The Obvious

extremely loud & incredibly close

Posted in books, emotions, thoughts, valuable lesson by theobvious on March 19, 2008

I finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by J. S. Foer on Saturday. It’s an amazing book. Among other things, it taps into the issue of boundaries when it comes to tragedy. There is a sense of (property? level of belonging?) about every kind of event, sad ones perhaps most of all.

Let me explain: it is possible to grade the connection one has with something like 9/11. There are the people who lost family members and friends, there are the ones that fought to save lives, then the ones who were close by, but the damage they suffered was limited to psychological trauma, the ones who live in a city whose changed skyline reminds them every day of the tragedy, the ones who lost the sense of safety in their country, the ones who were dumbstruck with fear and compassion, but were physically far away – and so on.

And when you think of it in terms of art (specifically literature) the question arises of the moral position in which one stands when one writes about something – and then reads what the other has written. It is difficult, I imagine, to write about something like 9/11 and not be scrutinized by the people whose pain level is higher than yours, whose sense of (property? again that word) may be offended by your interpretation, however good or poor, just because you are not as close as they are, so how can you understand and what right do you have to? It’s a huge responsibility, and Safran Foer handles it remarkably well, I think.

From yet another point of view, once you’ve faced the challenge of writing about something from a certain level of connection (is this still making sense?), you have then created a bridge for people from other levels to connect through. See, I, the reader, have not experienced 9/11 from as close as the author did, and he, in his book, describes an even more intimate experience than his own. This way I get a look at what it was like through the filter of my own memories and his.

What I’m trying (and failing miserably) to say is that a sensitive topic such as this has a sort of field of conditions around it which are incredibly hard to match; reading the work of someone who has managed to do that leaves a deep effect on someone who, prior to this, had no possibility nor moral grounds to experience that effect.

I am thankful for the fact that this book left me devastated for a day, because that brought me nearer to understanding the devastation that people closer to the tragedy felt for a much longer time – and are possibly still feeling.

NB! Please understand that I am not aiming to offend anyone – anything that you find hurtful is probably just clumsy wording on my part. Please let me know so I can try and rephrase it. I do not in any way imply to pass any kind of judgment in this post, all I’m doing is reflecting on my own feelings determined by a set of assumptions which may or may not be correct.


4 Responses

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  1. uuMomma said, on March 20, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Maybe the word you are searching for is “ownership”? Then again, maybe not. It sounds to me (and I haven’t read the book) that the book looks at proximity to an event and how that shapes the reaction to it (physical proximity as well as emotional) and that the typical human response is to “own” an event and/or a reaction. The hard part is finding the way to share the event in a way that allows someone else (who has no proximity or ownership attached to it) to understand. Okay, now I’m not making sense. I’ll have to get the book.

  2. ollka said, on March 20, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    I agree with what you are saying – and with the idea that you might need to read the book.
    However, I don’t know the right way to say it, but the book is all about a boy losing his Dad, and very poignant, so please be careful.

  3. ignieška said, on April 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    The book’s still on my reading list. I believe you read it in English or any other language, because I wans’t able to find it in lithuanian. Only ‘Everything’s illuminated’ by Foer is published in lithuanian.
    Your opinion about the book made me want to read it even more :)

  4. ollka said, on April 23, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    Sveika, Ignieška! Yeah, I read it in English, can’t you do the same?

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