Friday, June 5, 2009

interests converge

Many of my current interests converge on the cover of this week's New Yorker:

Air travel, ecology, post-apocalyptic imagery, book reading versus the new media technologies...this illustration serves as a cipher for a host of anxieties and consolations around the contemporary moment. There is a wish for aliens; but also a wish for them to be like us. There is a desire to see ecological recovery at the expense of human civilization—and a desire to see this from a removed, as if neutral perspective. Nostalgia for the old, tattered book depends on a pile of rubble in the form of the new media technologies (screens, keyboards, cell phones, e-book readers).

The New Yorker cover presents a modern take on Shelley's "Ozymandias": a story of ruin rendered in bright colors, positing annihilation in order to preserve an old form of reading (this is, after all, the summer fiction issue). Instead of the mise-en-abyme of first-person speakers who we meet in Shelley's sonnet, in this illustration we get to see the lonely reader at work—and he looks happy, his spaceship hovering nearby. To rephrase Wallace Stevens: the reader became the book, and the post-apocalyptic day was like the conscious being of the book.