Globing the Globe:September 11 and Theatrical Metaphor
By means of the principle of aesthetic stylisation the unimaginable fate of the victims appears as having had some kind of sense, it becomes transfigured, the horror is softened and this alone does a great injustice to the victims.1
In the mediatised twenty-first century we have all become audiences to world events and to political players who "strut their brief hour upon the stage and then are gone"; the postmodern condition, so it seems, collapses our perception of actual people and events into their representations. Through repetition, presidents and prime ministers become caricatures of themselves while the carefully cast and scripted scenarios of Big Brother and Survivor are presented to us as reality. . One of the great overarching metaphors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – theatrum mundi – is enjoying a resurgence in our own age. Like our Renaissance predecessors, we have found that the terminology of actor and role, reality and imitation, audience and stage is useful in describing our complex interactions with this mediatised world. But what happens when an event with the magnitude and sheer spectacularity of September 11 is described in similar terms? Does using the theatrical metaphor in this instance, as my epigraph suggest, "transfigure" or "soften" the "horror" of these events?
In the final chapter of Performance Studies (2002), published in the shadow of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Richard Schechner wrote
The world was given free tickets to a real-life made-for-media movie. The images from New York uncannily resembled The Towering Inferno, the Godzilla movies, and other catastrophe films where terrified, panicked crowds flee down the canyons of Manhattan ahead of fire, smoke, and debris. Although the pentagon was also hit, and a hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania … New York took center stage2.
Although the thrust of his essay disavowed the simplistic comparison of the 9/11 attacks to Hollywood films, Schechner's language in the above paragraph indicates that the similarity between these actual events and their fictional precursors was too spookily similar to resist. New York, in Schechner's account, became both leading actor and stage for a melodrama of terror. His comments, however, were neither unique nor surprising. Diana Taylor, Schechner's colleague at NYU, described the events of 9/11 as "a different kind of tragedy"3 but a tragedy nonetheless; and the New York Times journalist Neal Gabler as "terrorism with an audience in mind"4. Unlike the other strikes that same day, and subsequent terror attacks in other major European cities and in Bali, the plane strikes on the World Trade Center (WTC) towers instantly acquired a symbolic value that resonated beyond the attacks themselves; principally, because they were so much "like a movie". This "movie", as Norman Mailer wrote, "came off the movie screen and chased us down the canyons of the city".5
When these commentators and others describe the attacks as "theatre" (or other related terms such as "performance" or "tragedy") they are not referring to actual theatre or movies but, rather, are utilising metaphors in order to account for an event that almost defies description. I acknowledge, too, that there are multiple ways of interpreting the events of that day and the influence of diverse mediating technologies, to a certain extent, subverts the hegemony of a single authoritative view. Nonetheless, from the plethora of images that emerged in the hours following September 11, as the media flailed around in the chaos searching for the images that could be used to sum up and to "brand" that day, certain images did start to emerge that, with repetition, in the intervening years, have become emblematic of it. These images are: the towers on fire, United Airlines 175 hitting the South Tower (2WTC), the towers collapsing. Other images evoke the human pathos of the day by focusing on the survivors and emergency services workers, their faces and bodies etched with emotion. And then there are the eerie aftermath shots of the cathedral-like wreckage looming out of the black curled smoke. Viewed as a montage of sights and sensations, it is not hard to see why Schechner and others collectively evoked the disaster movie analogy. Nevertheless, Adorno's warning needs to be heeded: by "styling" the massacre in New York as a disaster movie, these commentators risk doing "great injustice to the victims".
In this essay I intend to think beyond the simplistic equation of mass murder with a disaster movie, in order to explore, in a more nuanced manner, just how the 9/11 attacks were theatrical. Theatricality, as I use it here, refers not so much to the playing out of dramatic action, but to its etymological root in the Greek word for "theatre": theatron, or a "looking place". As this definition suggests, "theatre" has a visual dimension and it is this aspect that was emphasised in a myriad of uses during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Theatricality, in this sense, links seeing to knowing, and to a particular representation of the world organized in such a way that it can be seen and known.
