Remembering 9/11: Time Colors the Artist’s Response

Each year on September 11, McSweeney’s publishes “Welcoming Remarks Made at a Literary Reading,” a brief speech made by John Hodgman, the then toiling writer and literary type who eventually became known as “PC” in the Macintosh commercials, as well as a capable “Daily Show” reporter. The remarks were made just two weeks after the towers fell in Lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center eight short and sharp years ago.

“Welcoming Remarks” declares the urgent need for human sensibility, contact, and compassion, and it calls gently upon artists to make sense of the world’s suffering – if not now, then perhaps in time. Then again, maybe all this needs to happen, if it can, even while we grieve, even when we are muted or are otherwise inarticulate:

What happened on Tuesday was enormous, sublime in the darkest sense of the word, so large as to overwhelm our ability to describe it, to sense it except in parts, and certainly to order it and make it make sense. In the immediate aftermath, we have only our very personal flash memories, but personalizing an event that has touched so many and so cruelly, announcing by byline our own survival, feels shamefully self-involved. To convert this experience into metaphor, into symbolic gesture feels almost offensive when we are still pressed by such an urgent reality that is ongoing and uncontainable by words.

Even so,

As time goes on, this will all pass away into memory, into a story with a beginning and a middle and finally an end. And that transition from the real into fable will bring its own kind of comfort and pain. Now, though, we may gather and distract one another, take comfort in our proximity, and know that we are, at this moment, safe.

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