Read an Excerpt
America resumed: 9/11 remembered
by Michael J. Lewis
The first entry in our series "Future tense: the lessons of culture in an age of upheaval."
If asked to describe the cultural legacy of World War One, you might cite Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms or George M. Cohan’s rousing but now forgotten “Over There.” Or perhaps the poignant battle monuments of the American Expeditionary Force, of which Paul Cret’s temple at Chateau Thierry is the loveliest. But these items are tangible, and the most vital cultural legacy of any waror any great national trauma, for that matteris intangible. It is the comprehensive way it changes our shared attitudes and assumptions, our collective sensibility.
Changes in the collective sensibility, being invisible, usually do not reveal themselves until they are expressed in action. The whip can crack before anyone realizes that it was coiling, and so it was at the end of World War I with Prohibition. In 1919 two separate forcesa wartime mood of urgency and a newfound bitterness toward America’s brewers, nearly all of them Germanfatefully converged, and in a matter of days accomplished what a half century of temperance crusading had failed to do. Any reckoning of the cultural legacy of the war must give Prohibition a central place.
And what of September 11, 2001? Here too one must distinguish between tangible and intangible consequences. The day has already brought forth an enormous trove of cultural artifacts, including skyscrapers and memorials, novels and films, plays and songs. If they do not quite stand comparison with the achievement of Hemingway, Cohan, or Cret, they are notable for a very different reason. Questions of art and culture seldom are directly involved in a national trauma; they belong to the shadow realm in which great events are digested and replayed after the fact, much as a dream imaginatively rehearses the happenings of the day. But on September 11, it happened that a work of art, a modernist landmark known throughout the world, was at the center of events. And so the cultural artifacts created in the wake of its destruction speak with unusual clarity about how the collective sensibility has changed, and how it has not.
What’s a museum?
by James Panero
What’s a museum? Lately, it seems, the answer is whatever we want. Today’s museums can be tourist attractions, department stores, civic centers, town squares, catalysts of urban renewal, food courts, licensing brands, showcases for contemporary architecture, social clubs, LEED-certified environmentally conscious facilities, and franchise opportunities. A “well-run museum is eerily like an upscale suburban shopping mall,” says an article in The New York Times. A cafe with “art on the side,” advertises London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. “We are in the entertainment business, and competing against other forms of entertainment out there,” says a one-time spokesman for the Guggenheim museum. “Inclusive places that welcome diverse audiences” and “reflect our society’s pluralism in every aspect of their operations and programs,” suggests the American Association of Museums. “We live in a more global, multicultural society that cares about diversity and inclusivity,” so “service to the community” is now among the museum’s à la carte options, says Kaywin Feldman, the latest head of the Association of Art Museum Directors. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, museums are even about “bringing art to those with Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder, and farming crops for donation to local food banks,” initiatives that have been promoted through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.