Thursday, March 12, 2009

how close are we?

Reading about fin-de-siecle Vienna, what strikes me most is how close to the edge they were. The sudden, irrevocable collapse of an empire. Did they have their doomsday prophets? Were there men in the streets damning the k. u. k.? One passage is especially telling, "

"Listen Dally, I cain jus let'em eat'cha. I know we spent a lot a time together, and I wish our audiences had been bigger, else I could've fed'em you lots earlier." Said cowboy Daquher. "Then we woodn' of grown so close." The play wasn't going so well. Designed to raise awareness among meat-eaters, it was a morality play which included the sacrifice of a living cow. The play would run for three nights. The bull killed on the first night would be fed to the audience of the second night, and the one from the second to the third; on the third night, after the bull was slain, she was chopped up and sold to meat markets around town. The problem was that they couldn't kill the bull unless they were sure they'd have enough audience to eat the poor beast. After many a wasted bull, they made it a rule that a bad showing on the first night would lead inevitably to a bad showing on the second. (Eventually they made a second rule: if there are no meat shops in town, and there is no audience to watch the show, don't chop up the bird on the third night either.) One time Carl, a clown as well as an animal trainer, got so anxious, he refused to leave the town until all the cow we had cooked was sold.

"But now we're in the big city, poor dear," said the tearful Daquher, "the nights we spent together lain' under the stars, fartin' up a storm, was some've the best I had on this trip." Daquher sighed, "Too bad the show's become somethin' famous. Especially around these city freaks."

"Hey faggot! Ha ha ha! Bring that cow! There's biiig group here tuh 'night, we's definitely gun's be choppin' 'er up. So move your ass cow-fucker! Huh huh huh."

"Assholes. Alight Dally, time's a up."

." Given, of course, our obsession for entrainment, and the bite-sized accessibility of information, I would hardly assume that the US audience is so apathetic about the details of our wars. Instead, I would argue the case is in fact reversed: the arts page is all but ignored while the world section is scoured over. Which is not to suggest that our present crises are any less dire. Given the quality of our mass media, it is not surprising that we could be on the very brink, if we took them at their word, we wouldn't know it even long after we'd already gone over. Thank God the Viennese had the Neues Wiener Tageblatt. Newspapers aside, our two societies have much that is alike: But for prestige, the endless quest for distraction of today is not unlike that dream of culture and philosophical musings into which many of the late Hapsburg Viennese let themselves slip. And they were standing directly over the abyss! The complete dissolution of their empire. What was once an unshakable reality within the consciousness of the international community, is now almost totally forgotten. It makes you question: how close are we?

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