During the sixteenth century, European humanists began to explore alternatives to a theocentric universe based on Aristotelian scholasticism and Neo-Platonism; in so doing they reconceptualized humanity's place in the world. God, however, could not be easily displaced nor did the humanists, for the most part, intend or desire to do so. The theatrical metaphor, theatrum mundi, put humanity centre stage, so to speak, in a tragedy or comedy written and produced by the divine demiurge. This idea, according to Ernst Curtius, gained wide circulation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries due to the frequent re-printings of a book of ethical and political philosophy: the Policraticus by the twelfth century churchman John of Salisbury6. Theatrical consciousness emphasised the act of viewing and as such was consistent with the emerging epistemology that privileged knowledge presented in a visualizable form. To know the world through sight was to gain a perspective and overview of it shared only by God. Renaissance geographers, impelled by the exigencies of maritime trade, staged on their maps a new worldview: political power through the "discovery" and annexation of "new" territories was imbricated with the new technology of cartography. And, in cartographically portraying the world, the mapmakers made it a theatre.7
It is this idea of theatre I wish to apply to the Twin Tower attacks, an interpretation that has been somewhat eclipsed by the spectacle and drama of that day. Yet the sheer visibility of what occurred, the identity of its perpetrators and its victims, the international dimensions of it, and the eerie confluence of the terms "world trade" and "globalisation", all continue to niggle at me. The closed text of a Hollywood disaster movie (with its clearly defined villains and heroes – "you're either with us or against us") is a facile analogy that occludes alternative interpretations. All the terms that allow us to make sense of 9/11 – seeing and interpreting, "East" and "West", "world trade" subsumed within the term "globalisation" – have roots which lie in how the globe was "globed" in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By tracing these, I wish to claim the theatricality of September 11 but avoid the "aesthetic stylisation" that does justice to no-one.
Terrorism is not theatre
Acts of so-called terror are powerful weapons in asymmetric warfare; that is, wars where one of the combatants is much weaker militarily than the other. The aim of conventional warfare is for the military forces of one country to defeat the forces of its opponent; but in asymmetric war, the contest is usually not between nations, but is intra-national, between governments and insurgent or "irregular" forces. Faced with generally limited means with which to wage war, insurgent groups try to plan attacks that have the maximum impact with minimum expenditure of resources. Hence, lightly defended civilian or "soft" targets are chosen bringing with them the added advantage of spreading fear and demoralising the populace. Similarly, vulnerable infrastructure targets such as railways, oil pipelines, dams and so forth can also be earmarked for destruction. A particular feature of terrorist attacks that emerged in the late twentieth century, was the terrorists' staging of such events in order to attract international media attention. Through exposure to the media, local or regional political grievances could receive a world-wide audience. As a terrorism expert, Brian Jenkins, wrote over thirty years ago: "Terrorist attacks are often choreographed to attract the attention of the electronic media and the international press . . . Terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not the actual victims. Terrorism is theater."8
According to this view, the world becomes a stage for terrorist attacks and we the viewers, transfixed by the "unforgettable incandescence of the images" (as Baudrillard evocatively described the New York attacks9) on our television screens, become the audience. The 9/11 Commission Report states that when the alleged architect of the WTC attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), planned them—originally on a much larger scale—he intended them to be "theater, a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star – the superterrorist"10. It is unclear from the report whether KSM himself saw the attacks in these exact terms, but the authors of the report unambiguously described the plan as "theater" in recognition of its potential effect on a worldwide viewing community. It is clear, then, and appropriate in a mediatised age, that many terrorist acts (and the 9/11 attacks in particular) are designed as performances, the impacts of which are measured by the degree to which they affect their audiences. There is, however, a danger in focussing too closely on this performative dimension. From the analogical equating of instrumental action in the world (violent and lethal destruction) with symbolic action in a performed aesthetic medium (theatre/movies), very quickly, the analogy becomes self-evidently homologous—such acts are no longer like a movie but they are a movie. For example: this particular act of terrorism, for Baudrillard, becomes "this Manhattan disaster movie" that combines "the white magic of the cinema with the black magic of terrorism; the white light of the image and the black light of terrorism"11. Yet, just as self-evidently, the 9/11 attacks are not theatre as they lack that key element of theatre, fictionality; in "this Manhattan disaster movie" the victims do not pick themselves up after the shot and walk, laughing and chatting, back to the extras' canteen. Theories of performativity that broadly configure the world as a place where acts are "performed" for watchers who interpret and who also perform, can provide some insight into the 9/11 attacks so long as the real world consequences of these events are not elided. The idea of theatre, used in this way, is a metaphor which helps us to think through events such as 9/11; but it can, equally, enable us to disavow them also.
Theatrum mundi and the emergence of a world view
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the theatrical metaphor is as ubiquitous as ever. Very simply, the metaphor does one thing—it compares the world of human existence to a fictional world; not a literary fictional world, but one performed upon a stage by actors. The metaphor is spatial; it either explicitly or implicitly suggests a particular place (a theatre) and the organisational relationships associated with that place (audience to actor, auditorium to stage, backstage to onstage). In its most famous manifestation, Jaques "All the world's a stage" speech from As You Like It, the metaphor is also dramaturgical; that is, human existence is likened to a play, and humanity to the players—each of whom plays numerous roles. Although this second usage is by far the most common, it is the metaphor's spatial likening of the world to a stage that is particularly interesting here.
