Monday, July 20, 2009

May '68 and the moon landing

Last year's memorial events of May '68 have rarely paid attention to its connection with a development celebrated today, on the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, viz. space travel.

Big anniversaries of the first moon landing on 20 July 1969 always follow the anniversaries of the wave of student revolt known as "May '68". Last year, to my knowledge, none of the numerous write-ups on that outburst of anti-authoritarianism drew attention to the decisive influence of the incipient space age on the generation concerned. Yet few developments ever were more conducive to a questioning of all certainties.

Ever since the genesis of life on earth, heaven was above and earth below. Heaven was what you looked up to, earth what you put your feet on. The natural and ineluctable contrast between heaven and earth was the model for the contrast between man and woman, parents and children, rulers and their people. When people started travelling in space, this ancient model became a bit shaky. To be sure, Newton's physics had already demonstrated that the same natural laws apply to both the heavenly bodies and the earth; that indeed the earth is a celestial body too, as much as sun and moon and stars. But now this theoretical bridging of the abyss between heaven and earth was given physical reality. When a man put his foot on a celestial body the way we have been doing on the earth, he changed many people's sense of heaven and earth. It's only natural that at such a time, they started questioning the old established relations between man and woman, master and servant, parents and children.

The signs are that the May '68 anniversaries will fade out after the 50th, and wil not survive its last participants, while the first moon landing will continue to remain a landmark in human history of the same order as the invention of the wheel.


ajit664 said...

Dear KE,

Apologoes for the off topic mail,but a Hindu who only today found your blog,i wanted to thank you for all your years of scholarship which has enriched both me as a Hindu,and the Religion itself.Many Thanks again,and my i wish you continued good health and wishes with your internet and book writings.Best,Ajit.

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