An Excerpt from Jarett Kobek’s ATTA
New from Semiotext(e) is Jarett Kobek’s ATTA, “a fictionalized psychedelic biography of Mohamed Atta that circles around a simple question: what if 9/11 was as much a matter of architectural criticism as religious terrorism?”
He prepares himself, watches television, hopes the box displays violence. But television is coy, intimates killings as abstractions. Beatings, certainly, beatings and brutality. But minimal death. Always the moment after. Police crash into a room, find a body, hunt the killer. But the actual kill? Off-screen. Or with guns. And what can he learn from guns?
Atta opens a video rental account, chooses movies that help with knowledge of death. He rejects Hollywood fantasies, imperialist propaganda efforts, prefers outlandish tales of monstrous abuse. The Horror section. Blood explodes in these films, bright red replica splashes on skin.
American teenagers travel to unlikely destinations, generally remote. An old mansion, a desert, a foreign locale, the outskirts of town. The teenagers are nearly indistinguishable from film to film, viewable solely as archetypes. The stupid, the attractive, the promiscuous, the athletic, the nondescript, the overly studious, the gentle, the wholesome. Improbable events trap teenagers at the remote location. The first dies, victim of an invisible monster. 2 more, typically in a state of sexual congress, also die. The monster reveals its full depths. Its physicality, its origins, its purpose. The survivors devise an improbable schemata of battle. Defeat comes to the monster, but only after the teenagers incur several more casualties. 1 or 2 teenagers survive, break the curse, escape. Night opens into dawn. A hard worn relief etches into the teenagers’ faces. Hints arise of the monster’s survival, usually through a ridiculous final image. A hand reaches from within the grave, a face in the window, a laugh chills through breaking glass.
Of death, Atta learns nothing. Filmic murders are comic, invariably do not frighten. Only the monsters, with their implacable sense of timing, create horror. All monsters’ appearances feature one aspect in common. They wear masks of impenetrable visage. Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers. Hollow eyes of darkness, the empty face devoid of emotion. The mask is murder. Atta resolves to make a mask of his face.
He watches Silent Night, Deadly Night. Marwan is in the other room, hears the sounds, enters, sits beside Atta. Marwan is silent for 3 or 4 minutes. “Brother,” he says, “how can you stand this decadent trash?”
“This film,” says Atta, “has secret meanings. It is a message to the viewer who possesses understanding. A person needs certain knowledge to find the message.”
“Ya Allah,” says Marwan, “What possible message can you see in this, brother? I won’t believe it.”
Atta sighs. Even Marwan, friends with all, suffers under the Saudis. He grows impatient with the people around him. Atta remembers Hamburg, longs for the seclusion of Wilhelmsburg. A few brothers against the world, the dedication of pure souls against the moral decay of crass Western life.
“Brother,” says Atta. “Trust me. I have seen this film before. Twice.”
“Well?” asks Marwan. “Go ahead, brother. Tell me.”
“The film,” says Atta, “takes the Crusader false idol of Santa Claus and reveals his true nature, not only as an imaginary construct built to deceive children, but also explores the fundamental link of Christian culture with violence. The plot is simple. A boy watches as a man dressed like Santa Claus kills his mother. Nineteen years later, the boy inherits this dread mantle and himself dresses like Santa Claus. He begins a reign of terror, posing as the benevolent mythological figure while chopping apart human bodies. Some murders are done with a singular Christmas theme. He hangs a man with Christmas lights, he asks his victims if they are naughty or nice. He leaves wrapped presents for his chosen. Do you see the idea, brother?”
“No,” says Marwan. “What’s the point?”
“Brother,” says Atta, “The film functions on two metaphorical levels. The first is more obvious. It is a critique of Western commodity culture. Imagine a world in which Christmas has nothing to do with Isa but rather the flow of green American dollars. We live in this world. The film takes this idea to its extreme, employing the icon of commercialization. Santa Claus murdering literally is only a poetic demonstration of the reality. Secondly, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a metaphor for the manner in which the West treats the Islamic world. Amreeka smiles like a friend, a trusted acquaintance, and then, after your back is turned, strikes you from behind. This film is very subversive, brother. It demolishes the myth of Santa Claus and uses the slasher genre to provide an explicit, angry critique of American foreign policy.”
“Brother,” says Marwan. “You can find the secret meaning of anything.”
Marwan stands and leaves. Atta watches Silent Night, Deadly Night until its end. He stands and goes into the kitchen. There is time for all things.
* * *
ATTA is available now.
Upcoming events for Jarett Kobek:
Jarett Kobek will be speaking next Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 7pm at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco.
Jarett Kobek will be speaking at Bluestocking Book Store at 172 Allen St. in NYC on Friday, October 21th at 7pm.
Jarett Kobek will be speaking at the Issue Project Room at 232 3rd St. in Brooklyn on Wednesday, October 19th at 8pm. More info can be found here.
Jarett Kobek will be speaking at Book Soup at 8818 West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on November 8th.