Sunday, June 1, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 229: Gilbert Seldes, Transatlantic (#229)

Gilbert Seldes, "Transatlantic" (1927) from Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight:

Due to server issues, Library of America's weekly entry wasn't available until Monday--but I'm going to backdate this to Sunday because I can.

Luckily, or unluckily, this short essay isn't entirely worth the wait. It's just four pages of Gilbert Seldes talking about the teams trying to cross the Atlantic; and how flight is and isn't an aesthetic act. What's curious is that Seldes doesn't fit easily in the cliche of the anti-mechanical/anti-futurist or the pro-technology. He's definitely into aesthetics and the romance of the individual American, like Lindbergh; so when he says
...the rough-rider is outmoded, and we are all mechanics now.
It can seem, reasonably, like one of those "oh, it's so sad that we're not all knights now that we have suburbs." And, as a native son of Long Island, I find it hilarious when he notes how ugly the mass-produced homes are out there. But his position is a little more nuanced overall, if still a little overly melancholy for some lost aesthetic past.

What's nuanced about his take is that airplanes, in the 1920s, fall in the middle of the Venn diagram of "art" and "mechanics." The planes trying to cross the Atlantic may be unique, but Seldes is more interested in and more impressed by the mass-produced planes that are used for purely commercial reasons. That might seem like an odd statement for a guy who just slagged suburban construction, but the important difference for Seldes is that, OMG, flying is awesome! Funny how you can have your set of aesthetic principles and then bend them enough to fit in the thing that you really like.

And I speak as someone who has been there.

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