The Collective Personal in Art

Falling Man is a book about humans grieving, but it is also much more than that. It is the painstakingly accurate portray of a nation that needs to learn how to come to terms with what has happened and work through it together.

One of the more terrifying elements in the book comes from the idea that many people have no identities. It is important for us to know who has suffered, who has survived, and who is to blame. Many elements of the novel show us that becoming aware of the need to know is important; however, it is also important to realize that everyone involved with the tragedy is human.

DeLillo chooses to include moments at the end of each part when we see one of the men that will become a terrorist. It is important that we see him as a human before we see him as a terrorist. Without thinking of him as such, it is all too easy to pick up on characters and single those out, which as we know, has happened in the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11. It is no secret that mass racism has spread because of the fear that Americans still hold in our hearts. It is the idea that there is some entity to blame- they are not humans. They are the enemy. This should not ever be the case when decided to wage war. This is the problem that Lianne has with her neighbor’s music. She has lumped in all into one category. The terrorists of 9/11, although from a specific group, are not descriptive of a whole group. 

Throughout the novel, and throughout a tragedy, people have the need to make  other people’s lives public. In part, this is good. This is how the collective public remembers that everyone is a human- that even though their are terrorist groups from the Middle East, not all Middle Easteners are terrorists. This is a difficult thing to do, however. People pick up on things that they are comfortable picking up on. This is why art is is important in the after-affects of a tragedy. Art is the public consciousness for remembering humanity. In Falling Man, the presence of art is in every page. The art is not always appreciated- the falling man’s performance art is intense and cruel and a solid reminder of volnerability; however, it is important to remember that after events of tragedy it seems like we are all falling: it is the importance of remembering what has happened. In response to the falling man’s dive from the train tracks, DeLillo writes, “This was too near and deep, too personal” (163). How is someone else’s fall personal? It has been felt by every single American who watched that day, and by those survived the falling towers, and by those who didn’t live past that day.

Other art in the novel draws attention, but is always reminding us of other things. I keep coming back to the passports hanging on Nina’s wall. A picture of someone you don’t know is a way to imagine what their life is like in relation to your own. By creating a story for those people, you find the threads that unite us all. In pertaining to Falling Man, it is aware to retreive the identity’s of people who are lost. As long as some remnaint of them remains– a picture, a briefcase, a falling article of clothing, it is possible to imagine that they have lived.

A very interesting scene is when Keith and Florence are at Macy’s, attempting to find a mattress. They are watching everyone else’s private opinions and lives, watching them lay down and relax. By having their private moments turned public, it is possible to experience the way that people live, the way that people’s lives go on even in the fallout after something as tramatic for the American people as 9/11.

As the city and nation comes to grips with the events that have unfolded around them, Falling Man shows how art and literature keep in the mind what it means to be human. It shows the pleasure and the pain and the fear and the normal and the unique and the haunting of what it means to be human, every day that we live.


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