Errand Into The Stratosphere

(Soundtrack: Lunachicks — Jerk of All Trades)

The American adventure story goes back a long way. All the way to the beginning, in fact–to what Perry Miller calls the “Errand into the Wilderness”. Sure, the Puritans said they came to New England in order to set up a “city on a hill”–but they were even more interested in catching a glimpse of God in the state of nature, stripped of the speculative layers draped upon “Him” over the centuries. Harold Bloom has made a career out of examining the obsession with “first-ness” in Romantic thought, and he has correctly identified America as the most purely romantic nation on the face of the earth.

In Astronauts in Trouble, the moon is just a big rock in space–there’s nothing Edenic about it. It offers absolutely nothing to human beings except the opportunity for a breather from the crush of Other People (that is, until the air runs out!), or, alternately, a barren foundation upon which to rebuild an exact replica of the very things they are running away from in the first place. You can’t get away from culture, because you bring it with you wherever you go. This is the “coloured, distorting lens” of subjectivity that Emerson resolves to accept as a fact in “Experience”.

Melville’s Moby Dick is perhaps the ultimate expression of the insane/admirable passion for the Ideal in narrative form. While reading Astronauts in Trouble (especially Space 1959), I couldn’t get Ahab’s desire to “strike through the pasteboard mask of reality” out of my mind. These books are filled with people trying to do exactly that– accompanied by others who merely wish to get the best shot of the mask and beam it back to the folks at home. The trilogy has been likened to a “summer blockbuster with brains”, but, to me, it played more like an epic shown in a mirror. The newspeople are determined always to be where the story is–and Young is equally determined to maximize our awareness of where the camera is. This is why the final chapter of Space 1959 feels absolutely authentic and “unprintable” at the same time. It must have happened that way, we think to ourselves–but where’s the corroboration? All of the great moments in our lives are like that.

Plato urged his Philosophers to venture into the light in order to steal the means of casting more truthful shadows for the rubes–but no one ever quite makes it out of the cave. You can’t grab hold of the St. Elmo’s fire–but it can sure zap you! The only way to obtain “knowledge” of the Abyss is to dive into it–at which point we break up in its atmosphere and become part of the concealing matter. A legend–not a prophet. Thus the first man on the moon becomes the “man in the moon”. And the moon itself becomes a site for storytelling, rather than the terminal point of an epic story.

Go read it now!

Good Day Friends!


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