Borne back ceaselessly into the past
September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have never felt like I was born in the wrong decade. This seems to me something of a folly, a rather extreme analogue might be the desire to change genders. I can’t well follow the path that leads to either wish, but at any rate, I’d rather explore time. When I toy with this idea for a bit one particular passage comes to mind. It’s something that will be very familiar to many of us, but not something that we have read or, I’m fairly certain, will read for this course. I’m thinking of the final page from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
I’m sure Baz Luhrmann, director of the forthcoming silver screen adaptation, will have some suitably “epic” CGI to render this page onto the screen, but he won’t touch Fitzgerald. For those unfamiliar with the novel, the final page finds the protagonist Nick Carraway on the fictional island of West Egg, looking out across Long Island Sound. In his introspection Carraway is drawn to think of the Dutch Sailor who first encountered New York and was met “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”
Those words have stuck with me since sophomore year of high school. I should say the gist of them has – I was not able to produce the quote verbatim without some refreshing. But this quote addresses something which I think we have touched on to a certain extent in this class. At one point the idea was raised that with each generation sci-fi is a little less startling, as if anything you can dream up might be in next month’s Popular Science. We’ve come so far we’ve lost almost all our myths. It’s become so difficult to cultivate a sense of wonder.
I’m trying to summon the images and experiences which have inspired wonder inside of me. The jagged blue crests of the Tetons. Great white pines in clear New Hampshire air. The wind ripping off the ocean up to the dune where I stood and black water crashing onto the beach below. These moments have been few and far between. Perhaps this is more a reflection of my own capacity for wonder than of society’s, but I doubt it. I’ve had some nice opportunities for wonder, more than most I’d bet, but it seems like every year it gets harder to find something that really floors me.
The Hamptons, which if I’m not mistaken are the real world equivalents of Fitzgerald’s West and East Egg, would today be even less recognizable to those Dutch sailors. Every jitney deposits a fresh load of the privileged, fedora-clad set disparagingly known as “Hampsters” (Hamptons + Hipsters = Hampsters). Maybe today’s environments just don’t lend themselves to wonder because everything is very familiar and explained. What region on earth remains unexplored? What peoples unexamined? Perhaps some remote fold of the ocean floor, perhaps a handful of tribes in the deep Amazon. Wonder, for the most part doesn’t hang around where humans do. We try to chase it down ski mountains and out of airplanes but these are all contrived scenarios. Wonder is not adrenaline. If I had access to a time machine I think I would explore some time and place that was wilder and far less definite. I would try and encounter something so incomparably vast and uncertain as to be actually sublime in the terrible/wonderful/awesome mode of Edmund Burke’s definition.