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Are We On The Titanic Or The Olympic?

Olympic (left) returning to Belfast for repairs in March 1912, and Titanic (right). This was the last time the two sister ships would be seen together. (Robert John Welch/Wikimedia Commons)
Olympic (left) returning to Belfast for repairs in March 1912, and Titanic (right). This was the last time the two sister ships would be seen together. (Robert John Welch/Wikimedia Commons)

Are we on the Titanic or the Olympic? That’s the question New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik asks in his piece “Two Ships,” as he looks at the last time Western civilization went from ’13 to ’14.

Gopnik is re-visiting the turn from 1913 to 1914, to think about the turn from 2013 to 2014.

He writes that 1913 was “full of rumbling energy and matchless artistic accomplishment,” which included achievements for Cubism in art, Proust in literature and Stravinsky in music.

The year 1914 saw the assassination of the Archduke of Franz Ferdinand of Austria, setting in motion The Great War, which “left more than 10 million Europeans dead and a civilization in ruins, (and presaged a still worse war to come.)”

Gopnik says another disaster is associated with that time in our collective memory — the sinking of the Titanic just a year and a half before.

But the Titanic had a sister ship, the Olympic, a near-identical luxury ocean liner, which also set sail from Southampton for New York. Both were full of passengers and hubris, sure of themselves and their unsinkability. One made it through the icy waters while the other famously foundered.

Gopnik asks why we have forgotten the success of the Olympic, which came to be called “Old Reliable,” and if we can know which boat we are on as we sail into this new year.

Guest

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