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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Farther Away

Jonathan Franzen
Fourth Estate



What I could see was the sudden, mysterious, disastrous sentimentalization of American public discourse. And just as I can't help blaming cellular technology when people pour pa­rental or filial affection into their phones and rudeness onto every stranger within earshot, I can't help blaming media tech­nology for the national foregrounding of the personal. Unlike in, say, 1941, when the United States responded to a terrible attack with collective resolve and discipline and sacrifice, in 2001 we had terrific visuals. We had amateur footage and could break it down frame by frame. We had screens to bring the vio­lence raw into every bedroom in the country, and voice mail to record the desperate final calls of the doomed, and late-model psychology to explicate and heal our trauma. But as for what the attacks actually signified, and what a sensible response to them might look like, opinions varied. This was the wonderful thing about digital technology: no more hurtful censoring of anybody's feelings! Everybody entitled to express his or her own opinion! Whether or not Saddam Hussein had personally bought plane tickets for the hijackers therefore remained open to lively debate. What everybody agreed to agree on, instead, was that the families of 9/1 l's victims had a right to approve or veto plans for the memorial at Ground Zero. And everybody could share in the pain experienced by the families of the fallen cops and firefighters. And everybody agreed that irony was dead. The bad, empty irony of the nineties was simply "no lon­ger possible" post-9/11; we'd stepped forward into a new age of sincerity.

On the plus side, Americans in 2001 were a lot better at say­ing "I love you" to their children than their fathers or grand­fathers had been.