History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
– Karl Marx
My parents are on their annual cruise, this time the Mediterranean. They disembark from Nice France, making their way to Naples Italy, then Greece. “They’ll probably have you visit Pompeii,” I said to my mom. “What’s that?” she said, stuffing $40 dollars worth of fruit into a juicer. “Where an entire city got buried in ash, thanks,” I said with a new smoothie in hand. In about two weeks, when they come back, my mom will call me on the phone (while I’m at work) with an exhausting account — she’s been known to take notes — of all of my dad’s cultural, personal, and moral transgressions. “Sure,” I’ll say, in response to accompanying her — who vowed, again, never to step on a ship with my dad, ever again — next year to the cruise. I’ll internally dread going, as I dread most things on the horizon, where I imagine burning bodies and a cable bill. This is my life.
In 79 AD, the city of of Pompeii was buried under 20 ft. of ash after Mt. Vesuvius erupted, spewing molten rock at 1.5 million tons per second and releasing 100,000x the thermal energy (680 °F) of Hiroshima. Though the fleeing bodies deteriorated, hollow casts of ash formed around them, leaving behind their exact positions. Most endearing are the mangled dogs with their upturned feet twisted as pretzels. “An artist should stay for long periods of time at exploding volcanoes,” says Marina Abramović in her absurd manifesto, who started the whole hanging out at the MoMA for too long thing. The Maybe (Tilda Swinton, 2013) may be a play on words. Maybe she’s sleeping, maybe not; maybe she’ll be there that day, maybe not. Postmodernism may be the ultimate democratization of art, as in everyone gets to play along; or, it may be the opposite, as in you’re left on the outside for good. Sleep becomes an act in itself, as spectators — who likely ignored their partners asleep next to them that morning — embrace this public voyeurism in a kind of highbrow choreographed TMZ celebrity sighting.
Marx was right about most things, but not for turning down that Gillette endorsement. I imagine an ad in which he finally shaves off that cumbersome beard. “Das right,” he’ll smile. It’ll cost you $25 dollars to get inside the MoMa, unless you’re under 16, which makes it the go-to place for pedophiles. I imagine a Richard Serra sculpture finally crushing a fan, the audio-tour machine going bzzzerk. When archeologists look back on us, digging up info with tweezers not trowels in abandoned server rooms, may they find us in similar positions. Those who curl up in bed are just miming their discovery thousands of years later; those who drool, french kissing their rooms; and those whose eyes never open again have died the most ideal death. If we are in a farcical stage, I even play along with my feelings. “Sure,” I say, “but please don’t comment on my drinking.” I plan to get wasted while she dances by herself in the ballroom. Life is only sad if someone takes a picture. We’ll sleep in separate beds, in the same way.