The theatrical metaphor, from its earliest Platonic usage has always commented on the contingency and conditionality of human existence in relationship to an idea of an objective and external "Truth"; whether that "Truth" is God or some notionally authentic behaviour.12 However, despite its ancient ancestry, the theatrical metaphor re-emerged as the trope par excellence of Western culture only in the sixteenth century; a time when ideas of theatricality were emerging in a range of diverse contexts. Dramatists such as Shakespeare and Calderon took what had become a commonplace, a literary cliché, and deployed it successfully in the new playhouses of England and Spain. From the mid-sixteenth century, just as playing conventions increasingly emphasised the separation of audience and players, and the idea of an illusory play-world was becoming more common, so too was the idea of the theatrum mundi, as a description of humanity's relationship to the world/God, gaining currency in a range of writings of the period. In addition, the theatricality of life—that is, existence understood as playing a role before earthly and/or divine scrutiny upon the stage of the world—had become a common ontological metaphor in the sixteenth century.
Metaphors operate by linking together two different ideas in order to produce another level of meaning that not only stands in its own right, but that also enhances the meaning of the initial ideas. Hence "theatre of the world" suggests through its different structures an analogous relationship between theatrical practices (dramaturgy, organisation of stage and spectators) and the organisation of human existence itself. The theatrical metaphor can be understood, according to Lakoff and Johnson's definition, as an "ontological metaphor", part of that class of metaphors that allows "ways of viewing events, activities, emotions, ideas, etc., as entities and substances".13 Lakoff and Johnson write that metaphors operate as "conceptual systems", normally unconscious, that govern how we think, act and express ourselves through language.14 Interestingly, this is illustrated by Lakoff and Johnson's own description of ontological metaphors as allowing "ways of viewing etc."; such a usage implies a particular conception of subjective consciousness (a "viewer") that (who) is separate from the object being viewed. Being able to think about the world in this way resulted from a significant paradigm shift that occurred from the fifteenth century; a shift from a medieval ontology in which one was a part of the world, to a modern ontology where one could, in addition, be apart from the world. The ubiquity of the theatrical metaphor in the sixteenth century reflected this shift; however, the metaphor functioned less to compare life to dramatic action on a stage, but instead emphasised a formal spatial relationship that reflected the desire of humanist scholars for an all-encompassing, panoptic, overview – a world view.
Martin Heidegger characterises the shift from an ancient and medieval sense of being in the world to a Renaissance view of the world as lying in the conception "world picture" which, he suggests, "when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as a picture"15. According to Heidegger, the modern "world picture" could be distinguished from that which had come before by "the fact that the world becomes a picture at all"16. From understanding existence as being within the world, the human subject becomes aware of itself as separate in its subjectivity from the world. Furthermore, he argues, the construction of "man" as a "subiectum" leads to an "anthropologizing" of the world where the
fundamental stance of man in relation to what is, in its entirety, is defined as a world view (Weltanschauung) . . . As soon as the world becomes a picture, the position of man is conceived as a world view.17
The Renaissance pictorialised the world and literally made it a "theatre", a place for looking, with the human observer positioned as either the subject or object of that gaze. The problem with this positioning, as the sixteenth century Italian rhetorician and hermetic scholar, Giulio Camillo, noted was the loss of a vantage point: "to want to see these lower things well, it is necessary to climb to higher ones and, looking down from above, we can have surer understanding of them"18. In the late sixteenth century, one means by which the human observer could view this theatre of the world was to represent the world in a "theatre". A "theatre" thus became a place for looking at the world, and through such looking the watcher would come to know it. Furthermore, the notion of "world picture" implied, too, a detached spectator, and provided a clearing within which "theatre"—both as place for looking and a methodology of spectatorship—took its place.
If, as Heidegger suggests, the world began to be conceived "as a picture" during the Renaissance, then such a notion Barbara Freedman argues depended
upon what we might term a spectator consciousness, an epistemological model based on an observer who stands outside of what she [sic] sees in a definite position of mastery over it19.
