June 21, 2003

Ode to New York I

Ode to New York

I just re-read E.B. White's classic essay "Here is New York." Written in 1949, it is perhaps the best love letter to NYC ever penned. I hadn't read it since 9/11, and so on this read I noticed some amazingly prophetic passages that bear quoting here:

"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition."

Later:

"This race--this race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man--it sticks in all our heads. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled."

Remarkable that E.B. White used planes as the metaphor for how easily Manhattan could be destroyed given its immense concentration of humanity bunched together vulnerably on a small island.

A few days after 9/11, a remarkable exhibit opened up in Soho on Prince St. entitled "Here is New York--A Democracy of Photographs." Photographers from throughout the city, from all racial and societal stations, submitted their "reflections" in the form of their pictures. Anyone could submit a picture to the exhibit as long as the picture related to 9/11 in some broad way. And the gallery would hang it up. Lines of people waited to get in. And left, I trust, feeling stronger and more composed.

Why? I know better now after reading again E.B. White's piece.

Because even though the planes hadn't been met halfway, this small demonstration of White's ultimate symbols of NYC, namely nonviolence and racial brotherhoood (despite the painful ups and downs) marched on. We were not to be rendered barbaric by barbarism.

Instead of vicious, revanchist race killings through Arab-American neighborhoods, for instance, there were peaceful (if emotional) debates or forums for collective reflection such as that presented by this exhibit.

The struggling "Parliament of Man" lived on.

Posted by Gregory at June 21, 2003 06:15 PM
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