9/11: Personal or Political?

Before reading In the Shadow of No Towers, I hadn’t had the chance to read neither a graphic novel nor a book on September 11th before. I had assumed that reading a graphic novel would be a laborious process (probably because I take too long staring at the artwork) and that a 9/11-focused book would be too politically charged and biased (to either extreme) for my taste. This book reaffirmed both speculations, but it was fairly interesting to read nonetheless. Spiegelman offers his personal experience of the 9/11 disaster as his family lived and worked right next to the World Trade Center. This personal touch gives his accounts an accessible poignancy, with more validity and passion than the news coverage that is essentially detached since news pundits weren’t physically there to experience the trauma! I think that Spiegelman’s drawings are exceptionally animated, with his talent for creative allegorical representations bursting on the page. Spiegelman’s ability to relive his 9/11 experiences on each page is remarkable, but they seemed a bit too focused on his personal life and his individual post-trauma anxiety rather than on the general impact of 9/11 on the American public.

Still, I really think Spiegelman should have kept the narrative a personal one and left it at that. Unfortunately, Spiegelman introduces too much of the political aftermath of 9/11 too early in the book: “In those first few days after 9/11 I got lost constructing conspiracy theories about my government’s complicity in what had happened that would have done a Frenchman proud. (My susceptibility for conspiracy goes back a long ways but had reached its previous peak after the 2000 elections).” While I wouldn’t deny the fact that the Bush administration has used the 9/11 disaster to consolidate votes for the election and to instill fear into the public to increase the chances of their supporting Bush’s political agenda, I still found the political and social philosophies presented in the book to be undeveloped and vague, especially when compared to his stellar and poignant artwork. In the first ten panels, I found several references satirizing the 2000 election and the Iraq war, and I couldn’t really understand how these issues neatly tie into the 9/11 disaster narrative. Plate 7 was especially striking because of the extreme emphasis on partisan politics. Spiegelman seems to be contributing to the idea of a divided nation by including statements describing Bush as “the loser in office” and “that creature in the White House.”

Finally, I found the last seven pages of the book which include reprints of comic strips from newspapers from the1900s somewhat unrelated to the 9/11 tragedy and its impact. I’m not sure if this impression is because my knowledge in history is somewhat lacking or because there really is only a weak link between the first and second parts of the book.

One final note: I was really surprised by the lack of emphasis on the actual victims of the 9/11 tragedy. Any idea as to why Spiegelman would leave out much of that information in a book about 9/11 and focus more on the partisan debate of the 2000 election instead?