This distinction, the idea of a separate observer whose gaze has mastery over all he or she surveys20, is crucial to understanding Renaissance humanists' use of "theatres" to achieve such an end. There is an important etymological link that knits the word "theatre" closely to the word "theory" 21. Both "theory" and "theatre", in their Greek forms, share the same stem,"theaomai", which literally means: "to look at."22 In his essay, "Science and Reflection", Heidegger unpacks this etymology in detail. In the verb form, theorein, he finds two senses which cut directly to the heart of the Renaissance humanist use of "theatre". First, "the outward look, the aspect, in which something shows itself, the outward appearance in which it offers itself"; and the second sense, "to look at something attentively, to look it over, to view it closely". If these senses of theorein are applied to "theatre", then the latter term can refer to any "place for looking" in which any thing that is being beheld offers itself to careful scrutiny by the beholder.23 This etymological connection between "theory" and "theatre", as Helmar Schramm notes, originates "in the idea of an observer who actively watches".24
Implicit in the "showing itself" and the "looking at something attentively" of Heidegger's etymology is the spatial operation of separating and distancing. When Galileo lectured the Florentine Academy in 1588 on the surveying of Dante's hell, this address, argues Schramm, signalled an epistemological shift:
Dante moves through the cosmos of knowledge condensed into a heaven and a hell as an active, participating player. His is a wanderer's description. But Galileo observed the geometric, spatial structure of Hell from a well-calculated distance. His representation of it is the record of an observer who has a clear, overall view of the object from a fixed vantage point.25
From the Galilean vantage point, the scientific "dream of the total overview", as Schramm calls it, is evoked.26 To "theorise" becomes a "theatrical" activity as one establishes oneself as an observer (or active beholder) of a thing that presents itself to be observed and known in its entirety.
This agrees with Heidegger's definition of "theory" which, in its ancient Greek taxonomy, is the "beholding that watches over truth".27 How then does the world become an object to the scientific "beholding" of "theory" (in its modern, post-Renaissance, sense)? Heidegger marks how the Roman translations of theoria and theorein became contemplatio and contemplari, the latter term meaning "to partition something off into a separate sector and enclose it therein".28 Next, he examines the root of these Latin words which gives him templum, originally meaning the sector of the sky marked by the movement of the sun: "It is within this region that diviners make their observations in order to determine the future from the flight, cries, and eating habits of birds".29 In a translator's footnote, William Lovitt explains the significance of templum: it names "the place which can be seen from any point", and also the place "from which any point can be seen".30 The templum is both synoptic and panoptic. The Roman etymologist Varro, as William West notes, reaches a similar position: contemplatio is active seeing that creates the clearing for this particular kind of observation. According to Varro:
Whatever the place the eyes had gazed on [intuiti] was originally called a templum, from "to gaze" [tueri] . . . On the earth, templum, is the name given to a place delimited by certain formulaic words for the purposes of augury or the taking of auspices.31
The space of the templum was not simply found, Varro suggests, but needed to be created (through the utterance of "certain formulaic words"). As the above etymology illustrates, a special kind of space is "carved out" for and by the gaze, and in this space knowledge is produced.32 "To theorise", thus, becomes almost synonymous with "to theatricalise": in each case knowing emerges from active watching in a space that is produced by that watching and which allows such seeing-knowing to take place.
Mapping the theatre of the world
From the re-introduction of Ptolemy's first century text, Geography, into Western Europe in 1400, Renaissance scholars and artists began to see that the world could be surveyed, gridded and mapped: operations that were all predicated on the principle of a spatially separated observer. In the Geography, Ptolemy introduced the idea of the "cartographic grid" that enabled him to map longitude and latitude taking into account the perspective distortion brought about by the curvature of the earth. As Samuel J. Edgerton Jr comments, it was not that he was interested in the illusion of perspective for its own sake, rather
he was trying to find a way for the viewer to know that distances between the latitudes and longitudes are always the same no matter how distorted they appear on the curving globe.33
Edgerton suggests that Ptolemy's interest in framing his illusion of perspective was inspired by the manner in which scenic artists painted perspective scenery for the Greek theatre.34
Ptolemy's system depended not on divine revelation, however, but on the quantifying eye of the human observer, who was now able to imagine himself detached from the world as if looking at it on a stage.35
The rediscovery of Ptolemy's Geography influenced fifteenth century European art; particularly the use of the perspective grid in early paintings that needed to depict curved surfaces in perfect perspective.36 Initially through mapping, and then through perspective painting, the visual organization of the world for the "view" of the detached spectator was created: the world, thus, was able to be "conceived and grasped as a picture". With the techniques now available to "picture" the world, perspective painting literally put the world in the picture. For Ptolemy, the aim of geography had been to "survey the whole, in its just proportions"37, and in the fifteenth century, through the Ptolemaic matrix, the world could now be abstracted into measurable distances and quantifiable proportions.
