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by Annie Thoms (Editor)
HarperTempest, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 30th 2002

With Their Eyes

With Their Eyes is the text of a performance created by the students and staff of Stuyvesant High School, which is just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.  The words were taken from interviews with a cross section of other students and staff from the school.  This approach was inspired by the work of Anna Deavere Smith, who is known for her plays Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, and House Arrest.  In these works, actors speak carefully selected parts from interviews of people who have interesting or striking reflections on the topic, and the actors take on the vocal inflections and characteristics of the original speaker.  (A somewhat similar approach was used in The Vagina Monologues.)  It was the actors who did the interviews, transcribed them, and they also kept the original recordings of the interviews in order to make their performance as close to the original as possible.  The interviewees attended the performances, which took place on February 8 and 9 of 2002. 

There are twenty-five interviews here, and each is preceded by a short description of the interviewee and his or her mannerisms, many accompanied by photographs of the performers dressed as the interviewees.  The people who talk include students from all years of the high school, two from a special education school within the Stuyvesant High School, some teachers, administrators, and maintenance workers.  They are from diverse backgrounds and they have a variety of perspectives.  Reading through the book can’t have the same impact as viewing the theatrical performance, and I hope that eventually this is made available in audiobook form or on video/DVD.  Nevertheless, it’s an impressive work, giving a sense of the very personal reactions the interviewees had to the original attack and the events that followed.  Some had profound thoughts concerning our society today, while others had far narrower perspectives limited to their own lives. 

Many students saw the planes fly into the World Trade Center and experienced at first hand the worry about being in danger from the attack, and they talk about how this affected them.  But for me, the most memorable piece is from a senior, Max Willens, called “Safety Net,” expressing revulsion about the way that Ground Zero has been turned into a tourist attraction.  He says, “The pictures, the pictures were probably what did it for me.  There were these disposable cameras, the kind that people, you know, whip out for trips to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, you know, those yellow plastic things, you know, were everyone crowds around and the flashes make those little annoying yellow sounds.”  Heartfelt articulations of people’s reactions such as this makes With Their Eyes a powerful collection of narratives that deserves a wide readership.

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.