. . . a polemical piece written in the form of a letter to a friend by Jose Detras and presented here in its entirety. I came across the text in hard copy, the original, from the hand of a friend of mine from Madrid, who hand inherited the papers of Jose Detras’s friend Federico, who was found dead in a field in Granada, perhaps shot by some remnant of Los Franquistas, alive and well even today in the 21st Century; Federico was gay. Jose also having been dead gave my friend the freedom to pass the letter on to me, knowing that it would interest me, that I had use of it in my review, and that I would like to publish it–he did not phrase it in perhaps or maybe but in the certainty of a friend confident in his friendship, in ours. It was a summer in Madrid, over lunch–why anyone goes to Madrid in July is beyond me–I recall a friend Salvatore, from Palermo, who used to talk of how he just could not get baseball, doing a great comic buffo routine in his non-native English, and culminating how he could not grasp what the hell was going on on the field in baseball with everyone standing still, and then exclaiming how it was all of it behind me. He just did not get it. Again, here is the text of the letter in its entirety.
History is a river, history is an ocean with tides and currents, history is a cosmos expanding, not into something, but in itself as itself–there is no future place for history to pour itself into. All time is one; all history is one; we perceive history in ages, epochs, centuries, years, as we do time. Past, present and future are illusions, though, and no amount of delusion about them is going to make them scientific. Whether these metaphors are helpful or not, I am not going to decide. I will not herein entertain a definition of history and how it differs from historiography or historicism. History for all people infers recorded time. I posit this simplistic reference with historiography. Again, history is what happens irrespective of who writes history or if the history ever gets written or recorded in some other fashion. So, history may or may not be historiographic, but historiography is linked with history. History has a lot in common with archaeology, which means it cannot dispense with empirically derived conclusions if it is going to maintain the greatest possible veracity in its observations and conclusions, if it is going to maintain itself as good humanism, as a valid and viable expression of humanity as one of the humanities.
With respect for time and its passage in what we call history, let me say that there has never been any generation in our history–America’s history–more contempo-centric than this one. But again, even if there were other ages more contempo-centric than ours, it would not lessen how much so we are currently. The beam in my own eye does not remove the mote in my neighbors eye, or vice-versa. A corrective must be applied. We are in need of a revised vision of our Selves, our society and its position in the world, in history, in the continuum we imagine time to be.
Ours has become virtually the only time, but every age has some sense that its age is the best or the worst of all ages that have ever been. A sense of the past, a sense of proportion about the past has gone the way of believing that we can uncover the truth about things, or that there is a Truth, both transcendent and absolute. We no longer believe in the possibility of objectivity, therefore we only assert one subjectivity after another and another and so on in a petty pace of the solipsist spinning his wheels.
The thing about our age is that we also imagine we are the zenith of forever; that all future ages are dependent on us, and this has arisen simultaneously with a severing from all past contingencies or continuums. We are iconoclastic as we have never been before, while we each discover our own personal Sinai to ascend and descend, complete with each one of us carrying his own tablets, his own commandments.
A new intellectual hegemony has been won by those who have revised the past in order to justify their present, much the way Czar Ivan had chroniclers revise Russian history to justify the Romanov dynasty. This was not new then; it is not new now. Ignorance and degraded literacy has gone a long way to bolstering this tendency. Multiculturalism has not offended less in the ways of its own authoritarian models for reform.
Ignorance is literally to ignore, and no one ignores the past more than we do. There has been no generation in any age more in love with the moment now than ours. Even Whitman seemingly gives credence to this excessive American desire to own the present. Doesn’t he declare that there is no more time than now in Song of Myself. I don’t mean to belittle Whitman; Walt is not reinforcing tempo-centrism any more than Sylvia Plath was romanticizing suicide.
Ours has become the great displacement of the past, and in as much as we are the guardians of the future, we have made the future now. This is interesting from a culture that has abandoned the metaphysics of Truth because it finds the idea of transcendence absurd. The future has become current for us, and believing, for better or for ill, that our choices irrevocably affect all time until the end of time has lead us to a couple of false notions. This belief has brought about for us either castrating fear or a hubris as grandiose as any in antiquity that brought Divine Retribution at the hands of Nemesis. Forgive my preference for literary analogies, they suit me and they do suit word to action and action to word.