Sunday, October 18, 2009

A farewell to civilization

The Beloved Partner shares this tidbit from an encyclopedia: J. William Dawson, Emeritus Principal of McGill College, refers to his time as "an age characterized by a superficial and confused expansion of thought and discussion, and by an intense craving for the exciting and sensational."

But his time is 1898.

So if that's true in 1898 and if we really are on that long slide from a civilized time to the cultural abyss, the slide that so many take for granted is happening, then our situation, 111 years after Dawson's lament, is dismal, indeed.

Or is it possible that we are collectively neither progressing nor declining, but simply being?

3 comments:

Nels said...

It's also possible that we're not all that long past 1898. I mean, if you look at civilization as being around for thousands of years, is 111 all that much? Maybe we're living in the same time period in which he was.

Rebecca Moore Howard said...

Just a few years after Dawson's comment, Henry Adams' autobiography remarked on the exponential rate of cultural change, such that one could no longer know "everything." Funnily enough, that rate of change has taken place in my own tiny area of my own tiny discipline: Unlike the situation 20 years ago when I started working in comp/rhet authorship studies, I can no longer "know" all the scholarship of the field. So to me the whole question of progression or decline is a red herring; the question that's much scarier is the rate of change, in whatever direction(s) that change is taking place.

susansinclair said...

a) The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

II) The world is clearly well on its way to hell, ensconced in a handbasket.