Three towers

Above: David Mazzucchelli’s cover for The New Yorker from July 26, 1993, after the first attack on the World Trade Center. (Image source.)

Although Asterios Polyp comments on the World Trade Center (“The brilliance of it is that there are two of them”), Asterios Polyp (2009) does not acknowledge 9/11. It is an absent event in the graphic novel. There is something haunted in, or subtracted from, Asterios’s view of transparent, functional architecture. He would lead you to believe that this absence is the death of his twin, and his aesthetic a form of survivor’s guilt. But his definite, idealistic aesthetic is also reactionary: drawing up precise borders, seeing things dualistically (ie. war on evil), and shoring up meaning for himself, instead of democratizing it, or making it participatory and multiple (which is composer Kalvin Kohoutek’s view). Asterios is authoritarian, closed off, detached, and excessively confident. He’s an allegory for a post-9/11 United States.

The Wise Others and Marginal Voices that Asterios encounters and learns from on his journey open and redraw the borders, and their liberal commitments offer a counter-script to the official, national script: feminism, vegetarianism, New Age, Native rights, communism, and even alternative energy (solar power). Ursula supplies one such counter-narrative during the local Independence Day parade.

Remember Hana’s lesson: for two to have meaning, a three has to be omitted. You have to train yourself to see the unrepresented, invisible, and negatively-defined third tower.

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