I had an interesting discussion with a friend, a few days ago – about… well, about past and future.
Yes – yes, he is the kind of friend with whom you chat late at night, and wax philosophical, and at one point he said that it bothers him that he will not see all of the future. “The best part of the show – and I’ll miss it.”
I asked how could he be sure it will be the best part at all… And he said something along the lines of “Baby, it’s the Future…” No, the capital F wasn’t there, but it was somehow implicit.
This startled me into a laugh – or at least a laughing emoticon. “Why,” I typed. “This is Midnight in Paris in reverse!”
And it’s not quite, of course – but this optimistic faith that the best has yet to come, that the Golden Age lies ahead, and that the future is certain to be the best part of the show, struck me as quite specular to what seems to be the bottom line of the movie – until the hero learns better – and to my own view… or perhaps not.
Let me try to explain. To me the past is the Past, but perhaps not quite in the same way that the future is the Future to my friend. And I think I realised this with some surprise when, on my saying that Midnight in Paris resonates with me, my friend asked whether it’s a case of “Oh, How Lovely The Past Was”…
And I could, in perfect honesty, answer that no, it’s not. Granted, I’d give a kingdom for the chance of a visit to Elizabethan London, to meet Kit Marlowe, Ned Alleyn, Shakespeare, Jonson, Watson, Raleigh, the Great Bess and the rest… But I wouldn’t stay there. I’m not sorry that I cannot live Back Then – and not because I have any wise notion about living in the present. Indeed, I’m not even sure that I’d love to be there (then…) as a visitor. Chances are that I’d find out I love my own idea of Elizabethan England more than the real thing.
I fear it’s a dangerous admission for an author of historical novels and plays, but there it is: while I spend much of my time in other centuries inside my head, I know perfectly well that no age is golden in its own eyes, and that the Past would lose its capital P, its golden light and much of its charm the instant it became the present.
So in the end, while my friend’s melancholy is that he’ll miss the best part of the show, my own is that the best part of the show may never have quite existed. Are you surprised if I tell you that we are still trying to decide which of us is the optimist?
Davide Mana said:
My point is, the future is going to be better because we can still work to make it so, while the past is unchangeable, like a fly in amber. The future does not exist – so we can build it. We will actually _be forced_ to build it… or somebody else will.
So we’ll do our best. Because that’s the way we do it.
And as a writer you _know_ that the next story you write is going to be the best you will write, and that’s an instance of you firmly believing in the fact that what’s to come is going to be better than what’s gone, because you have the power to try and do it.
Otherwise you would not write – “Oh, ok, I think I’ll write something quite inferior to what I wrote five years ago, and possibly on a par with last year’s thing…”
You know this sort of thinking just doesn’t happen.
And of course there is no golden age – because what comes next has always something different to say: if we reached perfection, we would stop evolving, right?
la Clarina said:
May I point out that fully intending to do better and better isn’t the same as doing it? Of course I always start with every intention of writing the best play I’ve written yet – but I can’t be sure I will.
Look at my beloved Conrad: he ended his career by writing ugly books – and I doubt very much that was his intention. So he did have a personal golden age, the future of which was far less golden.
I’m not thinking on a vast, species-sized scale, here. I’m sure the species as a whole keeps evolving – but this doesn’t necessarily mean the same is true of each individual or smaller group. Hence, I think, golden ages may not exist objectively – but they do, and very much, from a subjective point of view.
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Davide Mana said:
To quote the poet, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
I don’t care for golden ages, because as you point out, they are a figment of our collective imagination.
But still, the place when/where you can do something better is always the future – then you may fail, sure.
After all, we can only act in the present, so we have no certainties.
Well, we have one, actually: the only way to avoid failure is do nothing.
Saying “others have failed” is just a way to ignore that others have succeeded. And they did 😉
la Clarina said:
🙂 Which nicely answers the question, I think, about who is the optimist.
(And yes – figments of the imagination. But I care for figments of the imagination: I don’t believe in them, but I cultivate them lovingly. You could say I collect them. 😉 )
Davide Mana said:
And I write stories about the past and the future, so we’re in the same business 😉