One of the cultural pleasures — yes, cultural pleasures, I say — of living in Las Vegas is that it allows one to get
in touch, imaginatively and sensually, with other delirious places in other delirious times . . .
. . such as, for example, the Paris of the Second Empire, when that
great city tried to distract itself, and the world, from the coming
rule of finance and industry with a mad whirl of elegant frivolity, all
set to the ironically careless music of Offenbach.
the great features of the Second Empire (1852-1870) were the
spectacular international expositions that drew the world to Paris and
beguiled it with magical visions of exotic places and an even more
exotic future in which technology would harmonize and elevate all the
peoples of the planet.
|© 2006 Paul Kolnik|
cannot fail to see echoes of the legendary pavilions of these
expositions in the phantasmagorical resorts that now gleam
preposterously on the Las Vegas Strip. We even have here a replica of
the Eiffel Tower, a surviving relic from one of those expositions in
the 19th Century’s City Of Light. (The Tower dates from a later time
than the Second Empire but epitomizes the wonders of cast-iron
construction that so dazzled the Second Empire with its fantastical
too, we can feel precisely the mood of visitors to the Prater, the
fabulous playground of pre-WWI Vienna — a place where shopgirls and
hussars gathered for elegant gaiety on the eve of apocalypse . . . the
weight of the old world’s doom only adding to the lyrical charm and
dazzling enchantment of the old world’s last sweet celebration of pure,
of this poignant moment in time can be found in art, of course — in
Viennese operetta and most explicitly in the visions of Old Vienna
conjured up in the films of Erich Von Stroheim. But in Las Vegas today
you can experience it for yourself.
Writers always look for darkness in Las Vegas — an example of literary and intellectual irony, I suppose, since Las Vegas
is an empire of light. But it is also an empire of lightness, of silliness, of carefree release.
emptiness of the surrounding desert is keenly felt here — a perfect
image of the disintegration of humane life and vital culture in the
world at large. The dark revelations of Las Vegas’s conventional
literary observers are entirely redundant, banal and obvious. The Luxor
resort is a pleasure palace built in the form of an ancient tomb.
Grant’s final resting place is faithfully reproduced at the New York
New York casino. Las Vegas knows what it is about and needs no
reminders from emissaries dispatched by the old, dying culture to
|© 2006 Paul Kolnik|
as on the Boulevard des Italiens in Offenbach’ time, as at the Prater
in the time of Von Stroheim’s youth, people congregate heroically to
remind themselves that the sweet, silly, ephemeral pleasures of life
will survive the collapse of civilizations and the ossification of
Here, as on Offenbach’s stages, as on the Prater’s carousels, “everything turns, everything dances . . .”