Monday, December 31, 2007

Excerpt | Zdziechowski's Religiosity

One of the books that made it into my bag for vacation was a small volume of Czeslaw Milosz, Legends of Modernity.

One essay, "Zdziechowski's Religiosity," is appropriate to excerpt on this New Year's Eve as many of us review the year, think through the past and the year ahead.

"We were taught that there exists a constant law under which 'children' must always rebel against 'fathers' and treat their ideas and work contemptuously, and only when they themselves become 'fathers' and are repaid by their heirs with the same measure of alienation and incomprehension would they give the past its due. Such a law is probably a fantasy that, like many other fantasies, derives from accepting as an unchanging principle of human nature phenomena that are common for one or two centuries. There is no such law; there is instead, a mutual enmity of the generations, but it exists only a few periods, and there is no reason to assume that it has to exist always and everywhere. What is the source of that enmity? The average person imagined, until recently, that what was truth for his grandfather could no longer be truth for him, that he was wiser than his grandfather--wiser not thanks to his own efforts, but his persoal partaking of the changes in civilization. Grandfather did not fly in an airplane... he did not watch films, therefore Grandfather, even in his best and most creative moments, had to be less clever... therefore his works, if he left any, might add to the number of volumes in the library, but nothing more. In truth, this is a very important matter; it touches on the continuity of tradition and the weight of authority. Generations that are vying with time are convinced that the 10 commandments change every few years; they identify progress in means and form with progress in truth, and they expose themselves to the risk that no longer every few years but every single year and even every couple of months a new solution to the puzzles of the world will be found.

So 'school' and 'trends' multiply, and recording their short-lived history demands at the very least the same effort as recording the history of ancient kingdoms. Man is no longer then on the basis of the aspirations and works of his entire life, but according to how he has acted most recently, or the last thing he said in print, because the continuity of his development is divided into small segments, each of which is evaluated not in proportion to the whole, but in proportion to the surrounding intellectual fashions.

Can one imagine a different order, in which the enmity of generations would yield to deliberate continuity? It is possible, but it can happen only if and when the myth of automatic evolution dies out. Progress would then be the fulfillment of one human truth in continually new conditions and shapes. It would not be the pursuit of constantly changing revelation. Evolutionary thinking, however, is so ingrained in the thinking of the masses that it will outlast even the collapse of faith in 'progress' and will slowly disappear only if the generations join together in accepting some universally binding principles" (89-90).

Happy New Year!

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