Monday, 20 September 2010

We can't turn back the clock

'We can't turn back the clock.' 
'The progressive connotations of this saying are wholly illusory. It actually looks back and says that the trend of which the present moment is only the most visible manifestation is the inevitable one, that anyone who disagrees with it is trying to squeeze the whole world into a time machine and return to an earlier era. But in refusing to believe that an identified historical trend may be challenged, the historicists have divinized history. In any given case, they have absolutized this trend and thereby put history's seal of approval on this status quo, one, no doubt, that is moving their way*. 
As a matter of simple historical observation, it would be hard to find a common saying as implausible as this .... The reason intelligent observers of the past found the cycle theory of history persuasive is precisely because it seemed as it the clock had been turned back.'  e.g. alternations between democracy and authoritarianism, high and low hemlines, moral permissiveness and prudery, war and peace, and so on.
* To continue the 'time' metaphor ... their values are 'up-to-date' and their opponents are not.

But we should not dismiss the 'space' metaphor of the way as well as the 'time' metaphor of the clock: Where are we going? What is the destination or the place we are going to? 

In discussion about history very often our assumptions and beliefs about what is an acceptable or ideal destination (and why that is the case) come to the fore: 

The conflicts to which historicist polemics are applied often center on the identity of the desirable destination. 
Idols for destruction: Christian faith and its confrontation with American society, Ch 1 Idols of History, p15-17

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