October 20, 2022
I wrote The Weber House for fun, as a gift for our daughter. The Maine setting, middle school, soccer, treasure hunts, and of course, father-daughter frictions, were, with some license, borrowed from family experiences.
Then, I decided to include some social issues, hence Alice and Dolores.
When the 9/11 attacks occurred, I was working as an electrician in a basement printing plant two blocks from Ground Zero but since I worked nights, I wasn’t there when the attacks occurred. Friends of mine however, taking an 8:30 smoke break on Greenwich Street, saw the first plane hit. They saw people jumping.
Why mention this?
In The New York Times Book Review (31July, 2005) of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, contributor Liesl Schilliger wrote:The first four volumes of the series, written before 2000, gave children a thrilling escape into fantasy. But the last two, written after Sept. 11, 2001, provide the opposite release: an escape from a reality that can now seem scarier than the prison of Azkaban . . . .King's Cross station is now also linked to the suicide bombers who attacked London earlier this month. At a time when everyday life is increasingly charged with dark and deadly deeds, the temptation to believe that a good wizard is coming of age, a wizard who may vanquish the greatest evildoer, holds even more attraction. Give 'em hell, Harry!
I like fantasy and escape as much as the next guy. But I believe that some readers, including young readers, also ask substantive questions and wonder why would people fly airliners into skyscrapers? Mass murder; no question. Still, the question lingers: why?I think the answers lie, not in magic, or religious bigoty, let alone racism but rather in history and politics.
The friendship of two girls is the heart of the story which attempts to touch on issues of race, class and history. The letters from the merchant seaman to his daughter describe what he saw in Europe in 1946 including devastation in the Soviet Union, post-war violence against Resistance fighters in France and the rehabilitation of Nazis in Germany. As a former merchant seaman, the letters are those I think I would have written to my daughter if I had been sailing at that moment in history. Most broadly, The Weber House attempts to assert the primacy of reason against modern-day superstition, East and West. If anything, I think this is more relevant now than in 2001.
I believe that today, and for some time now, the Enlightenment is under attack. The most articulate statement of this that I have seen was in a 1992 speech by Czech president Vaclav Havel. He denounces the belief that the world “is a wholly knowable system governed by a finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct for his own benefit. This era, beginning in the Renaissance and developing from the Enlightenment to socialism… was characterized by rapid advances in rational, cognitive thinking….” Havel goes on to say that “the fall of Communism can be regarded as a sign that modern thought—based on the premise that the world is objectively knowable, and that the knowledge so obtained can be absolutely generalized—has come to a final crisis…” Havel concludes that “The end of Communism is a serious warning to all mankind. It is a signal that the era of arrogant, absolutist reason is drawing to a close.” (New York Times, 1 March 1992).
Havel, a playwright, believed that the curtain has come down on the Enlightenment and even “arrogant” reason itself. I believe that it’s time for writers, activists and a revitalized, internationalist labor movement to raise the curtain on a new, historical act.