The following is a bare-bones working out of an idea—intended more as suggestive than anything else. But I thought I’d throw it out to see if it strikes a chord anywhere.
“One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan — or at least from certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn to certain parts of Manhattan.” That’s the first line of Norman Podhoretz’s 1967 memoir, Making It, and it remarkably encapsulates a certain characteristic mixture of fear and desire that one finds in much of the literature of twentieth-century Jewish assimilation: a desire that the struggle for assimilation be (seen as) heroic, as heroic as the European version; a fear that penetrating the inner sanctums of country clubs or Ivy League colleges neither promised an equal triumph nor threatened an equal tragedy as the travails of the upwardly mobile European Jewish bourgeoisie.
Gaining entrance to the temples of WASPdom was nice—an achievement—but was it maybe as petty an accomplishment as the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan? How could it compare to the characters of Proust’s Swann or the (equivocally Jewish) Melmotte of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now? How could the slight of being blackballed measure up to the Dreyfus affair? What was a young man from CUNY to think about his misfortunes when he read Isaac Babel or Franz Kafka? For those of a self-dramatizing bent (such as Podhoretz), these were real questions, searing in their irritation. Continue reading
Matthew D. Tribbe, No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 276 pages.
Reviewed by Drew Maciag
Matthew Tribbe’s engaging and highly readable No Requiem for the Space Age tells two interconnected stories in parallel. The tangible tale in the foreground is about NASA’s mission to beat Soviet cosmonauts to the moon and the subsequent winding down of that ambitious program; the less-tangible drama in the background (the one that will be of greater interest to intellectual/cultural historians) concerns the climax and ultimate decline of America’s faith in techno-rationality. By the time Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific in 1969, the modernization ideal that had been so ascendant just a few years earlier when John F. Kennedy launched the “space race” had already been undermined by its fallibility in the face of racism, poverty, alienation, injustice, pollution, and war—among other earthly considerations.