Citation: “Remembering the Spruce Goose: Historicism, Postmodernism, Romanticism.” South Atlantic Quarterly 102 (2003): 263-78.

Excerpt from beginning of essay (pages 263-64)
We enter the great, white dome and gather in the reception theater. Computer-coordinated slide projectors whir to life to tell us in a rapid montage of images and voices the Story. “A success story, a driving power, a dynamic tycoon, the envy of Wall Street, a world-record-breaking pilot, the toast of the nation: a man who could make things happen,” the voices recite. “Who was this man? Howard Hughes. His mission: to build the world’s largest airplane. . . .”
      The story draws to a close; the screen rises slowly; we walk through the space of the screen to see—alone in its black, reflecting pool—the Plane.


Whether we read Baudrillard on Disneyland, Jameson on the Hotel Bonaventure, Lyotard on the “Pacific Wall,” or Virilio on Howard Hughes, we know that Southern California—more broadly, the North American Pacific Rim—has become the commonplace of the postmodern world. Installed all along the arc that runs up from La Jolla through Anaheim, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Bill Gate’s or David Lynch’s Washington, to William Gibson’s Vancouver are the topoi—small as a microchip or large as the LA sprawl—of the postmodern dystopia. This dystopia appears variously on phenomenal, psychosexual, On our way to the plane, we are distracted by the exhibits scattered across the dome floor. Here is the original mock-up of the Spruce Goose cockpit, in which the sign tells us Hughes “spent more time . . . than in the actual . . . cockpit.” Next is an “authentic Sherman tank” rolling out of a dummy version of the plane’s front bay doors. (p. 266)socioeconomic, and other planes as the society of “simulation,” “hyperreality,” “hyperspace,” “depthless surface,” “cyborg couplings,” “flexible accumulation,” “schizophrenia,” “speed,” and so on. Perhaps most fabulously, it appears on the historical plane as “the end of history”—as the fabled new world order, that is, where the completion of history’s work rewards us with a leisure of pure representations of history modeling the past (in Jameson’s words) “as fashion-plate images that entertain no determinable ideological relationship to other moments of time.” Postmodern buildings thus wear facades of history, postmodern cities fill with gentrified Old Townes or Retro-Malls, postmodern TV goes Nick-at-Nite, and everywhere on the LA dial we hear Oldies Rock. As Baudrillard says in his 1985 essay “The Year 2000 Has Already Happened,” “history itself is or was only an immense model of simulation.”

I wish here to install in the postmodern canon yet another Pacific Rim commonplace. But I do so to challenge the very theory of the commonplace that underlies postmodern thought. . . .