Floasting Backward In Time

ANDREI CODRESCU

March 23, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

These days are filled with both pathos and silliness, tragedy and comedy, and nothing says it better than the two cosmonauts floating up there in space above their vanished country.

There they have floated, in the borderless cosmos above our gridded land, eating powders and chewing pills, while the Soviet Union has disappeared from under them, and with it, their raison d'etre. The Soviet Union had sent them up there as representatives of the religion of hope that was the official faith for all its existence.

The U.S.S.R. was set up as a hope factory whose main product was the future, a future prayed, sloganed, pushed, symbolized and represented with all the available energy. The space program with its picture-books cosmonauts was the foremost expression of that future.

Toward the end though, the energy needed to run the propaganda of hope ran out, like everything else, and the cosmonauts remained stranded in the future. In the end, it turned out, nobody cared about the future. The present, with its urgent cries for potatoes and bones, extinguished the ether of utopia.

And the cosmonauts, alone up there, have little reason to return to the present: Their jobs are nearly gone, their salaries won't buy them solid food, the machinery of enthusiasm has been dismantled and the reality whose symbols they were is no more.

They will now join that vast store of symbols without reality which is the ex-U.S.S.R.'s greatest commodity: the heads of Lenin (billions of them), statues of workers and peasants, dusty sickles and hammers, pins, buttons, medals and singing soldiers on dusty LPs.

The future, of course, was not the exclusive concern of the U.S.S.R. For reasons of synchronicity the United States also concocted a rosy future in space that is only nostalgic now.

Speaking of that glorious future that is now past, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, said: ''When they get around to doing geriatric study . . . I'd like to go up again.`

Makes you wonder where all that future went.

Andrei Codrescu wrote this listening to David Bowie sing: ''Major Tom . . . to ground control . . .''

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