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February 2002
CUNY Responds: Rebuilding New York
CUNY Alumnus/Prize-winning Journalist Reports from Islamabad, Jalalabad, Kabul
City Tech Students Envision Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church
U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse
John Jay College and FEMA Address Urban Hazards
Helping Students Write about Trauma
Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short
CUNY Law Practice In the Public Interest Since 9/11
Graduate Center 9/11 Digital Archive
Windows on the World Chef Returns to City Tech following 9/11
Walt Whitman Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”
Inaugural Conference on "Women and Work"
For Alzheimer’s Patients Life’s a Stage
Kingsborough Center Incubator of Global Virtual Enterprises
Governor Proposes State Budget
White House Urged to Support Pell Grant Increase
President Jackson Named to Schools Board
Fine Way To Learn About Steinway

City College Scholar-Director Chosen Cultural Affairs Commissioner by Mayor

Claire Shulman Honored by QCC

CUNY Counsel Elected Legal Aid Society Chair

Law Dean Glen Honored by State Bar

“American Art at the Crossroads”—
April Symposium at Graduate Center

Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program

 
 

Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short

Eric Darton
When life came to an end for the subject of Eric Darton's recent biography, the obituaries were spectacular—and they continue to be written. No wonder that the Hunter College graduate and former faculty member has seen his Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York's World Trade Center (Basic Books), which appeared early last year, recently become a best-seller. Anyone involved in planning the reconstruction of the ground zero site and hoping to avoid old (or new) mistakes would do well to read the book.

Several chapters of the lyrical and scholarly study—which contains a decidedly contrarian critique of the urban planning that produced the Center—began life as part of Darton's Master's thesis, titled "Sovereign Conjunctions: A Social History of the World Trade Center." After earning his degree, Darton taught at Hunter College, notably offering a course he designed on "Media Technology and Cultural Change." At the same time, responding to the encouragement of his Hunter colleagues, Darton turned those chapters into a full-length study.

CUNY's role in the gestation of Divided We Stand was significant. It began, Darton explains at the outset, "quite unintentionally in 1992 as a research paper written for a seminar on mass media and contemporary culture taught by Stuart Ewen at the Graduate Center."He also recalls, "Serafina Bathrick, then chair of the Hunter Media Studies Department, insisted with convincing firmness—in her dual capacities as mentor and friend—that I pursue the expansion of this work into its current form.

Among the many passages that read eerily differently now is this describing the structural standards the architect of the Twin Towers, Minoru Yamasaki, held himself to: "Yamasaki had engineered his towers to withstand the force of a 747 shearing into them-the nightmare scenario of an earlier, more "innocent" era-and though shaken by the February 1993 blast, his squared-off tubes remained standing. Six people died, but scores of thousands might have if the columns had failed. Though the terrorists had used sufficient explosives to do the job, according to Eugene Faso, the Port Authority's chief engineer, they had built 'the wrong kind of bomb." And the epigraph that stands alone on Darton's last page, from Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, carries a whole new meaning now: "When your house trembles in its beams and turns on its keel, you think you are a sailor, rocked by the breeze."

Darton is now working on a study that will examine New York as a city both physically and psychologically in transition. Clearly, the attack will loom large in this project. "I feel an obligation to ask questions—questions about where our culture is headed," he says. "I sense the beginning of a language. . .that began with a scream and could lead to a new way of thinking." The biography of the WTC, Darton is making sure, will continue to be written. He maintains a Web site titled "New Yorks WTC: A Living Archive" (www.ericdarton.net). Visitors to the site, which is interactive, are encouraged to post their thoughts and pictures in an attempt not only to build a memorial, but to allow dialogue on the WTC and the implications of its violent demise to continue. The site, Darton says, was "designed to be a sort of living history at a crucial juncture."