“- Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany, said Gabriel awkwardly
– And why do you go to France and Belgium, said Miss Ivors, instead of visiting your own land?
– Well, said Gabriel, it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.
– And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with – Irish? asked Miss Ivors.
– Well, said Gabriel, if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my language.”
(James Joyce, Dubliners, The Dead, The Portable James Joyce, Viking, 1947, p. 205)
And well, we’re all stuck between where we come from and where we to go. Well, some of us want to go where we come from. And others come from where they want to go. The difference is not material but it is the difference between artists, broadly speaking, and bastards, narrowly defined.
The nostalgic focus on the material, on solutions that are both clear-cut and that cut clearly into same and different. It is not so with the optimistic for whom push never comes to shove; there always remaining a difference, in principle. Never mind the issues we face in interpreting what is around us. What counts is that we will never and cannot ever have a final interpretation even if we always will have issues to face.
I know this is not clear. But it is what it is, and, well,clarity is clearly overrated. Clarity, like its great father, is dead. What survives is nostalgia for it and nostalgia is nothing else than an addiction to what’s no longer there. The question is how to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. History will always be like that: great promises that cannot be kept and disappointment that is as unavoidable as the risk of going overboard. The solution is balance.
What Gabriel wanted to say:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality, of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to lack.”
(ibid. p. 209.)
For an artist two things are unavoidable: being uneasy in her own generation and respecting the lack of zeal the preceding generation had for things that can’t but be resolved in a next generation. Two things are as unavoidable for a bastard: to feel at ease in his current generation because it will liberate the next generation from the lack of zeal that characterized the previous generation.
This is the sliding window of history and it has four movements instead of two. A two which has space only for majority and opposition, for consent and minority. The two that implies a constant struggle to synthesize as long as we have not yet achieved the ultimate liberating synthesis where there can only be consent. The two that implies the godly three.
What Gabriel actually said:
“A new generation is growing up in our midst, a generation actuated by new ideas and new principles. It is serious and enthusiastic for these new ideas and its enthusiasm, even when it is misdirected, is, I believe, in the main sincere. But we are living in a sceptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, hospitality, of kindly humour which belonged to an older day. Listening to-night to the names of all those great singers of the past it seemed to me, I must confess, that we were living in a less spacious age. Those days might, without exaggeration, be called spacious days: and if they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.”
(ibid. p. 221)
That was written about 100 years ago. 100 is divisible by 4 although ‘about 100’ is probably not as easily divided by ‘exactly 4’.
This is what happens: we get stuck in a certain mode, people find ways to express new things, there’s a violent addiction to the mode we are currently stuck in (and this addiction is the same as the fear to embrace a new mode), we move onto new modes based on the new things a previous generation has enabled us to express; we get stuck into this new mode.
Then we were stuck in mystical nationalism.
Now we are stuck in scientific nationalism.
The song of universalism has been sung. Universal songs have as a matter of fact taken over our hearts. Nevertheless, our current movement is the one where we, or what is the same: a majority of us, want to defend the particularity of peoples, out of fear of losing ourselves into the universality of all people. We know that it is not God that sets us apart so we look into numbers to set us apart; and we want our people to win with respect to other people, or what is the same: we are sure our people will lose if the other people are given a chance to win.
And numbers do willingly what we ask them to do: they tell us we’re better off on our own and that the problem, the blame can always be correlated with who isn’t with us. Statistics tell us everything we want to hear and nobody investigates the choosing of more objective reference classes; let alone the reference class of all the people that are.
There is no space in these days but there is also this: resistance to truth is futile, at least when that truth has been expressed. It has been expressed: we can all be in multiple reference classes and at the same time we are all part of the same inclusive reference class.