It was, however, the fifteenth century Florentine humanist, Leon Battista Alberti, who was most responsible for putting the world into the picture.38 Not only had Alberti mapped Rome according to Ptolemaic principles in 1430, but in his treatise, On Painting (1435), he advocated "the cartographic grid as a means . . . of organizing pictures", and advised painters to set up a velum or grid through which they could "observe and copy the natural world beyond".39 According to Edgerton, Alberti believed that such a device "trained both artist and viewer to 'see' the underlying geometry of nature, the truth of visual reality established by God at the Creation".40
Alberti's chapter on spectacula in his later work, De Re Aedificatoria (1452), demonstrates that he was familiar also with the Roman architect Vitruvius's work.41 It is plausible to conclude that for Alberti, seeing the world perspectivally matrixed, was to see it theatrically. Yet, it was Sebastian Serlio who, nearly a century later, articulated a theory of perspective scenery, derived from Vitruvius, in the second volume of the five books of his Regole generali di architettura published in 1545.42 Serlio's ideas of perspective reinstalled the Renaissance "dream of the total over view" in the theatre, once more conceived here as a place for presenting plays. In this way a world that had been conceived of both as a stage (theatrum mundi) and as a (world) picture was re-presented in an actual theatre, and pictorially positioned for a spatially separate spectator.
This spatially separate spectator we can call the "cartographic" observer; an observer who, as exemplified by Galileo, took up a position, a vantage point, from which to survey, measure and quantify. It was, by definition, a distanced position. Renaissance cartography was strongly influenced by Ptolemy's grid which transformed the irregular topography of the world into a regular abstracted representation, the geographic map. However, Ptolemy's world map was limited by its depiction of the only world known to the ancients, the Mediterranean world. Although providing the classical authority needed for Renaissance humanist scholarship, Ptolemy's Geography could not account for all the new lands being discovered by European navigators and traders, and charted by cartographers. In 1569 Gerard Mercator published his map of the world which reformulated the principles of the Ptolemaic matrix and applied them to the known world; the significance of this will be discussed below. The link to Renaissance cartographic knowing and a theatrical epistemology became even more explicit when Abraham Ortelius, a friend and colleague of Mercator, published his book-sized collection of maps under the title Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570 - c.1612). Unlike Mercator's map, Ortelius's Theatrum was designed so that the basic structure could accommodate and incorporate future amendments and additions. From an initial publication containing seventy maps, by 1579 the Theatrum included ninety-seven maps: the classical geography of Ptolemy was, by now, clearly supplemental to contemporary map-making.43
Ortelius's Theatrum, which set the standard and genre conventions for subsequent atlases, took theatrum mundi as its guiding metaphor.44 In his map of the world, the Typus Orbis Terrarum (which was based on Mercator's), Ortelius took Ptolemy's technical "god's-eye view" of the world and combined it with the ancient topos of the theatrum mundi so that the reader was placed in a privileged position, gazing (from heaven it was implied) down at the earth. Such positioning was reinforced by Ortelius's printing of a quotation from Cicero: "For what can seem of moment in human occurrences to a man who keeps all eternity before his eyes and knows the vastness of the universe?"45
That Ortelius understood the idea of a theatre as a place for looking is apparent from his invitation to the reader which claimed that his Theatrum was intended to replace the map rooms found only in "a very large & wide house . . . a Princes gallery or spacious Theater". 46 The frontispiece to the work declares its status as a theatre by inviting the reader to enter the work as though by a doorway.47 John Gillies speculates that the frontispiece may have been inspired by the great mercantile pageants of Antwerp (where Ortelius was born and raised) depicting, as it does, a stage upon which four emblematic female figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa, America and a bust for the hazily comprehended "Magellanica" (Australia) are posed. Ortelius's Theatrum utilised the metaphor of theatrum mundi, and combined it with the new way of seeing the world developed by his colleague Mercator.
