New York's World Trade Center: Literary Allusions

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Maxwell Anderson
Excerpt from Act 3 of High Tor (1937).

The Indian. And there's one comfort.
I heard the wise Iachim, looking down
when the railroad cut was fresh, and the bleeding earth
offended us. There is nothing made, he said,
and will be nothing made by these new men,
high tower, or cut, or buildings by a lake
that will not make good ruins.

Judith. Ruins? This?

The Indian. Why, when the race is gone, or looks aside
only a little while, the white stone darkens,
the wounds close, and the roofs fall, and the walls
give way to rains. Nothing is made by men
but makes, in the end, good ruins.

Van. Well, that's something.
But I can hardly wait.

Charles Baudelaire

"Sea-ports," from Paris Spleen, New Directions, 1970, translated by Louise Varese.

A sea-port is a pleasant place for a soul worn out with life's struggles. The wide expanse of sky, the mobile clouds, the ever changing colors of the sea, the flashing beams of the light-houses form a prism marvelously designed to gladden, without ever tiring the eye. The shops with their long slim lines and complicated rigging that so gracefully ride the swells, serve to keep alive in the soul a taste for rhythm and beauty. And, above all, for the man who has lost all curiosity, all ambition, there is a sort of mysterious and aristocratic pleasure in watching, as he reclines in the belvedere or leans on the mole, all the bustle of people leaving, of people returning, people who still have enough energy to have desires, who still desire to voyage, who still desire to get rich.

Don DeLillo

From Mao II, pp. 39-40, Viking, 1991.

"Tell me about New York," he said. "I don't get there anymore. When I think of cities where I lived, I see great cubist paintings."

"I'll tell you what I see."

"That edginess and density and those old brownish tones and how cities age and stain in the mind like Roman walls."

"Where I live, okay, there's a rooftop chaos, a jumble, four, five, six seven storeys, and it's water tanks, laundry lines, antennas, belfries, pigeon lofts, chimney pots, everything human about the lower island - little crouched gardens, statuary, painted signs. And I wake up to this and love it and depend on it. But it's all being flattened and hauled away so they can build their towers."

"Eventually the towers will seem human and local and quirky. Give them time."

"I'll go hit my head against the wall. You tell me when to stop."

"You'll wonder what made you mad."

"I already have the World Trade Center."

"And it's already harmless and ageless. Forgotten-looking. And think how much worse."

"What?" she said.

"If there was only one tower instead of two."

"You mean they interact. There is a play of light."

"Wouldn't a single tower be much worse?"

"No, because my big complaint is only partly size. The size is deadly. But having two of them is like a comment, it's like a dialogue, only I don't know what they're saying."

"They're saying, 'Have a nice day.' "

"Someday, go walk those streets," she said. "Sick and dying people with nowhere to live and there are bigger and bigger towers all the time, fantastic buildings with miles of rentable space. All the space is inside. Am I exaggerating?"

... Out the south window the Trade towers stood cut against the night, intensely massed and near. This is the word "loomed" in all its prolonged and impending force.

"I will make tea for the travelers."

"Now I finally feel I've seen New York inside and out, just standing here in this space and looking out through the window."

"When it rains out, it also rains in."

"Brita, despite whatever inconvenience."

"It's small as these places go. But I can't afford it anymore. And I have to look at the million-storey towers."

"One has an antenna."

"The male."

"Tea is perfect, thank you."

Jan Schmidt from the novel A Little Bit of Flavor

Into the circle came the [Aborigine] musicians, brown legs, sturdy, bowed. Heavy thick bodies decorated, adorned. Not slim, young Western style. Blew into long tubes. Mark rubbed his nose, said, "Circular breathing. Very Hard."

Low tones. Muffled. Haunting. Created a vapor around them. Through that haze came the dancers, stamping, thick figured like the musicians. Feathered and tattooed. Parading, one after the other into a circle, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, stomping. Bare feet, exactly together. Ankle bells jingling with each step.

