The Deaths of the 20th Century
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These are heady days to be an obituary writer. Ever since America's best-known critic, Susan Sontag, died in late December, there's been a startling slew of Important Deaths. The greatest talk-show host, Johnny Carson. The most famous playwright, Arthur Miller. The most gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The most legendary diplomat, George F. Kennan. The most lavishly celebrated novelist, Saul Bellow. The most career-savvy (and politically reprehensible) architect, Philip Johnson. The most irrelevant monarch, Prince Rainier. Not to mention the most infallible pope - at least until the next one. So many big names have passed away so quickly that people have taken to joking about it. When The Daily Show flashed an image of Fidel Castro honoring John Paul II, Jon Stewart's comment was, "He's next."
If the new century began for most of us on September 11, 2001, the 20th century may well finally have ended with all these high-profile funerals. One by one, the individuals who defined the last sixty years of American culture have been vanishing from the landscape. And this sudden sense of an ending has been reinforced by the equally abrupt disappearance of the men who once read us the headlines about our national life: Brokaw is retired, Rather was chased from his chair, Jennings has lung cancer and Koppel is calling it quits at ABC. Small wonder that you now hear yearning for the supposedly good old days when the anchorman was a colossus. George Clooney is even directing a movie about Edward R. Murrow.
Predictably, the loss of so many celebrated touchstones has set off an epidemic of Cultural Declinism. You know the drill. None of today's diplomats is as worldly as the mandarin Kennan. None of today's late-night hosts boasts Johnny's immaculate poise. None of today's playwrights equals the towering Miller (he even married Marilyn Monroe, for crying out loud). None of today's journalists matches the gleeful fear and loathing of Thompson. And naturally, none of today's novelists can match Bellow's exuberant blend of high and low, the references to Heraclitus and the streetwise similes born in Chicago, that somber city. Ah, back then there were giants!
John Powers, no LA Weekly, via Arts & Letters Daily (sempre).
Postado por Julio Daio Borges
28/4/2005 às 17h35
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