9/11 Photographs + Imre Kertesz

If you go to Joel Meyerowitz's epic images of Ground Zero some of which are reproduced by The Guardian Newspaper you will be able to read about Meyerowitz's incredible project. He spent nine months on the site of the former World Trade Center.

I was trying to be a historian, to read it and to interpret what I saw. I understood that my reading of this moment was deepened by my personal commitment to it. There were men whose lives I was following; firemen looking for their dead sons. One day, a guy came to me and put his arms around me and said, "I found Tommy. I carried him out in my own arms" and the two of us stood there crying together. That day, I saw everything through the eyes of that father.

(Joel Meyerowitz, quoted in the Guardian Observer, Sunday, August 27, 2006.)

(Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive by Joel Meyerowitz is published on 6 September by Phaidon Press)

I read this article after having completed a longer piece that includes an interview with Imre Kertesz, the great Hungarian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002. The interview appeared in SignandSight which is an online German publication. Kertesz says the following:

We try in vain to recount reality "faithfully" - the moment we start recounting it, we alter it. We lend form to our thoughts and experiences that whirl chaotically, or contrariwise, that lurk in the hidden nooks of our consciousness. The harder we try to render them accurately, the more radically we need to interfere. In other words, everything is fiction, most of all life itself. What's more, even a person is a fiction from the time that he invents himself. Because, at that very moment, his life has been decided in a sense. In my case, that happened some time around 1955, when I decided to become a writer. This moment was the start of fiction, as I imagined myself as a writer, which at the time did not make any sense. In fact, it seemed like a downright implausible decision.

This quote links to some of my earlier comments about images on this web site, but also to what I have been saying about communities and identity. Kertesz does not mean that our lives are a fiction, rather that we construct our identities and in so doing build as much of a fictional universe as a real one. It is the balance between fiction and reality that is at the heart of a struggle within ourselves and with the communities we inhabit.

In my previous Blog entry I mentioned how communities are becoming more and more like villages with all the attendant dangers of parochialism and insularity. These villages are no longer defined by conventional boundaries which makes them all the more difficult to analyse and understand. Kertesz discusses the effects of closed communities in which individuals "do not need to interpret their own needs and life any longer." Instead they resist the "spaciousness" of freedom. This is a crucial insight and one that needs further elaboration and exploration.