In the California Summer, Van Gogh Meets General Motors

On an evening walk with my camara I saw a vintage, baby blue truck with a baby blue “Starry Night” sunscreen.

It’s an odd combination: high art mass produced for casual visual consumption, and perhaps purchased at a museum store, contrasted with blue-collar Detroit truck production nostalgia.

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is electric with swirling Dionysian energy, almost threatening. One half-expects lightening to come crackling out of the sky and hit the church steeple.

The truck, by contrast, is an armored Apollonian metal object, with no visual variation in its hood of china blue–as if it is the calm pool of a yoga meditator. 

The car is valued precisely for its shiny illusion of permanence–of seeming to freeze time and memory, and evoke calm. But the Van Gogh image is also there. “Starry Night” reminds us that time moves, and that we can not wholly live in the past.

Van Gogh and the truck are in Dionysian-Apollonian tension with one another. Change and a nostalgia for permanence are at odds. This is Jacob wrestling the angel, and Enkidu wrestling Gilgamesh deep into the California night.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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