So, at the gym, on the stepper, reading an issue of “London Review of Books” (of which more later), I looked up and saw the footage of one of the Space Shuttles on its way to museum-hood, on the back of a 747 with a fighter-jet out-rider (out-flyer?). It’s not exactly a madeleine-moment, but
a) I remember seeing. in the cinema on its release, the crappy James Bond film “Moonraker“, in which a Space Shuttle gets stolen by Hugo Drax
b) Competing with my brother who wanted to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail while I wanted to watch the launch of Columbia in 1981.
c) the Challenger blowing up in January 1986
d) Columbia burning up in 2003.
Shuttle was a compromise – Nixon pulled the budget plug on something a bit more ambitious. The 747 I saw tonight was itself a stop-gap that Boeing came up with while developing supersonic passenger jets.
The last of those (not Boeing in the end), flew almost a decade ago, and I remember articles by technophiliacs bemoaning our species’ loss of nerve/desire for big Conquest-of-Limits stuff.
And, in a brilliant article by the absurdly-intelligent (and kind and gentle) Neal Ascherson in London Review of Books, I find this.
“The East Prussians were unmistakably an ‘outpost people’, one of those martial societies on the fringes of a nation who regard themselves as the last upholders of its ancient virtues – all too aware that those virtues are being abandoned by those they are defending. Humanity has suffered a lot from the delusions of outpost people, whether Russian Cossacks, Ulster Unionists, Algerie francaise extremists or white settlers in Rhodesia. The myth that the Grenzdeutscher, the outpost Germans, incarnated true Germanity as no degenerate Berliner or Rhinelander could, still grips the imagination of elderly East Prussian exiles.
LRB 24 May 2012
We techno-Westerners are an “outpost”, historically, politically. We have the savage ability to unleash our technology on the “barbarians” around us. We believe that we represent the best of Enlightenment thinking, of tolerance and technology and freedom of expression. (We don’t, and many of us probably don’t believe it – when we think about it – but we tend to obey and repeat those stories in public).
And, a hundred years from now, or fifty, or thirty, will we – with our Concordes, our space shuttles and our I-pad5s that cause scuffles three years before they are considered laughably obsolete – will we be regarded with any more fondness than the pied-noirs and other thugs? I’m not holding my breath.
JM Coetzee Waiting for the Barbarians
That Proust guy