Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
—T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets
Time present and time past
Hast ‘ou seen the rose in the steel dust
(or swansdown ever?)
so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron
we who have passed over Lethe.
—Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos 74:839-42
"Tragedy raises doubts about the salience of the Platonist vision of the hyperrational ideal and the Kantian belief in the sufficiency and autonomy of the self. These conceptions of the subject and its actions depend upon a decisive blow being delivered to the poetic and to the idea of human being as dependent on or vulnerable to forces and powers not entirely within its rational control. Above all, tragedy is troubled by the hubris of enlightenment and civilization, power and knowledge. As we will see, however, the strategy of tragedy is not to dismiss out of hand the claims of reason, but to honor the contingent, the ambiguous, the paradoxical, and the unyielding in human affairs in such a way as to complicate our most cherished notions about the relation between identity and difference, reason and unreason, blindness and insight, action and responsibility, guilt and innocence. As Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet eloquently put it in a fascinating passage:
From a tragic point of view …, there are two aspects to action. It involves on the one hand reflection, weighing up the pros and cons, foreseeing as accurately as possible the means and the ends; on the other, placing one’s stake on what is unknown and incomprehensible, risking oneself on a terrain that remains impenetrable, entering into a game with supernatural forces, not knowing whether, as they join with one, they will bring success or doom. Even for the most foreseeing of men, the most carefully thought out action is still a chancy appeal to the gods and only by their reply, and usually to one’s cost, will one learn what it really involved and meant. It is only when the drama is over that actions take on their true significance and agents, through what they have in reality accomplished without realizing it, discover their true identity. So long as there has been no complete consummation, human affairs remain enigmas that are the more obscure the more the actors believe themselves sure of what they are doing and what they are.
Scott, David. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Duke University Press, 2004. p. 13
"Our contemporary concept of history, together with its numerous zones of meaning … was first constituted towards the end of the eighteenth century. It is an outcome of the lengthy theoretical discussions of the Enlightenment. Formerly there had existed, for instance, the history that God had set in motion with humanity. But there was no history for which humanity might have been the subject or which could be thought of as its own subject."
—Reihart Kosselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985. p. 200.
When you said, “You’ve been talking unwisely, Rebecca,” you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don’t think you’re right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.
"This way of seeing the foreigner as fundamentally prior (or internal) to the nation is, interestingly, analogous to the etymological root of the word ‘nation’ itself, which can be traced back to the Latin natio. As Liah Greenfeld points out, while natio refers to ‘something born,’ the concept was initially derogatory, referring not to the identity of the state but to the origins or birthplaces of the foreigners living within that state: ‘in Rome,’ she writes, ‘the name natio was reserved for groups of foreigners coming from the same geographical region, whose status—because they were foreigners—was below that of the Roman citizens’ (4). Even when the term loses its derogatory implication, it continues to point first and foremost to things foreign. In the early universities of Western Christendom, argues Greenfeld, the word ‘nation’ comes to be associated with groups of foreign students ‘united by place of origin’ (4). The University of Paris, for instance, was home to four separate ‘nations,’ including France, Picardy, Normandy, and Germany—the inclusion of France, here, being not so much a designation of the nationality of the university itself as it was a label for students whose origins lay in Italy and Spain in addition to France. Given these early connotations of the word, we might think of the nation, on a certain level, as an orphan collective, a group of foreigners whose parental and familial affiliation lay not here in Rome, but beyond the city’s borders, in some other place. Part of my argument will be to think of the nation … as a form of abject self-abandonment—a process through which the nationalist becomes foreign prior to becoming national. In this sense, the nation is always first a foreign nation, a group of foreigners that collect and reconnect themselves in another place before they can finally return home… . For a nation to become a nation, it must finally abandon its own natio; it must renounce or repudiate that part of itself which has always already been there in some form or another, but which the nation believes to be somehow other than or foreign to itself.”
—Melville, Peter. Romantic Hospitality and the Resistance to Accommodation. Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2007. p. 74.
(citing Greenfeld, Liah. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. p. 4.)
O what ridiculous Resolution Men take, when possess’d with Fear! It deprives them of the Use of those Means which Reason offers for their relief.
"War is the great scavenger of thought. It is the sovereign disinfectant, and its red stream of blood is the Condy’s Fluid that cleans out the stagnant pools and clotted channels of the intellect. I suppose that hardly any Englishman who is capable of a renovation of the mind has failed to feel during the last few weeks a certain solemn refreshment of spirit, a humble and mournful consciousness that his ideals, his aims, his hopes during our late past years of luxury and peace have been founded on a misconception of our aims as a nation, of our right to possess a leading place int eh sunlighted spaces of the world. We have awakened from an opium-dream of comfort, of ease, of that miserable poltroonery of ‘the sheltered life.’ Our wish for indulgence of every sort, our laxity of manners, our wretched sensitiveness to personal inconvenience, these are suddenly lifted before us in their true guise as the spectres of national decay; and we have risen from the lethargy of our dilettantism to lay them, before it is too late, by the flashing of the unsheathed sword."
—Edmund Gosse, “War and Literature, 1914”
A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.