Monday, May 30, 2011

More Loose Thoughts on Projections of Power

I offered the other day some idle musings on "projections of power" and the diminutions thereof in a digital world.  Herewith a couple of loose ends.

One, I listed the bank, the opera house, the post office, the great pyramid.   I knew there were many more, but I realize now that I overlooked what must  be the greatest of all projections of power: currency, and in particular coinage.   It seems that as a matter of history, the first thing a sovereign did when he got control of the money supply was to put his face on it, as if to say "And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark! " By comparison, I think it is interesting to note that classic "merchant" currency--bills of exchange, letters of credit, your checkbook--do not bear projections of sovereign power, as if to remind folks that they speak for a web of relationships that transcend sovereign power.

Two, I'm just now catching up with the story that the New York City Opera is making plans to abandon its established venue at Lincoln Center, which is to say, under the shadow of the much grander, more prestgeous, more solvent neighbor, the Met. Makes all the sense in the world: I've enjoyed a number of happy hours at the NYCO, but it's always seems strange to patronize an enterprise whose very being bespeaks the fact that it is second best, an also ran. How did they ever get in such a pickle?

No wait, maybe I have an answer to that question. Could it be that the NYCO's second-tier presence was part of the plan, so as to enhance the pleasure and satisfaction of the Met audience by allowing them to disport themselves in the presence of their inferiors?   I read lately of a prostitute's John who said that if the girl enjoyed it, he felt cheated: he had paid her for his pleasure, after all, and if she too took pleasure, wasn't he paying her twice?  What, after all, is superiority all about, unless you are envied and/or admired? I think it was Jonathan Winters who said there ought to be a point in first-class air travel where they ring a little bell and the first-class passengers get to go back and do anything they want to the passengers in coach. And remember Tertullian:

...that eternal Day of Judgement, that day they laughed at, when this old world and all its generations shall be consumed in one fire. How vast the spectacle that day, and how wide! What sight shall wake my wonder, what laughter, my joy and exultation? As I see those kings, those great kings, welcomed (we are told) in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness! And the magistrates who persecuted the name of Jesus, liquefying in fiercer flames than they kindled in their rage against Christians!
--Tertullian, De Spectaculis, XXX

Now that, as Jonathan Winters might have said, is first class.

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