John Lahr and August Wilson

Combating Grave Tragedy With Grave Beauty
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 13 2001 6:21 PM

John Lahr and August Wilson


Dear John,


With NATO invoking its defense pact for the first time since its inception, with Russian President Vladimir Putin having already given the U.S. carte blanche to "punish" the perpetrators of this crime against humanity, it seems the U.S. is putting together a coalition that will allow it to defend itself by whatever means it deems necessary. That's an awful lot of consensual power, and I'm just fearful that as the funerals begin, the grieving, the tally of the dead, its sheer number, will fan the flames of patriotism and the demand for retaliation will make rational decision making that much more elusive, and we will wreak havoc on the Muslim population of the Middle East assuaging our sense of outrage, and producing more innocent victims.

If, as you say, this act of terrorism says to the world, "You will not live in your dream, you will live in ours," then it is a reversal of roles. So much of America's policies and practices, its influence on global politics and economics has resulted in us saying the very same thing to the rest of the world. The terrorists may well be responding to the "profound psychic humiliation" of being colonized by another's ideas.

Finally, hats off to the New York Times for running an article in the Living Art Section headlined "The Expression of Grief and the Power of Art," reflecting on "how art in all its forms has girded us to go on grieving and living." It is a well-timed and must-needed testament to the power of art to provide us with an understanding of ourselves and the human terrors associated with grief. As Bruce Weber says, "artists have always combated grave tragedy with grave beauty."

Until next time.

As ever,

John Lahr is senior drama critic forThe New Yorkerand author of 18 books. He recently co-authored, with Elaine Stritch, the play Elaine Stritch at Liberty, which will premier at the Public Theater in New York City in October. August Wilson is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who's best known for his 20th-century, decade-by-decade cycle of plays.


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