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.
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.
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.