Also Sprach Zarathustra…
Grasping for inspiration, I decided it would be neither too presumptuous nor too passé to thrust my first website upon the world with the same gusto as the Kubrick/Clarke scientifically-fictional masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This familiar theme by Richard Strauss was itself inspired by the eponymous and epic philosophical masterpiece of Nietzsche, a treatise that discussed concepts such as ‘eternal return’, the ‘death of God’, and the Übermensch. In addition, this refrain is used by the football team of the University of South Carolina, my first alma mater, at the opening of each contest (at least as recently as 2003, the last time I was present to experience it). I will hope such mock-profound themes and vague connections will lend an auspicious beginning to my own website.
In a somewhat less auspicious light, let me transition to some brief musings on the only important historical ‘news’ of today (besides the opening of this website):
Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. This is one of those deaths that feels important to people from all walks of life because of the stature and fame of the person. Unlike such cases as princess Diana or Michael Jackson, however, Steve Jobs was not a political figure or artist/entertainer (the types that usually seem to warrant this rare reverence of their passing)– he was an innovator of technology. I am currently writing and surfing on my MacBook, listening to iTunes, and, earlier this morning, I took a walk up Monte Berico listening to my iPod. Steve Jobs had a vision (perhaps not unique, but successful in any case) of bringing computers to the houses, and pockets, of normal people, and knowledge, freedom, and happiness has no doubt followed in the wake of his aesthetically-pleasing products.
Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yes, that Tomas Tranströmer, the same one you remember reading in middle school, writing an essay about in your freshman English course, and hearing pop culture references about in your daily life [sarcasm alert]. Another big win for the Swedish Academy (by the way, as you probably remember from his famous autobiography, Tomas Tranströmer is Swedish). Seriously, does anyone take the Swedish Academy seriously? I was somewhat encouraged by Mario Vargas-Llosa’s prize last year, seeing it as a (small) step in the right direction (I can’t nitpick too much about how Carlos Fuentes was more deserving; at least MVL is a famous, influential, and talented writer). I was also moderately excited about the mere possibility of someone like Bob Dylan actually bringing home the bacon (a bit sanguine, I know). Of course, the ‘Academy’ would much rather not ruffle too many feathers and pick the ‘safe’ choice of another unknown, boring, and inaccessible ‘poet’. It has been 30 years since the Swedish Academy awarded the prize to a Swede (ever since two members of the Academy awarded themselves a shared prize!), and it seems like they couldn’t stop themselves from scratching that itch once more (“it’s been 30 years! we can’t wait any longer to reward another Swede!”). For every Hemingway (say what you want about his style, personality, whatever… he deserved his prize), there are 10 Elfriede Jelineks, Herta Müllers, Selma Lagerlöfs, and Frans Eemil Sillanpääs (I’ll stop before I run out of umlauten). Let me put some names out there and let’s see if you can find a connection between them: Lev Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Emile Zola, Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, Marcel Proust, Henry James, James Joyce, W.H. Auden, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene, Arthur Miller, Milan Kundera, and Salman Rushdie. If you guessed, “All were eligible for the Nobel Prize, but none of them received it,” you are correct! There have been 16 winners from Scandinavian countries, and yet the only two such writers that almost anyone has heard of (Ibsen and Strindberg) did not win. The Prize is so Euro-centric that even the permanent secretary of the Academy has openly stated that, “Europe is still the center of the literary world” (you have to appreciate his use of the word ‘still’). He also stated, “the US is too isolated, too insular [those two words are essentially pure synonyms, right?]. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature”. As we all know, no one has contributed more to this ‘big international dialogue’ than Mr. Tranströmer, a man who has apparently lived his entire life in Stockholm, and who did not even have a Wikipedia page until today! One has to admire Jean-Paul Sartre, the only winner to voluntarily decline the award, even if he still characterized it, perhaps too diplomatically, as an “honorable institution”.
Finally, in today’s news, Sarah Palin has informed the world of her monumental decision to not declare her candidacy for the office of the President of the United States of America. The fact that this woman could become president, however miniscule that outcome ever was, has been hanging over the USA ever since John McCain’s senile gambit of 2008, and it has lent a sense of self-fulfilling apocalypticism, to which most of her constituency no doubt subscribes in any case, to the political mood. There is too much ripe satire to be drawn from this (hopefully) closed episode, and I’m sure there will be many professionals who make better comedic use of it than me, so let me merely comment on one aspect of the situation. Her statement opens by saying she reached her arduous decision “after much prayer and serious consideration”, and, later, “When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.” First of all, should a political candidate so overtly classify her commitment to God as superior to that of her country, especially in the office of president from which she will guide the ‘ship of state’? Thomas Jefferson did invent America with the idea of a ‘wall’ forever separating church and state, right? And did so much prayer also give her a preternatural sense of her poll numbers, which seem to be vanishing thin even amongst Republicans and her own ostensible supporters? The failure of one more reactionary advocate for ignorance and regression is a net victory for America and the world, whatever happens in the end.