Presence and prescience

To follow up on the topic of history and freedom, check out Octavio Paz’s Nobel Acceptance Speech. A typically brilliant, brief overview of the history of the idea of history, with some of the implications for politics and literature spelled out in a fairly prescient manner (as it now appears 14 years later). He says, among things,

“Ours is the first age that is ready to live without a metahistorical doctrine; whether they be religious or philosophical, moral or aesthetic, our absolutes are not collective but private. It is a dangerous experience. It is also impossible to know whether the tensions and conflicts unleashed in this privatization of ideas, practices and beliefs that belonged traditionally to the public domain will not end up by destroying the social fabric. Men could then become possessed once more by ancient religious fury or by fanatical nationalism. It would be terrible if the fall of the abstract idol of ideology were to foreshadow the resurrection of the buried passions of tribes, sects and churches. The signs, unfortunately, are disturbing.”

And here’s an excerpt from the concluding paragraphs:

“Reflecting on the now does not imply relinquishing the future or forgetting the past: the present is the meeting place for the three directions of time. Neither can it be confused with facile hedonism. The tree of pleasure does not grow in the past or in the future but at this very moment. Yet death is also a fruit of the present. It cannot be rejected, for it is part of life. Living well implies dying well. We have to learn how to look death in the face. The present is alternatively luminous and sombre, like a sphere that unites the two halves of action and contemplation. Thus, just as we have had philosophies of the past and of the future, of eternity and of the void, tomorrow we shall have a philosophy of the present. The poetic experience could be one of its foundations. What do we know about the present? Nothing or almost nothing. Yet the poets do know one thing: the present is the source of presences.”

– Octavio Paz, “In Search of the Present,” 1990 Nobel Acceptance Speech

(N.B: I found the link while roaming through the Borgesian labyrinth of Stephen Cullinane’s blog, Log24.net.)

Afterthought: Reading this over from the top down, I see that I have allowed Paz to steal my thunder. By the time readers slog through to the end of my own disquisition on time and narrative, they’re likely to feel an acute sense of deja vu warmed over! But so what? The synchronicity of discovering Paz’s thoughts on this subject (on a site devoted in part to the celebration of synchronicity) right after fleshing out my own sends a shiver down my spine. Maybe there really is something to this “whole lotta nothin’!” Words aren’t just words, words have something to say. (Quoting someone here, can’t remember who.)

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