I have been working for many years on a book about terrorism and its effects on national populations, specifically with respect to the mediation of terror in everyday ordinary life. It begins with a reflection on the closing days of what I've come to call the Age of innocence. People laugh at me when I tell them this. They think it's naive to imagine that there was a kind of innocence prior to the attacks.
I remember when I first sent the introductory chapter to Herbert, he laughed at me about it when I had him over for scotch.
"Innocent?" he asked, drunk, "Are you mad?"
Since that night, as I burned with rage at him, I have resolved to keep the book locked away in the drawer of my desk. Sometimes I take it out in the evening, after the students have left and the shadows have grown long on the quad.
I think of Monet's haystacks and wheat fields. Those pristine, sigh-inducing landscapes. They calm me, and I write. I keep a bottle of whiskey with the manuscript. I pour my whiskey into a coffee mug and I take out the manuscript and think of the peace of those haystacks, those wheat fields.
This, indeed, gives me the appropriate feeling for writing about terror.
It is no longer in fashion to think about these things in an abstract way. When I first started writing about it in 2002, I went to conference after conference, talking to rapt audiences about color coded terror warnings. They started making us take off our shoes in the airports and I got emails every day inviting me to give talks at the greatest universities in the country.
These were times when I entertained the notion that I would one day have the best of all worlds. A steady job, secure because of the growth of the administration and and because of my encyclopedic knowledge of the university's strategy and position. A the same time I would be allowed to teach my great course on the Age of Terror.
It would be attended by all of the best students. It would become a required course at the University of the Plains. I would receive standing ovations for each lecture. And I would have to wipe away little tears of gratitude at the conclusion of each semester as I read the evaluations that would be delivered to my office in a manila envelope.
Certainly, this would offer the kind of vindication of my work that I craved. That I longed for. That drove me back to the manuscript every afternoon.
But times changed and people's focus moved from the immediacy of terror to the complexities of far-away wars. Drones. Interrogation programs. They cared less and less about the ordinary language of terror woven into the ordinary landscape of their lives, precisely because of the reasons that I pointed to! This was the great irony. I watched my predictive argument unfurl before me, and as it did, fewer people were interested.