Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living in Utopia?!

c. David Grim (taken 4/4/10)

Today I finished reading 1939: The Lost World of the Fair (1996), by David Gelernter*. It concerns the huge exhibition held in Queens during the small gap between the Depression and WWII. Gelernter is obviously fascinated by the scale of the project, and toward that end he provides ample descriptions and information about the fair itself. This was what I was hoping for when I bought the book earlier this year. I loved The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson), and not just for the salacious serial killer vibe contained therein.

And while the picture Gelernter paints of the grounds themselves is intermittently fascinating, he does seem to be more concerned with lamenting what he sees as the demise of the American Dream in the ensuing years. He views the optimistic embrace of technology as the secular religion of the nation, and claims that the promises offered in the many exhibits of the 1939 Fair were subsequently delivered. He builds to his main point- we have created our Utopia, and we live in it today. Yet we can't help but become mired in the ennui of existing inside it. We no longer imagine a future.

Aside from this peculiar conceit, Gelernter also enmeshes the reader in the story of a young intellectual Jewish bourgeois couple, and their tragically star-crossed fate. This was a distraction for me, as I was much more concerned with daydreaming about great public amusements. It was also an odd literary device- inserting a wholly fictionalized story in the midst of tangible history. It gave the whole affair a sheen of surreality, which I believe worked counter to the author's aims of expostulating a social perspective of a past era. It was an interesting read, but not entirely successful.

*Unrelated aside: the author (who is a prominent neoconservative theorist, which in large part explains his somewhat reactionary take on post-modernism) was critically injured when he opened a mailbomb from Theodore Kaczynski in 1993.

1 comment:

  1. remind me to show you my book of photos from the 1893 Columbian Exposition of Chicago sometime.....
    There are great photos of exhibition areas in it that whisk one right back into "Devil in the White City"...!