The ?Art? of Pain: Spiegelman?s Poignant Meditation on That September Day
October 28th, 2004
All New Yorkers, in one way or another, remember the downfall of the dark, glossy towers on the cover of Art Spiegelman’s new book, In the Shadow of No Towers. In fact, most current Stuyvesant High School seniors, including Spiegelman’s daughter, Nadja, witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Towers firsthand. In his book, Spiegelman describes the tumult of this day in great depth and detail, even including a description of the chaos of 345 Chambers Street on September 11.
Without even bending its spine, one can see that In the Shadow of No Towers is not your typical book. It is printed on thick, oversized paper, and requires its reader to turn the book sideways to read the comics inside. Inside, Towers is split into two sections: one that meditatively depicts the attacks, their aftermath, and the toll it has taken on the author, and another that consists of reprints of turn-of-the-century comics. The first section recounts his day on September 11, much of which was spent at Stuyvesant High School. “It was eerie downtown in general. [The mood] was a combination of general terror and kind of a shrug, sort of ‘this is a weird thing.’ It didn’t register,” said Spiegelman, in an interview with The Spectator.
Spiegelman’s narrative comics were originally intended to run as multiple installments in a weekly series. However, Spiegelman was not able to churn these pieces out at this rate. Consequently, the book is not written in a flowing style that most readers are accustomed to. The plot often completely shifts focus during the course of the first section, from the tale of his escape from a huge cloud of smoke to metaphors about American government and back to the former. This method of writing, while jarring, does not detract from the book, but it does make it a more difficult read. The reader realizes, however, how this method contributes to the heart of the book, Spiegelman’s mental torture upon seeing what he saw that September day. Lines such as “He keeps falling through holes in his head,” reflect Spiegelman’s own mental rut. However, since he reflects his pain honestly through his writing and drawing, the book comes across as a poignant self-portrait that many New Yorkers will be able to relate to.
Towers is his own attempt to deal with the impact that the attacks had on his psyche. However, through his comics, both old and new, readers can remedy their own pain, frustration, and shock that stemmed from these events. Perhaps the most powerful image in Towers is the fiery skeletons of the World Trade center towers that appear on nearly every single page. “The bones of the towers were an uncanny image, one that was not of this earth. And since it wasn’t seen elsewhere, I cannot even correlate it with anything else. That image was so abstract and hyper-real,” Spiegelman said, explaining why he chose this image to thread the book together. “It was the moment when time stopped.”
Numerous books have been written about the attacks on our country. Books about the logistics of the attacks, about their effect on society and the political situation, about lost loved ones, and about conspiracy theories have all been sighted at our local bookstores. However, few are as original, ambitious, honest, or as powerful as Towers.