Correspondence

Leonardo's Flying Machine

This is probably my last letter from Florence, and I must say that it is with somewhat mixed feelings that I turn my back on the treasury of the Renaissance. Oh, sure, I tried to like living here. I tried it the way the French writer Andre Gide tried to like living in Stalin's Moscow, reasonably confident that he would not have to live there forever, but nonetheless winding up his stay with a dirty rotten slanderous expose. In his case, if memory serves, revelation came at the sight of a fellow's badly mangled fingers which, he suddenly realized, had been crushed in the vice of doctrine. In my case, it was the umpteenth glimpse, in a souvenir-shop window, of Leonardo's flying machine, coupled with the sudden realization that the damn thing didn't fly.

Is there anyone out there who has not, at one time or another in the course of a wretched life poisoned by Enlightenment myths, looked with cowardly reverence at that absurd drawing? Medici's Florence and Stalin's Moscow have much in common. Both were designed for propaganda purposes, and each in its own way retains the power to intimidate the skeptic. It has taken me several months to see that the silly contraption didn't fly, never flew, and would probably be more likely to fly if it were designed by a lunatic on the run from a mental asylum, by a marauding Rumanian soldier the morning after he pilfered a substantial wine cellar, or by Fred Flintstone in...

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