About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette Black features Perpigñàn,
Francia 1949, a photograph published in Imprints by
Christer Strömholm: The Hasselblad Award 1997 (Hasselblad
Center, Gothenburg, Sweden, 1998). Christer Strömholm, one
of the leading photographers in Scandinavia and among the first
to establish an international reputation following World War II,
largely shaped photograpy as an independent art form throughout
I sit down to write these notes in the week following
the events of September 11, 2001. The death and destruction in New
York, Washington, D. C., and rural Pennsylvania have cast a pall
that extends even to the production of a small literary magazine.
Many years ago, my friend and mentor Peter Taylor warned me, sagely,
to keep the topical, the newsworthy, out of my writing, largely
because it would have a distorting effect. Writers, he believed,
must have some significant distance from the story they are struggling
to make sense of. Likewise, I have tried to keep affairs of state
out of this column. What place do they have, after all, in so modest
a space? And because we aspire to a considerable “shelf life” for
the literature in this magazine, the topical soon would become trivial.
Yet it seems equally abhorrent in the early autumn
of 2001 to pretend we can practice business as usual. The world
has been changed, and we have just begun a process of discovering
in what ways and to what degree it has done so. We all, it seems
to me, are struggling for that distance from what transpired whereby
we will be able to reorient ourselves to past and future. The present
It is also fascinating to see the ongoing struggle
for mastery over the narrative of what happened. Who is the “author”?
Osama bin Laden? We are told that he engendered the plot, scudding
passenger planes into sky-scrapers. We glean snippets of the “back
story” he promulgates: decades of American perfidy from Israel and
Palestine to Saudi Arabia and beyond. Implied readers abound, each
reading the story by the light of particular context and judgment,
whether in the United States, the Middle East, or elsewhere around
the globe. According to bin Laden’s narrative, our guilt is not
merely political and military; our very culture offends the sensibility
of this particular brand of mujahadeen. What
we cannot help but fear is further episodes he may surely intend.
The purpose of his story, then, is fanning that fear itself in hopes
of punishing Americans to the point of universal withdrawal, which
will, in turn, purge Islamic states of cultural infection.
Naturally, the U. S. government is struggling
not only to investigate the means and purposes behind the attacks,
to identify and punish those responsible, but, perhaps more important,
to wrest control of the narrative. We find ourselves now and for
the foreseeable future very much in media res.
We know how this story began—we all share visions of that second
airliner slicing its burgeoning fire through the south tower of
the World Trade Center. The middle of the story is upon us: the
cleanup, the listing of casualties, and the requiems for them. The
tensions of narrative drama are building toward the crisis, or really
the ongoing promised crises, of American military response. Even
though I write these lines assuming that military action will have
begun in some form before they are read, I also have little doubt
that it will be a long time before the conclusion is reached.
To what end that response? Practically, to forestall
future terror. Biological. Chemical. Environmental. Nuclear. These
are threats that hang over us as part of the pall I mentioned earlier,
in a way that we haven’t felt since the early days of the Cuban
missile crisis and the cold war promise of mutually assured destruction.
The mutuality and the destruction seemed no less plausible then
than suitcases loaded with uranium or crop dusters with bacilli
Another ending promised by President Bush is justice.
Though we may argue about what constitutes justice, or
whether retribution or revenge are desires we ought to indulge,
all of these do provide closure—they shape the tale, give it
meaning and form, according to formulas that we recognize and even
crave. Because we want the story to have meant something.
It was horrific, yes, and unpredictable, yes, and even seemed chaos
brought home. But if we can impose a satisfying end to the tale,
we will be able to contain it, to understand and make sense of it,
and to lessen its capacity to scare the bejesus out of us. This
is one of the reasons that art and narratives are so important to
us: they start with the vital chaos that bombards our experience
and wrestles it into shape and meaning. If it’s good art, however,
real art, the shape and meaning are never very secure—they
retain some of their danger, unsettle us too.
I don’t believe that any version of the narrative
I’ve mentioned, or its beginning, middle, or end, will matter a
damn to individuals who lost a father or sister in the attacks.
For them, chaos did indeed intrude. The cause doesn’t matter. Justice
or retribution will feel hollow. Life in its mad wildness resists
the balm of story. That will come later, one hopes, through memory,
eulogy, and perhaps enduring art.
—David H. Lynn