To get into the 9/11 Memorial Museum, you have to pass through a world-class security arrangement—a conveyor belt for shoes, belt buckles, cell phones; a three-second hands-above-your-head body scan—overseen by a notably grim private-security corps. “Stand there!” uniformed guards shout at those in line moseying ahead. “Don’t advance.” A terrorist planning to commit an atrocity at a museum devoted to the horrors of terrorist atrocities might seem unduly biddable to his enemy’s purpose, but then perhaps the security apparatus is itself a museum installation. At the other end, as you exit, toward West Street, another uniformed man is obliged to spend his day telling kids not to stand on the benches in the memorial park. “You, there! Down.” It doesn’t occur to the kids that standing on the granite plinths could be an offense, and they wonder at first whom the guard could be addressing. They look bewildered—you mean us ?—and then descend. The idea that we celebrate the renewal of our freedom by deploying uniformed guards to prevent children from playing in an outdoor park is not just bizarre in itself but participates in a culture of fear that the rest of the city, having tested, long ago discarded.
The site contains more contradictions, unresolved and perhaps unresolvable, than any other eight acres in Manhattan. A celebration of liberty tightly policed; a cemetery that cowers in the shadow of commerce; an insistence that we are here to remember and an ambition to let us tell you what to recall; the boast that we have completely started over and the promise that we will never forget—visitors experience these things with a free-floating sense of unease. The contradictions are already so evident that they’ve infuriated critics, from right to center to left. The theocrats in Rirst Things deplore the absence of any common patriotic imagery, while Patrick L. Smith, in Salon, asks if those who worked in what was admittedly a center for world trade—global capital—are truly “innocents.” Michael Kimmelman, in the Times, protests the way that the new complex seems to deny the city around it, both by hedging itself off from the streets and street life and by creating that hyper-security mini-state within Manhattan.
It is a rule in American life that commerce dwarfs commemoration. So let it be said that the new World Trade Center—at least, to eyes still a little in love with skyscrapers—is pretty dazzling. The building is genuinely handsome, its long isosceles, mirrored faceting giving it the illusion of being torqued, twisted right, even as you stare at it—a look that, in the past, was called futuristic. The stacked and window-dotted ringed top, meanwhile, recalls the aerie of a villain in a James Bond movie. Skyscrapers, to be successful, should be—as this is, once one gets past the fortified lower extremities—exuberant; the genius of the form is that hyper-scale should be met by unexpected playfulness, as with the arches and gargoyles of the Chrysler Building. There are no good dull skyscrapers, though the old World Trade Center towers came close.
Yet the better One World Trade Center (into which this magazine’s offices will move, next year) is at being a good Manhattan skyscraper, the more it seems to rebuke the memorial park at its base. It was always going to be hard to distinguish its clumpings of trees, benches, and memorial fountains from the ornamental bumps and abscesses that are the standard skirtings of Manhattan pillar-in-the-plaza construction. Shadowed by a big, cheerful building, their presence becomes one more of the site’s contradictions: a memorial park that in some ways resembles a conventional plaza “amenity.”
The centerpiece of the memorial—designed by the Israeli-American architect Michael Arad, who, in collaboration with the landscape architect Peter Walker, won the competition more than a decade ago—is a pair of chasms that correspond to the vacant footprints of the old Twin Towers. Although officially described as “reflecting pools,” they are not pools, and they leave no room for reflection. Wildly out of scale with the rest of the site in their immensity, they are subterranean waterfalls—two huge sinks spilling chlorinated water from their edges, which then flows up and over a smaller platform at their center, and down the drain, only to rise and be recycled. Their constant roar interrupts any elegiac feeling that the lists of engraved names of the dead which enclose them might engender.
In the pattern of falling, draining, and recycling, the sinks feel symbolically unsettled, too. Perpetuity is a favorite theme of memorial sites—that eternal flame on J.F.K.’s grave—but, emotively, these seem to suggest less the promise of eternal memory and more a cycle of endless loss and waste. In an open arena destined to become a common public space filled with common public errands, the crashing double sinks seem unsuited to the necessary reticence of an effective memorial. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” Emily Dickinson wrote piercingly; we want the formal feeling to contain the pain, give it shape, not just to theatricalize it for centuries. An ill–formed formality only fossilizes great pain. (One wonders, in any case, how forever after these fountains can be; the plumbing demands must be ferocious, and it is hard to imagine, a half century hence, that this will still be seen as the most fitting and functional solution. Peter Walker has been quoted saying that “they’re mechanical, and usually mechanical things only last thirty to forty years.”)
(suite sur le site de l'écrivain)