Conclusion Historical Necessity and the Modernist Epic

  • Daniel Gabriel


The Tunnel” in fact predicates an ultimate, or penultimate, moment in the drama of historical necessity. It practically ends this drama, for history has essentially overcome myth and religion in the vexing momentum of the subway’s Daemon. Only “Atlantis” as epilogue can attempt to resist necessity; and only necessity, for history itself cannot be escaped. It does so, principally, through its towering sublime, the key to the defense against necessity—but only through a series of critical contradictions. The optimism of Crane’s sublime wavers in the problems of Atlantis’s legacy, for that legacy speaks of decline—a dying civilization reminiscent of The Waste Land’s litany of falling world capitals.1 Crane may have been drawn to Plato’s rendition of the Atlantis myth in the Timaeus and Critias. According to Plato, Atlantis was blessed by fertile land, and had constructed a great city, including bridges. Its citizens were wealthy, but modestly so, maintaining “a certain greatness of mind” (Critias 145) and an obedience to their spiritual part. Then calamity struck:

But when the divine element in them became weakened by frequent admixture with mortal stock, and their human traits became predominant, they ceased to be able to carry their prosperity to moderation. To the perceptive eye the depth of their degeneration was clear enough, but to those whose judgement of true happiness is defective they seemed, in their pursuit of unbridled ambition and power, to be at the height of their fame and fortune.


Fertile Land Empty Time Historical Necessity True Happiness North American Literature 
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© Daniel Gabriel 2007

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  • Daniel Gabriel

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