|Attempting to get the big picture
of the modern period into some focus, we have had to cope with two changes
(or paradigm shifts). I have done my best to describe these in class. The
first shift is away from the world represented by the Virgin and begins
with the scientific discoveries of Galileo and Newton (among others). The
cosmos of Mary, like many other archaic world pictures, was similar to
a rose, layer nested within layer, each ring of the heavens revolving around
the earth. After the shift of 1600, the universe might be better understood
as a machine, cog within cog, revolving around the sun and subject to physical
forces, not divine powers. A second shift occurs around 1900, when the
world of visible forces, like gravity, friction; resistance, momentum gives
way to the invisible forces of x-rays, gamma rays, and photons. Adams responding
to this shift writes, "In these seven years man had translated himself
into a new universe which had no common scale of measurement with the old.
He had entered a supersensual world, in which he could measure nothing
except by chance collisions of movements imperceptible to his instruments
... Langley seemed prepared for anything, even for an indeterminable number
of universes interfused --physics stark mad in metaphysics. (381-82)
Bricks, mortar, machines are not symbols until they become associated
with something like "mystical powers." We need a definition of a symbol.
Try this one: A symbol is a sign that stands for something else. The symbol
or mark is not itself that for which stands. Instead the symbol calls up
associations and feelings for something that is absent, other, profound
or mystical. It is in this sense that both the "dynamo" and the Virgin"
are symbols. They stand for forces with the power to shape the destiny
of humanity. The forces may not be comparable in any usual sense. It is
only because of their overwhelming magnitude that Adams chooses to compare
them. The differences between these forces is probably more significant
than their similarities. That is why Adams brings up the matter of sex
in the sense of the life force or reproductive force. The Virgin channeled
this force differently than a pagan goddess like Venus; technology, on
the other hand, seems to Adams to have never understood or admitted the
power of sex. He writes, "American art, like the American language and
American education was sexless" (385). Instead, when Americans, sought
a sought a symbol of force or power, they thought of horses. We still use
horse power as a measure of force. To Adams's sensibility the appeal of
the the Virgin is different. It is to the heart. For Adams's generation
it was difficult to respond honestly to the force of sex as represented
by the Virgin. He writes, "An American Virgin would never dare command
; an American Venus would never dare exist (385). Adams himself is put
off by the power of sexuality as manifest by his reaction to the sculptures
of Rodin. He disparages "the monthly-magazine-made American female" and
he would undoubtedly be shocked at contemporary attitudes towards sexuality.
In comparison to Adams, you are in a much better position to evaluate the
relation between sexuality and technology in the modern world. Our media
is a descendant of the magazines he referred to in the passage just quoted.
He might though give us some guidance on the relation between technology
and either science or religion.
In the simplest possible terms: the separation of science and religion
threatens destruction and dehumanization. This was a common theme in Adams's
time; it has been wide-spread them for much of the twentieth century. It
still holds attraction for many insecure individuals today (like those
attracted to cults). Metropolis,
for instance, remains popular because of the way in which it dramatizes
the effects of a split between science and relgion. Yet, for all
of its superficial usage of Christian symbolism, Metropolis may
appeal more profoundly to a collective death wish, for a hunger to destroy
that which dehumanizes the individual. Of course, civilized people do not
admit to such a frenzy, but Adams does have a view of the abyss that in
his life time had openned between religion and science. Nietzsche had already
written that god was dead (§).
Marx had already illustrated the destructive tendencies of global capitalism
and Frederick Winslow Taylor had introduced a science of management that
analyzed the man-machine interface(‡).
Adams is then frightened that humankind is not well educated for its future.
He feels small and insignificant in this new universe. Individuality is
at risk and human values, as he understands them, have lost contact with
the symbols that turned emotional energy into productive force. His view
is more complex and also much more negative than that expressed in Metropolis.
Do you think that science is the enemy? that religion is a guide? These
are are questions for you to contemplate over the course of the semester.
||For your amusement, I offer you the refrain from "Lets
Pretend We're Dead". The attitude of the female punk rock group L7
contrasts with much of what we hear in popular music today. One line that
I heard on the radio recently goes something like, "give up on individuality."
I think there is some hard-won knowledge in this line.