Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Manhattan '45 : Janus year (on the Janus campus) in the Janus city

Ah, yes the year 1945 : it was the best of times , it was the worst of times.

It just all very much depended on who you chose to listen to.

To the many boosters of the baby-killing/war-ending Manhattan Project (like its leader General Leslie Groves) the year had given America the potential for global mass nuclear destruction 'too cheap to meter' : a future so bright that the world's morticians would have to wear shades.

Big Science, Big Modern Science had won the war against barbarians from the pre-scientific Dark Ages. The war's successful conclusion suggested that 1945 might just be the apogee of Modernity, all its centuries of promises finally fulfilled.

But to Theodor Adorno, Hiroshima, the Katyn Forest and Auschwitz were but the signs of the inevitable collective fall of Modernity and of the Enlightenment, no matter what varied ideological flag the mods had chosen to masquerade under.

(Cue 1945 as the nadir of Modernity and the birth year of post-Modernity.)

Indeed the tiny island of Manhattan, the former wartime home of both Groves and Adorno, had much to contribute to the global dialectic stew that year.

For the Manhattan nuclear Project seemed fully capable of delivering death to the globe at wholesale rates, promising to ensure hundreds of millions or more dead at the push of a red button.

Meanwhile, Manhattan's (natural) penicillin Project had just as dramatically brought the promise of a normal life of three score and ten to hundreds of millions or more who might otherwise expect to die prematurely from bacterial infections.

So if Manhattan's blast, heat and radiation didn't get you, its naturally brewed penicillin just might save you.

And all this happened (nuclear weapons, Adorno's musings, natural penicillin) on the Janus like campus of Columbia University in that eternally Janus like city of Manhattan in the Janus like year of 1945.

Okay, Hollywood fiction meisters, do you think you can top that ?

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