1.18.2009

Sunrise/Sunset

 Image: 'The Evening Star', by Alphonse Mucha - Coming up this week on the inaguaration of Barack Obama, I'm reminded of a rambling nonsense post I read months ago after the election. Did ou ever notice that Obama's logo, the one that designers love so much (with good reason: between the logo, the font choice, and the iconic poster, Obama's design team, official and ad hoc volunteer, single-handedly brought beauty back to propoganda) centers around the image of a rising sun? Until they had the big infomercial at the end of the election cycle, and I saw the logo animated, I was always struck that it could be a sunrise or a sunset (presumably, depending on whether you face East or West while wearing the shirt). I like it better that way - not that I think it would have been a good idea to leave it ambiguous as a conscious campaign choice, mind you, but still. I still believe that is what this presidency is all about, it's about deciding whether we are in the evening or morning of America. Which got me thinking, more generally. A few years ago, I read a an article, one that I admittedly didn't particularly enjoy, talking about how Star Wars and Lord of the Rings were wrong-headed, essentially psychogically damaging books, that said that the future is a future of devolution, of humanity eventually having to fall back to the mystical as reason fails them, a dark period of 'science' (think the great factory-land of Mordor, or the Death Star), that is weakened to a mere passing of a golden age by the intervention of magic and god. He said these stories are gloomy, and ignore the manifold truth that science, reason and the like are making life wonderful - books, according to him, like Asimov, or his own novels (I think it was David Brin that wrote it), or Star Trek, these were what we needed to write, hopeful novels that grasped onto the humanism of the times as a road to progress as yet undreamed - the new, cheerier Ubermensch, as it were. This strange dichotomy of sunrise and sunset has stuck with me ever since - while I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions, this duality in American thought exists, has existed, as far back as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, or the cheerful hope of Manifest Destiny, by Chief Joseph sadly laying down the past to the past. And, it's there today, the mixture of our assumed world omnipotence, with our hopeless retreat into Depression (economic and otherwise), in films like Titanic that celebrated the essential American idea (although that argument coudl be aa whole other blog post) and films like The Visitor, tha tshow us in ugly relief how inhuman our self-reliance and can-do spirit can make us as a collective body. So which is it, where are we, we Americans? I think what the commenter missed in his thoughts on Lord of the Rings, is that Tolkien knew what comes at the end of an age - a rising and a setting altogether. IF the stars fall, it opens the way for the sun, and if the sun falls, it whispers back to us off the face of the moon. Galadriel passes, but Arwen arises. It is the choice of the workers of the forge of history what comes next, what sort of day or night we'll enter in upon. I wonder if the people in other countries feel this way, now, if a country in ascendency, like India, has different spirit to it, if there is a setting there, beside it's rising. I wonder if the people in the Revolution felt a farewell in their hearts to the age of kings, even as they ushered the age of the republic. I wonder if this is just how it feels, to be in a nation about to die or live, or both.

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