Our Dumb Century: Reports from the frontiers of history - World's largest metaphor hits ice-berg 1,500 dead in symbolic

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The Independent Online
New York, April 15 - Officials of the White Star Line have confirmed the sinking, during her maiden voyage, of the R.M.S. Titanic, the world's largest symbol of man's mortality and vulnerability. First reports of the calamity were received Monday at the London telegraph office of the White Star Line, which owns the nautical archetype.

MESSAGE FROM CARPATHIA

At 4:23 a.m. Greenwich Standard Time, the following message was received from the rescue ship Carpathia:

TITANIC STRUCK BY ICY REPRESENTATION OF NATURE'S SUPREMACY STOP INSUFFICIENT LIFEBOATS DUE TO POMPOUS CERTAINTY IN MAN'S INFALLIBILITY STOP MICROCOSM OF LARGER SOCIETY STOP

INDIFFERENCE

It is believed at this time that upwards of 1,500 passengers aboard the metaphor may have perished in the imperturbable liquid immensity that, irrespective of mankind's self-congratulatory "progress," blankets most of the globe in its awful dark silence. Seven hundred more passengers survived to objectify human insignificance in the face of the colossal placidity of the universe.

Among the prominent passengers ironically missing and believed perished are New York millionaire John Jacob Astor, mining tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim, rail road president Charles Melville Hays, and presidential military aide Major Archibald Butt, providing further example of man's inability to cavort with God, no matter how wealthy or powerful he may be, as well as the vast indifference of the universe toward even the grandest of human achievement. Late word indicates, however, that the well-to-do and the privileged constitute a great majority of the living. It could not yet be determined whether this betokens a form of maritime social Darwinism or a particularly overt form of social injustice.

IRONY

Although unconfirmed as of press-time, it is rumored that the Titanic was proceeding at a rapid pace through ice-berg-laden waters in order that her captain might flaunt the ship's great speed, making all the more ironic the demise of this paramount symbol of man's hubris.

An architect from the firm of Harland & Wolff, which constructed the great metaphor, was stunned and aggrieved by the significance of the tragic event.

"I spent the better part of two years re-drawing the marble on the grand staircase at the first-class entrance until it represented absolutely the right dimensions for showing off the daintily luxurious evening-wear of the wives of the industrial millionaires. Now that staircase will provide an entrance only for the plankton, moss, and other marine life that inhabits the frigid North Atlantic seabed. I dare say that is ironic."

HYPERBOLE

"Let us take a step back from the horror of the tragedy," said Lord Peter Hothcrofte, a British naval historian, "and view it in terms of its grander significance. Simply put, the Titanic was more than a gigantic crystallization of the accumulated triumphs of 200 years of Western industrialization wedded to the firm but icy hand of Science triumphant. It was a ship larger than any ship need be, which therefore also makes it somewhat of a hyperbole."

`Our Dumb Century', edited by Scott Dikkers, published on 23 July by Boxtree, pounds 9.99

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