Thoughts on the Mosaic Cosmonaut

Dscn1050 It is, I think, literally impossible to imagine what it’s like to be a Russian now. 

To have the world so closed and regulated suddenly open up to storms of data, information, opinion, knowledge, and the necessity of their navigation.  Many must feel lost.

The average moment of mortality for men has fallen to 57 and some observers see this as evidence of stress that beats people down, actually extinquishing some of them before their time.

Sorry about the image to the right.  It shows a mosaic I passed on the way to my interview this afternoon.  (It was taken from a speeding car.  Where is that traffic jam when you need it?)  What you are looking at is the bottom half of the body of a cosmonaut.  Around him are arrayed the heavens.  It is an astonishing piece of work, and it takes you directly into itself, deftly reprogramming consciousness.  For a moment, it is all you know and how you know it. 

Dscn1084 Here’s another photo taken the day after this post was posted.

The Mosaic Cosmonaut persuaded me that I knew the promise of the Soviet space program in its days of glory.  He is poised to colonize planetary worlds with socialism’s triumphant vision.  He is the new man.  (I have searched the internet high and low for a better image of this fellow, but for once Google Images has failed me.  Sorry.)  It’s as if outer space would be communism’s great theatre, that it was its best hope.  In a classic moment of displaced meaning, an ideology that was not working very well on earth was removed to the safe keeping of super-lunary world.

Here is the cosmonaut as close up as I could get. 

Dscn1149_1 The Mosaic cosmonaut is a pretty good metaphor for the average Russian, poised for the exploration of new worlds, at once questing and vulnerable.  For the moment, there are muddles in the models everywhere.  In the restaurant of my hotel this evening was a classically trained pianist who could do Scott Joplin but this was as close as she was going to get to popular music.  (Still, last night it was a harpist who’s earnest play was indistinquishable from parody.)   In the lobby, as I came up, the sound system was playing House of the Rising Sun on a Zampir flute.  And when I got to my room, local TV featured 10 year old girls dancing to hip hop, complete with the witless reproduction of gang signs from South Central LA. 

I can imagine the Communists felt a deep ambivalence about both classical culture and popular culture.  What a fateful moment when they decided on the former, and how in God’s name did they reckon that the elitist form would serve them better than the more democratic one?  Another choice and it might all have turned out differently.  But command economy’s will cost you.  And command cultures will cost you even more. 

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Mosaic Cosmonaut”

  1. Women suffered a smaller reverse (74 to 73 years vs. 63 to 60 for men), so it cannot be the health care system. It must be male behaviour and institutions. Three things kill the men:
    1) an underfunded, underled army that mistreats its young conscripts
    2) a large prison population that breeds germs and diseases
    3) cheap booze (and tolerance of public drunkeness).

    Probably, rotten driving skills will account also for a number of deaths.

  2. The mosaic cosmonaut visually condenses the cultural stretch you describe — the composition and technique derive from the Justinian mosaics of Ravenna (as does the oddly nimbus-like helmet), while the formal sensibility is an appeal to the bold cylidrical forms of Fernand Léger’s mechano-cubism of the 1920s. The result? A tectonic screeching of two mutually incompatible world views. It was this preposterous concoction, this cultural Esperanto, that impverished the souls and lives of millions for generations behind the Iron Curtain. The landscape of Eastern and Central Europe is still strewn with every imaginable Eperantesque permutation of Communism’s tagically confused cultural aspirations.

  3. Jay Walker, I have heard that hazing in the army is horrific. Also I happened to visit a hospital kept for people who lose limbs as a result of falling asleep in snow banks. There are many hazards. And, yes, traffic. Apparently, drivers have absolute right of way. They can and do just run people over. This is not as in the Boston case because they were aiming for them. It’s just the thing. Thanks, Grant

    Duncan, fabulous, thank you, I was thinking the cosmonaut looked even a little christ like, unlikely in a communist russia, but you never know. And he also reminded me of the statuary you seen pinned to an English tomb when the occupant is a knight. There is a knightly tradition here, and this is a culture that remembers St. George almost as iconically as the English do. And I was just wondering… Thanks for your magnificently informed point of view. Best, Grant

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