The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a week away, which should bring rafts of reminiscence and paranoia in equal amounts. I’m a bit immune to the round number aspect—the first few years were the toughest, as far as I’m concerned—but everyone’s mileage is going to vary on this one and I have nothing but respect for that. As a New Yorker both now and then, it’s one bit of solemnity that I own with no irony at all; we’re not owed much in this world, but we all deserve our observances.
While there are plenty of mainstream literary organizations that take a broad global view as a matter of identity—Words Without Borders and PEN America come to mind right off the bat—when I call up that particular time I think of the Spring 2002 issue of Granta, What We Think of America, with its twin epigraphs from a very politic Michael Ignatieff (“…the only country whose citizenship is an act of faith…”) and a very angry Harold Pinter (“…it knows only one language—bombs and death”). The issue held essays by Amit Chaudhuri, Ivan Klima, Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, and a host of other names, along with a wide range of fiction and a haunting photo essay, “Autumn in Afghanistan,” by Thomas Dworzak. It was a fairly gentle examination of anti-Americanism, but on the other hand it didn’t flinch away from the term, and the fact that it was unpacked at all, with a minimum of sensationalism, was appreciated.
Granta’s Autumn 2011 issue, entitled Ten Years Later, is concerned with how the world has changed in that time. As editor John Freeman put it to the Wall Street Journal,
What makes this issue unique is that it references an event felt around the world…. 9/11 was a spectacle created for global consumption, and it had global repercussions. From the war in Iraq to the drone strikes in Pakistan, to the greater transparency demanded upon U.S. relations in the Middle East. So much has changed as a result.
The lineup is appropriately far-ranging, featuring authors from Nuruddin Farah to Nicole Krauss to Pico Iyer. Granta online has some good additional material, with links to a series of rippling worldwide readings and discussions over the coming weeks to commemorate both the event and the issue. I’m not sure I love the cover image, but for me pride of place will always belong to Art Spiegelman’s September 24, 2001 New Yorker cover (with a close second going to the painfully evocative Poetry After 9/11). The frustrated art director in me is a little disappointed that nobody referenced the issue number—116—as being a mirror image of 911, but maybe that’s too heavy-handed or metasequential or something. Otherwise, it looks to be an interesting examination, and even more so a followup to Issue 77. I’d like to have the two of them side by side, to see not only how the world but Granta has altered and evolved its coverage of the event and its repercussions. Ariel Dorfman, for instance, has a short essay in the 2002 issue about being a young New York expat in late-’60s Chile that just barely touches on the coup of September 11, 1973. His piece on the blog, The Other 9/11, bypasses the delicacy of ten years ago completely:
And then had come the arrest of General Pinochet in London in 1998, and his year and a half of captivity, and all of a sudden my public persona was more valuable than ever, on the BBC and Charlie Rose and Chilean TV. You see, I said to my wife, ya ves, if I were an American citizen, how could I possibly write publicly to Pinochet and tell him that this was the best thing that could have happened to him, that he has been afforded an implausible chance to repent. It is only feasible to write words like those as a Chilean, that’s why I could write to an unknown Iraqi dissident in the Washington Post and say that I understood why he wanted to be rid of the tyrant Saddam but not at the price of an intervention from abroad, explain that I would have rejected such a solution for my Chile in the days of our dictatorship, even if it had meant that friends were to die.
I imagine that the question of how the world has shifted is going to come up a lot over the next week or so. It’s a legitimate concern, lord knows, and everyone over the age of ten deserves to be heard on the subject if they’re so moved. And one small literary journal of global scope is every bit as interesting a case study. I’ll be picking up a copy of the newest issue and pulling my #77 off the shelf as well, if only to see how Granta’s conversation about 9/11 has rearranged itself over the past decade.