The Critical Mass of Language: Post-Trinity Representation
To its viewers, the first atomic bomb test (codenamed "Trinity") appeared as not merely a dazzling, unprecedented leap forward in the history of science, not merely the swift, fiery eradication of all of their long-held fears and anxieties concerning the success of the project, but also a monumental event in the history of language (Thomas Farrell saw in it "that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately"). This article seeks to interrogate not only the poeticizing of the Trinity test by its architects and the subsequent revulsion toward the event felt by artists worldwide, but also the representational dilemma that the possibility of a "poetic" bomb creates: how can artistic representation of the invisible, the sublime, and the incomprehensible adapt itself to the new technological sublimity of the merciless, neutral variety that the bomb incarnates? The article addresses this question through a study of both nonliterary texts (eyewitness accounts) and literary representation (a reading of Richard Powers's The Time of Our Singing and William Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech). Its conclusion is that the bomb, pace the accounts of the Trinity eyewitnesses, in fact less suggests a variety of representation that renders all others insignificant (thus exempting it from moral, social, or spiritual concerns) than it insists upon the reimagining of older poetic tropes. Trinity, by suggesting an apocalyptic conflict between older modes of signification and the new "atomic poetics," in fact symbiotically relies upon the traditions from which it splits.
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