World Between Quotes

ANDREI CODRESCU

July 12, 1993|By ANDREI CODRESCU

New Orleans. -- It seems to me that the older I get the more I see public events as occurring between quotation marks. Especially televised ones. I always knew that official pageantry was fake but I had no idea -- until Romania in 1989 and the Persian Gulf War -- that revolutions and wars can be too.

I remember watching May Day parades in Romania when I was a child and thinking that everything I saw, the marching bands, the enbalmed officials on the rostrum, the shouted slogans, were fake. The real thing, the one outside quotes, was our picnic on the lake that followed the official display.

After seeing the riots in Moscow on May Day, I realized what the quotation marks were for: to contain the disorder that was always present outside. Everything that is carefully arranged within a framework, ideological, aesthetic or typographical, is bound to explode and bleed into the unruly real world.

As we approach the end of the millennium, more and more of our ceremonies, rituals and beliefs will leave the safety of their quotation marks and wreak unpredictable havoc. Millennial bumper stickers on cars proclaim that ''In Case of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned.'' The ''rapture'' is for certain religious fundamentalists the moment when they will be sucked up into heaven by Jesus in advance of his second coming.

The rapture is also that obscure feeling that a great many ways by which we keep ourselves bound will burst and we'll be outside without warning. My generation lived for 40 years under the atomic umbrella, but that's shredded now and the unpredictable skies are visible once more.

The change, from a relatively produced world to one that will look like a syntactically uncanny sentence by Dada master Tristan Tzara, will be cataclysmic and sudden.

Unless it will be framed by fireworks and greeted by bands. Many people must already be occupied in producing the pageantry of the millennium. New, fancy quotation marks may be ready in the bowels of circuitry to frame our millennial anxieties. It's possible. The only thing still unpredictable is the weather. Big winds can't be quoted.

Andrei Codrescu is the editor of Exquisite Corpse.

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