AN OPEN LETTER TO CITY LIGHTS: there was no room for questions and answers

AN OPEN LETTER TO CITY LIGHTS: there was no room for questions and answers

I went to the Jarett Kobek event on Wednesday night at City Lights (Jan. 18), where he was explaining his book ATTA. I thought I might be at odds with the premise that Atta didn’t like tall buildings and that’s why he went through with 9/11, but I wanted to hear Kobek in person and maybe ask some questions. I did learn a few things about Atta’s background, with Kobek having done some research (which he admitted was limited), and I was willing to accept his opinion that a story by Martin Amis in The New Yorker (“The Last Days of Muhammad Atta”) was horrible, but eventually I was one of those who walked out—and there weren’t many there to begin with. I lasted over an hour, until he ended his presentation by giving it over to a woman in London reading from her book on Skype. This conveniently left no room for questions and answers (which may have occurred at the end of the evening, but I was gone by then).

On the City Lights website the book is said to be “a fearless corrective”, and that “We labor beneath myths that neither address nor describe the present situation, monstrous deceptions produced by a sound bite society. There is no reckoning of actuality….” So what is Kobek’s fearless conclusion regarding 9/11? He says it was a massive security failure, but doesn’t go into what a complex simultaneous bunch of coincidences that would require. It’s pretty insulting, in fact, like blaming hundreds of firemen for going into a burning tower that eventually collapsed on them—they were sent into that tower because no tower has ever been brought down by a fire. They didn’t know it was rigged with explosives. There are over 1500 architects and engineers who would argue this point with Kobek if he wants.

He ends by by saying 9/11 was not an epoch-changing event, it was just a crime undertaken by a few foreigners, one of whom had architectural issues with the World Trade Center. In the slide presentation accompanying his talk, he has more about Mickey Mouse than he does about flight training schools, and the final slide is presented as something he really thought about as representing what he had learned in writing this book about Muhammad Atta: Mae West flirting with W.C. Fields.

That strikes me as evasive in the extreme, a meaningless conclusion that the neo-cons could live with, particularly as it lets them off the hook. I’m not saying the book was paid for by Karl Rove out of monies stolen from Iraqi reconstruction funds, but Rove is probably smiling at the thought that a controlled demolition of the World Trade Center can be explained by a picture of an actress. That’s right in line with Bush continuing to read a children’s story while all hell is breaking loose on the morning of September 11.

Kobek mentioned RE/Search and J.G. Ballard. He managed to put down Ballard, Norman Mailer, and Martin Amis, while admitting he ripped off Kirk Vonnegut. I thought he was a reactionary bore. Oddly enough, I had just been over at Vale’s apartment (the founder of RE/Search), seeing if he wanted to come to this event. I had brought him a book of essays by Martin Amis (“The War Against Cliche”) so he could xerox the pieces on Ballard and Burroughs. Kobek said he tried to read the Ballard interviews that RE/Search published in 2005, but didn’t get very far—he thought Ballard’s opinions of Bush in 2004 were a sign that Ballard was losing it. I have a number of photos in that book so I may be biased, but I re-read the interview and thought it was well focused, including their discussion of the U.S. war machine setting its sights on Iran.

Mailer was given the standard treatment—sexist, racist, etc., but he was credited with taking on the big issues with his writing, something Kobek was allegedly attempting with ATTA (no mention of Don DeLillo). Unfortunately it appears to be an exercise in reductionism and indifferent prose.

Steven Gray