(New Yorker) Daniel Mendelsohn—Unsinkable: Why we can’t let go of the Titanic
Toward the end of “A Night to Remember,” Walter Lord briefly nodded to “the element of fate” in the story, which teases its audience with a sense at once of inevitability and of how easily things might have turned out differently. It is, he says, like “classic Greek tragedy.”
He was right. All the energy spent on the mechanics, the romance, the construction, the passenger list, the endless debates about what the Californian might have done and just how many people perished (still never resolved) has distracted from what may, in the end, be the most obvious thing about the Titanic’s story: it uncannily replicates the structure and the themes of our most fundamental myths and oldest tragedies. Like Iphigenia, the Titanic is a beautiful “maiden” sacrificed to the agendas of greedy men eager to set sail; the forty-six-thousand-ton liner is just the latest in a long line of lovely girl victims, an archetype of vulnerable femininity that stands at the core of the Western literary tradition.
But the Titanic embodies another strain of tragedy. This is the drama of a flawed and self-destructive hero, a protagonist of great achievements and overweening presumption....
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Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:00 am
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1. David Wilson wrote:
A fascinating, gripping, well written piece. The NYT at it’s best, something that hardly occurs anymore from that venerated newspaper
April 10, 8:15 am | [comment link]
2. Stefano wrote:
I assume your being sarcastic since the piece came from the ‘New Yorker’, a magazine and not the ‘New York Times’ a newspaper although not much venerated or read of late.
April 11, 12:07 am | [comment link]
3. Stefano wrote:
‘you’re’ of course
April 11, 12:09 am | [comment link]
4. David Wilson wrote:
LOL, My bad! I instinctively read NYT not New Yorker. Now that does explain why it was so good.
April 11, 12:19 am | [comment link]
5. Kendall Harmon wrote:
One of the really interesting sections, I think, is the one on the Californian:
April 14, 5:38 pm | [comment link]
The other was the Californian, a small steamer that had stopped about ten miles from the Titanic—unlike the doomed ship, it had heeded the ice warnings—and sat there all through that terrible night, disregarding the Titanic’s frantic signalling, by wireless, Morse lamp, and, finally, rockets. Not all of this was as inexplicable as it seems: the Californian didn’t have a nighttime wireless operator. (All passenger ships were subsequently required by law to have round-the-clock wireless.) But no one has ever sufficiently explained why the Californian’s captain, officers, and crew failed to respond to what seemed like obvious signs of distress. The second officer merely thought it strange that a ship would be firing rockets at night. If Lord had been given to large interpretations, he might have seen in the one ship a symbol of the urgent force of human striving and, in the other, the immovable resistance of sheer stupidity.
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