... Low, deep tones swelled and fell. Narcotic. No longer a group of individuals. The dancers were one body, stepping precisely and exactly together, perfectly, the right foot, the left foot, hitting the earth. Pulsing louder in her ears, the earth breathing. The ground rose up to meet the dancers and formed and electrical circuit of energy with the musicians. The earth sang with the instruments, breathed with the dancers, pulsed with their steps.

A power surge. Shock waves. Hypnotized. Claire leaned back to catch her breath. Clouds swirled along in the early evening twilight sky. She turned her head slightly to the right. The twin monoliths of the World Trade Centers jutted up to meet the heavens. The clouds rushed past the two huge triumphs of modern civilization, oblivious to human efforts to control the earth, to enclose the air in steel and glass, and to divorce themselves from the pull and beat of the earth, the heart. The earth lived. In that instant, Claire knew what she had to do. She had to stop doing drugs altogether. She had to.

David Lehman
The World Trade Center

I never liked the World Trade Center.
When it went up I talked it down
As did many other New Yorkers.
The twin towers were ugly monoliths
That lacked the details the ornament the character
Of the Empire State Building and especilaly
The Chrysler Building, everyone's favorite,
With its scalloped top, so noble.
The World Trade Center was an example of what was wrong
With American architecture,
And it stayed that way for twenty-five years
Until that Friday afternoon in February
When the bomb went off and the buildings became
A great symbol of America, like the Statue
Of Liberty at the end of Hitchcock's Saboteur.
My whole attitude toward the World Trade Center
Changed overnight. I began to like the way
It comes into view as you reach Sixth Avenue
From any side street, the way the tops
Of the towers dissolve into white skies
In the east when you cross the Hudson
Into the city across the George Washington Bridge.

From "Valentine Place" (Scribner, 1996). Originally published in "The Paris Review".

Kenneth Grahame

The Badger lighted a lantern and bade the Mole follow him. Crossing the hall, they passed down one of the principal tunnels, and the wavering light of the lantern gave glimpses on either side of room both large and small, some mere cupboards, others nearly as broad and imposing as Toad's dining-hall. A narrow passage at right angles led them to another corridor and here the same thing was repeated. The mole was staggered at the size, the extent, the ramifications of it all; at the length of the dim pasages, the solid vaultings of the crammed store-chambers, the masonry everywhere, the pillars, the arches, the pavements. 'How on earth, Badger,' he said at last, 'did you ever find time and strength to do all this? It's astonishing!'

'It would be astonishing indeed,' said the Badger simply, 'if I had done it. But as a matter of fact I did none of it—only cleaned out the passages and chambers, as far as I had need of them. There's lots more all round about. I see you don't understand, and I must explain it to you. Well. very long ago, on the sopt where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city—a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and caried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.'

'But what has become of them all?' asked the Mole.

'Who can tell?' said the Badger. 'People come—they stay for a while, they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I've been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for at time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.'

'Well, and when they went at last, those people?' said the Mole.

'Well they went,' continued the Badger, 'the strong winds and persistent rains took the matter in hand, patiently, ceaselessly, year after year. Perhaps w badgers too, in our small way, helped a little—who knows? It was all down, down, down, gradually—ruin and levelling and disappearance. Then it was all up, up, up, gradually, as seeds grew to saplings, and saplings to forest trees, and bramble and fern came creeping in for help. Leaf-mould rose and obliterated, streams in their winter freshets brought sand and soil to clog and to cover, and in course of time our home was ready for us again, and, and we moved in.

- The Wind in the Willows, pp. 76-78.

Alain Robbe-Grillet

Have I already indicated that even before the revolution, the entire city of New York, and in particular Manhattan Island, had been in ruins for a long time? I am speaking of course of the surface constructions, those in what is still called the open air. One of the last houses still standing, the narrator's, located in the West Village, is now in the hands of a team of dynamiters. Having invoked the plan to construct soon, in its place, something higher and more modern, these four men with severe faces, dressed in dark gray sweatshirts, are skillfully and diligently planting all through the building their Bickford fuses and explosive charges, with a view to an explosion which cannot be long in coming now. Cut.

- Project for a Revolution in New York, New York: Grove Press, 1972, Translated by Richard Howard.

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