Ann Blair has observed in her study of Jean Bodin's Universae Naturae Theatrum (1596), a work contemporaneous with the publishing history of Ortelius' Theatrum, that there was an ambiguity between a viewing subject who was of this world yet, at the same time, able to behold it. 48 The theatrical metaphor provided a metaphorical system that provided a place for the separate viewing subject whilst providing "him" with the reassurance of a place within the theatre of God's creation. The achievement of Ortelius's Theatrum, then, was that it combined up-to-date geography with an older metaphysical conception of the world represented by theatrum mundi which, as the seventeenth century progressed, was increasingly discredited by advances in empirical science. 49
Trading the world
It should now be apparent that there is a consonance between sixteenth and seventeenth century ideas of "globing" the globe and twenty-first century ideas of globalisation. Then, as now, metaphors were employed in the service of conceptual systems that operated to entrench global hegemonic control by the political "super powers" of the time. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the English, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese struggled to claim their empires just as, in the twenty-first, the United States struggles to maintain its geopolitical dominance. At the same time as trade routes between Europe and China, India and the Americas were being established, so too was a particular discourse being produced through the maps that charted those same trading ventures. In Trading Territories (1997), Jerry Brotton argues that geography in the early modern period expressed the political ambitions of the emerging empires, and that the cartographic representation of territory was used to support claims over contested lands:
To produce and possess maps and globes . . . signified not only access to the possibility of laying claim to contested territorial possession, but also imbued their owners with an air of commercial authority. 50
Thus, in 1529, the Castilian regent and Habsburg emperor, Charles V, could lay claim over the territories of the Moluccas because of the superiority of his cartographic technology compared to that of his rival King João III of Portugal.51 Forty years later, Gerard Mercator's projection allowed the accurate plotting of latitude and longitude on a flat surface and accounted for the curvature of the globe. Unlike Ptolemy's Geography, that only focussed on the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, Mercator's map centred on Europe itself dividing the world longitudinally to reflect sixteenth century political divisions. To the east of Europe, under Portuguese dominion, was the "Old World"; and to the west, including the Americas, lay the "New World" within Spanish domain. 52 Brotton argues that the
waning of Portuguese authority in Southeast Asia towards the end of the sixteenth century led to the increasing political and commercial predominance of the so-called 'Atlantic World' in European affairs [which resulted in the] subsequent marginalisation of the territories to the east of Europe.53
The later discursive positioning of the "Orient", in seventeenth and eighteenth century travel accounts, was built on the opposition between a dynamic and modern "West" and the mystery and indolence of the "East". This "ontological and geographical" shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was "enshrined in Mercator's map" which became the model for all future world maps.54 Looking at Mercator's 1569 world map, Europe, Africa and Asia are all crammed into the right half of the page and, although unfamiliarly shaped, the American continents dominate the entire left. Thus, long before it achieved nationhood, and even longer before its rise as a commercial and political power, America can be seen to dominate the map of the world and, as a consequence, is positioned predominantly in the early modern European imagination.55 Presciently, the "Atlantic World" of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries foreshadowed the "American World" of the twenty-first.
The phrase "World Trade Center" (WTC) optimistically (or presumptively, depending on one's point of view) proclaims an ambition for the future, but as the foregoing has illustrated, it also echoes the past: the "trade" of the (Atlantic-oriented) "world" was increasingly "centred" on the Americas. The modern idea of some kind of world trade building emerged from the United States' newfound international confidence in the immediate aftermath of Word War II. However, planning for the eventual WTC did not begin until 1960, and construction started in 1966. The WTC was the brainchild of David and Nelson Rockefeller, together with Port Authority chief Austin Tobin, who wished to revitalise the Lower Manhattan commercial district, and modernize the aging and costly Hudson and Manhattan commuter rail line. At once a reflection of America's postwar prosperity, its redefined role in world politics, and New York and Wall Street's emergence as an international financial centre, the WTC was equally the child of parochial state-based concerns and local political manoeuvres. Despite threatening to become a financial white elephant in its early years, by the 1980s the WTC had become an established part of the Lower Manhattan financial district and an apparently indelible marker on the New York skyline.56
It was, however, the WTC's size and explicit statement of American values that would lead to its destruction; as John E. Fernandez writes:
the stance of the two towers spoke of forces that were global in reach. It was as if the scale of the towers was of another world, a world beyond the expanse of the island itself. This is the scale that was marked for destruction, this global reach; symbols of a dominant power.57
As Fernandez's words suggest, the WTC towers functioned like a templum: space carved out of the sky from which everything could be seen and which, in turn, could be seen from everywhere. The towers panoptically projected American commercial power, its "reach", across the globe. At the time of its destruction in 2001, it is estimated that the WTC was home to over 430 companies from 28 countries, in addition to those from the United States.58 The Twin Towers were also a literal panoptican, as Una Chaudhuri writes:
they were also the place from which that metropolis was offered for view to millions of people. The observatory on top of the World Trade Center provided one of the most dramatic and expansive stationary city views in the world.59
If the purview of the WTC was essentially panoptic—it "oversaw" the world of American trade—then the opposite was equally true: as an obvious signifier of American capitalism it was, in turn, synoptically visible to all the world. Numerous commentaries published after September 11 comment on the WTC's literal visibility, its status as an icon of New York City, and, painfully, the effect of its absence. In a more sinister vein, the visibility of the WTC is cited by John V. Parachini as a primary reason for its targeting by the 1993 bombers:
while the symbolism of the World Trade Center cannot be ignored, it does not fully explain its selection over other buildings or places occupied by large numbers of people. Physical attributes and location appear to have been more important. The imposing profile of the twin towers on the New York skyline lay in clear view from New Jersey, where the bombers assembled their weapon.60
The sixteenth century mapping projects that produced the "New World" and charted it for European trade and colonial exploitation, made a globe of the world and then flattened it beneath a grid that provided an illusion of God-like mastery for any who beheld it. Ortelius described his Theatrum as the "Eye of History" because within its pages were not only geographic maps, but also maps of biblical journeys, ethnographic and historical information. As such, it recorded not only how the world was, but also how it had been, and the knowledge contained in his Theatrum was laid out in a visually entertaining way. Ortelius was not a geographer as such, but an innovative publisher who saw that advances in printing technology allowed him to reproduce finely detailed objects, like maps, and to regularly update them. His atlas, and Mercator's globes, literally put the world into the hands of the European ruling elites and enabled them to see, to know, and to conquer; the legacy of which has produced the world view we have today. These maps were new technologies of seeing and of knowing, and they put the world in the picture just as surely as film, video, and broadcast media (the new "eyes of history") would four centuries later.
