In a failed state

“America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few,” according to the Bush Doctrine promulgated in response to September 11 2001.

In a 2002 interview, painter Gerhard Richter was asked if he would paint the 9/11 aircraft terrorists (as he’d done earlier with Baader-Meinhof members): “Definitely not. This horrific form of global terror is something I cannot fathom”. He added: “September 11 horrified me”.

“September 11 bothered me more than I expected,” Richter admitted later. By 2005, when an interviewer asked about a small painting appearing to show the World Trade Center’s towers, Richter said: “These here are only failed attempts. I couldn’t get this stereotypical image of the two towers, with the some billowing out of them across the deep blue sky, out of my mind.” He went on to say that the painting in question “couldn’t work; only when I destroyed it, so to speak, scratched it off, was it fit to be seen”.

Below is his September, a 2005 photo-painting of the event and relatively small at approximately 28” x 20”:

The image you are seeing was rendered from a photograph showing the south tower of the World Trade Center as it was hit. As to the specific photo, it “was very typical. . .Colorful—red, yellow, fire” “I painted it first in full colour, and then I had to slowly destroy it. . .

A friend convinced him to reconsider trashing September. “I failed,” he said to that friend; the painting “shows my helplessness. In German, my scheitern, failure.”

A failure? Really? What do you think? Is the painting in a failed state? Does it fail in itself or by virtue of what it depicts?

More, look at September closely. Do you see the active, living absence of the deep blue, red and yellow that initially tripped Richter up? By extension, do you see the active, living absence of the new democracies to come into being this century from presently failing states, including—dare we say—parts of the US?

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