falling Man, and are made physically ill by Fischl's Tumbling Woman.

Not everyone I know takes Sept 11 seriously. I had one friend who said her strongest reaction on the day was being happy she got the day off school. I have yet to be able to explain this moment better than Don DeLillo did in his essay, "In the Ruins of the Future."

"[Sept 11] was bright and totalizing and some of us said it was unreal. When we say a thing is unreal, we mean it is too real, a phenomenon so unaccountable and yet so bound to the power of objective fact that we can’t tilt it to the slant of our perceptions."

It's hard to find a better symbol for the totalitarian conformity to the simple idea than the architecture of the World Trade Centre, two giant rectangular prisms reaching high into the atmosphere. Their destruction was a moment of chaos, blood splattering, fire exploding, shards of glass flying jagged, dust hideous and liquid choking and invading every orifice. This constituted a kind of final proof that the totalitarian perfection of the 'modernist' idea was a sham, a dream that only made those who held it laughable. Only idiots still hold onto this dream after its final shattering.
An internet update: I am now tweeting. So far, nothing from my phone, because that shit costs money. But when I'm in my house or at a computer, I'll be telling you exactly what I'm doing. I might not go so far as some do with their twitter accounts, but more of my minor brainfarts will be on the internet for all to ignore.

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