Just as ancient Roman seers divined auguries from the flight of birds across the templum, the space carved out of the sky, so too did the watching world create new meanings and prognostications from the flight paths of American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 on the morning of September 11. It was not so much that theatre was created that day but that the theatricality of the WTC was revealed, in space carved out of the sky, as both a looking place and a place beheld. The ultimate beholding of the WTC was theatrically framed by multiple camera lenses, the eyes of history, that would produce a mediatised View of what came next. Then, the "birds" struck the buildings, and the matrix of Mercator's map of world trade, the epistemology of which led, inevitably, to the longitudinal expressiveness of the WTC, collapsed into itself in roiling clouds of dust, smoke and inchoate darkness.
Glen McGillivray lectures in the School of Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney and in Performance Studies at Sydney University. He is currently editing a collection that explores the 'hidden archive' of performance, and that examines the cultural implications of institutional forgetting of artists, genres of performance and companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Theodor Adorno Notes on Literature 1965. 125 quoted in Elaine Martin, "Re-Reading Adorno: The 'after-Auschwitz' Aporia," Forum, no. 2 (Spring 2006), http://forum.llc.ed.ac.uk/issue2/. 9 Accessed 22/3/2007
2. Richard Schechner, Performance Studies : An Introduction (London ; New York: Routledge, 2002). 265
3. Ibid. 268 The full text of Taylor's comments is a little more nuanced than this suggests. Although deploying the metaphor of "tragedy", Taylor seems to feel that September 11 resists tragic drama because "talk of 'tragedy,' like talk of 'war,' in relation to the September 11th attacks gives the events a sense of directionality, containability, and moral purpose that they do not have." Diana et. al. Taylor, "A Forum on Theatre and Tragedy in the Wake of September 11, 2001," Theatre Journal 54 (2002). 96
4. Schechner, Performance Studies : An Introduction. 269
5. N Mailer, Why Are We at War? (New York: Random House, 2003).111
6. Ernst Curtius argues that the Policraticus achieved wide circulation in the Middle Ages but was also much read during the Renaissance, being reprinted in 1476, 1513 (in Paris and in Lyon), 1595, 1622, 1639, 1664, 1677 (Curtius, E. R. European literature and the Latin Middle Ages. London Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1953, 140).
7. This geographic sense of theatre continues today through the term "theatre of war" which, when applied during the Second World War, gave us terms such as the "Pacific Theatre" and "European Theatre". "Theatre of war" and its cognate term "theatre of operations" derive from Henri de Jomini's The Art of War trans. George Mendell and W.P. Craighill, Chapter 3, Article 17 (1862) http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/3/5/4/13549/13549-8.txt Accessed 26/4/07. Already, by the 19th century, this is an archaic usage, as "theatre", as a description of a compendium of diverse subjects laid out in a visually pleasing way, had not been used since the mid-18th century (see Ann Blair, The Theater of Nature : Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997). 153-179
8. Brian Jenkins, International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict (California Arms Control and Foreign Policy Seminar, December, 1975). 5
9. Jean Baudrillard, "The Spirit of Terrorism," in The Shock of September 11 and the Mystery of the Other: A Documentation., ed. K. and Berbach Pott, F. (Berlin: Haus am Lützoplatz/Lettre International, 2002). 323
10. Thomas H. Kean, and Hamilton, Lee H., "The 9/11 Commission Report," (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004).154
11. Baudrillard, "The Spirit of Terrorism." 333
12. See Elizabeth Burns Theatricality A Study of Convention in the Theatre and Social Life. London: Longman Group Ltd, 1972
13. G. and Johnson Lakoff, M., Metaphors We Live By (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 2003).25
14. Ibid. 3
15. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, Paperback ed., Harper Torchbooks ; Tb 1969. (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). 129; quoted also in Barbara Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). 9
16. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 130
17. Ibid. 133-134. Heidegger defines "anthropology" as he uses it in this essay as designating "that philosophical interpretation of man which explains and evaluates whatever is, in its entirety, from the standpoint of man and in relation to man" (133).
19. Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 9
21. See West, "The Idea of a Theater: Humanist Ideology and the Imaginary Stage in Early Modern Europe." 248; Mark Fortier, Theory/Theatre: An Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 1997). 6; Helmar Schramm, "The Surveying of Hell. On Theatricality and Styles of Thinking," Theatre Research International 20, no. no.2 Summer ( 1995). 115; Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 48.
22. This is how Ann Blair defines it. Blair, The Theater of Nature : Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science. 154. West, also, simply glosses it as "look". West, "The Idea of a Theater: Humanist Ideology and the Imaginary Stage in Early Modern Europe." 248, and the Concise Oxford Dictionary (7th ed.) defines it as "behold". This last definition links the term also to Heidegger's etymology of "theory" when he spoke of the Greek "bios theoretikos, the way of life of the beholder" Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays.164.
23. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 163; and quoted in Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 48
24. Schramm, "The Surveying of Hell. On Theatricality and Styles of Thinking." 115 [emphasis added]
27. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 165
28. Ibid.Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 165
29. Ibid. 165-166
30. Ibid. 166
31. Quoted in West, "The Idea of a Theater: Humanist Ideology and the Imaginary Stage in Early Modern Europe." 251
32. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. 165
33. Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr., "From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance," in Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays, ed. David Woodward (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987). 36-37
34. Ibid. 37
35. Ibid. 38
36. Ibid.39 Based on the work of Erwin Panofsky (Perspective as a Symbolic Form [1924-25] 1992 ), it is a cliché of Renaissance perspective studies that perspective was used to unify pictorial space. As such, perspective imposed a spatial hegemony on representation. In a revisionist essay, James Elkins argues that textual and pictorial evidence demonstrates the use of multiple perspectives, and that unified perspective was used as an "embellishment" within an already existing "fictive space" James Elkins, "Renaissance Perspectives," Journal of the History of Ideas 53, no. 2 April-June (1992). 209-230.
37. Quoted in Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 13
38. Generally it is the Florentine architect Fillipo Brunelleschi who is credited with first demonstrating the laws of artificial perspective in painting. Edgerton Jr., "From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance." 39 Alberti acknowledged this by dedicating On Painting to Brunelleschi. Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 14 n.16
39. Edgerton Jr., "From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance." 38; Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy. 14
40. Edgerton Jr., "From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance." 39
41. See Frances Yates, Theatre of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1969). 119-121 for a description of Alberti's "account of the ancient theatre" and John Orrell, The Human Stage: English Theatre Design 1567-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 133-135
42. A. M. Nagler, A Source Book in Theatrical History. Sources of Theatrical History (New York: Dover Publications, 1959). 73
43. Jerry Brotton, Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1997). 171, 174
44. John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture ; 4. (Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). 80
45. "Quid Ei Potest Videri Magnum In Rebus Humanis, Cui Aeternitas Omnis, Totiusque Mundi Nota Sit Magnitudo". Quoted in Ibid. 80
46. Ibid. 72
47. Ibid. 73
48. Blair, The Theater of Nature : Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science.154
49. Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference. 84
50. Brotton, Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World.150
52. Ibid. 168
55. The legendary land of "Magellenica", or terra australis nondum cognita, due to the effect of Mercator's projection, appears as a vast land mass that cups the bottom of the globe.
56. Roger Cohen, " Casting Giant Shadows: The Politics of Building the World Trade Center," Portfolio, no. Winter (1990/1991), http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/World_Trade_Center_History.html. Accessed 13/3/07
57. John E. Fernandez. "A Brief History of the World Trade Center Towers. A Collection of Essays on the Wtc by Researchers from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology." In The Towers Lost and Beyond., ed Eduardo Kusel. (Place Published, 2002), http://web.mit.edu/civenv/wtc/. Accessed 13/3/07
58. CNN.com, "War against Terror – List of World Trade Center Tenants," http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/trade.center/tenants1.html. Accessed 14/3/07
59. Taylor, "A Forum on Theatre and Tragedy in the Wake of September 11, 2001." 97
60. John V. Parachini, "The World Trade Center Bombers (1993)," in Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, ed. Jonathan B. Tucker (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000). 189