In the middle of my writing this book, barely three months after Sep-
tember 11, 2001, my sister, Naomi Schor, died suddenly. I write about the
relationship between the two events in “Weather Conditions in Lower
Manhattan: September 11, 2001, to October 2, 2001.” My sister was a
theoretician of the “detail,”1 and the purposefully detailed texture of the
everyday found in this essay marks the importance of a few unusual days
in the life of New York and is pivotal to the transformation of meaning
they engendered.
It is interesting that some of my friends seemed to feel that the loss of
a sister entailed an appropriate but also measurable, that is to say finite,
period of mourning. The idea that there is some sort of definitive closure
on mourning was a theme of much journalistic writing after September
11: people were seeking closure; this or that event or memorial or build-
would give them closure. But if I know anything from having lost my
father when I was eleven and hearing my mother retell her experiences
of the Second World War all the rest of her life, it is that there is no such
thing as closure in the life of a person and perhaps also in the life of a
country. My writing’s meditations on the past as it affects the present are
meant as positive interpretations of that observation, as a useful correc-
tive to the dominance of the relentless marketing of the new.
When, very early on a morning in May 1972, I returned to Kennedy
Airport on a red-eye flight at the end of my first year in graduate school at
the California Institute of the Arts, I was surprised and thrilled to find my
sister and a friend of hers waiting to pick me up. They were young profes-
sors in the French department at Columbia University, incredibly excited
about the structuralist theory then espoused by the chair of their depart-
ment. They had been at a party the night before and decided on the spur of
the moment to keep talking, stay up all night, and drive out to the airport
to meet me. I had just spent a year deeply involved in the personal and po-
litical dynamics of the Feminist Art Program at CalArts and in the loopy,
Fluxus-influenced atmosphere of the school, an atmosphere certainly
filled with ideas and ideologies but taken in mostly through embodied
experience rather than ingested through text: on the way to my studio,
I looked down a hallway and saw the experimental dancer Simone Forti
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