“Despite impassioned appeals from around the world, two colossal statues of the Buddha, the tallest standing statues of him in the world, carved in the fifth century from a sandstone cliffside near Bamiyan, have been for a month now dynamited and repeatedly shelled by the Taliban government, till finally being reduced to rubble” (31).
“You remember those twin statues of the Buddha that I told you about? Carved out of a mountain in Afghanistan, that got dynamited by the Taliban back in the spring? Notice anything familiar?”
“Twin Buddhas, twin towers, interesting coincidence, so what.”
“The Trade Center towers were religious too. They stood for what this country worships above everything else, the market, always the holy fuckin market” (338).
Shawn’s distress over the destruction of these Buddha statues and his subsequent return to the subject via the analogy to the twin towers was quite interesting to me. As some other posts have mentioned before, Shawn is a strange character who seemingly does not contribute much to the overall plot, yet he does make occasional remarks (such as these) that are worthy of note. I hope to explore the history of these statues, their 2001 destruction, and their relationship to the 9/11 attacks.
Adding on to Pynchon’s succinct summary of the statues on page 31, these twin Buddha statues were significant for their location in Bamiyan, at the heart of the ancient Silk Road trading routes. Cross-cultural trade and influences were swapped here from East and West, allowing for the diffusion of Buddhism to this region from India. Numerous caves found along the Bamiyan valley contain Buddhist monasteries, chapels and sanctuaries, and even wall paintings —all remnants from those early centuries of Buddhist tradition (UNESCO).
In 2001, the Taliban made the decision to destroy the two Buddha statues in an attempt to rid Afghanistan of such icons and images, which went against their conservative Islamic beliefs. The statues proved to be unexpectedly resilient, having been carved in a cliff side, necessitating multiple rounds of mines, anti-aircraft guns, and dynamite (The Guardian). This act has been lamented as a loss of culturally and historically important artifacts, and much debate has occurred over whether the statues ought to be rebuilt. Some are in favor of restoration, as the statues could be opened for tourism and would send a message about reconciliation between religions. Others are worried about the expensive costs of such an undertaking, and suggest that the niches should be left empty as a statement about the insensitivity and ignorance of such destruction (BBC News). As of 2015, nearly fourteen years later, there still has not been a decision.
Similarly, there were debates over whether the twin towers should be rebuilt. Some thought that rebuilding the towers would symbolize America’s strength and resilience, having the towers rise again from the ashes. Others suggest that it would be too expensive, and it would be too emotional of a reminder for the families of victims (ABC News). Ultimately, the latter won out and there is now a 9/11 memorial today where the twin towers stood.
The parallelism between these two destruction events is striking. The twin towers were as much of a cultural icon of New York as these twin statues were to the Bamiyan region. A quick Google search returns the work of many scholars who also comment on the similarities of these two events. Pynchon capitalizes on this relationship, and through Shawn, we also get some criticism of capitalist America. Shawn remarks that the towers were “religious,” in the same way the Buddha statues were religious, representing America’s “worship” of the economic market. Through these lines, Pynchon encourages readers to think critically about the issues leading up to the 9/11 events, namely America’s economic and militaristic relationships with the Middle East which extend far before 2001. The economic bubble of the 80s and 90s culminated in a rude awakening with the dot-com crash and with the attacks in 2001, so perhaps Pynchon is also urging Americans not to become too blinded by the desire for profit, as well as to avoid the idea of American invincibility.
I would be interested to see what other thoughts and interpretations there are regarding the twin towers and twin Buddhas, as I am sure much more can be said about such an uncanny coincidence.
Bobin, Frederic. “Disputes damage hopes of rebuilding Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas.” The Guardian. 10 Jan. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
“Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley.” UNESCO World Heritage Center. n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
Hegarty, Stephanie. “Bamiyan Buddhas: Should they be rebuilt?” BBC News. BBC World Service, 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
Sealey, Geraldine. “Whether or Not to Rebuild the Twin Towers.” ABC News. n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.