Thursday, September 28, 2006

What they could do that we can't (make Caesar smile)

James Lileks

Where was I? Right: 1893 Exposition. It was lovely, then it closed, and then it burned. It has a sense of confidence our betters could not muster today; the unicultural implications would paralyze them, and they’d be compelled to unmoor everything from its historical antecedents. But in 1893 the archaic forms were used to make a claim for America – we weren’t here to supplant the past but add to it. Adapt, adopt, improve, profit. The imperial vocabulary looked apt, much more so than the humid crawling designs of that Sullivan fellow. If nothing else, it’s all a chest-thumping hymn to Reason as well as power, and it would have made a Caesar gasp. (And smile, to know his culture’s effect had lasted this long.)

Historians are better served studying the 1893 and 1939 fairs than any presidential convention. Elections are about what just happened; the buildings of the fairs are the collective dreams we will into existence somehow, if I can channel my inner overwriter, and say far more about where we want to go, or where we’re willing to be led.

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