Friday, September 20, 2019


Some of us find abundant wisdom in the past and blanket foolishness in the present. Others reverse the emphasis. The latter sort have faith in progress. Not scientific or technological progress so much as moral progress – a very dubious assumption. In a nice irony, some of the worst failed ideas generated in the past – Communism, fascism, Freudian psychology – are periodically revived in the present, like the cancer we thought was in remission. I was surprised to learn that the noun presentism dates from as early as 1916, according to the OED, which defines it as “a bias towards the present or present-day attitudes, esp. in the interpretation of history.” In “Fin de Si├Ęcle,” a poem in his 1991 collection Between the Chains, Turner Cassity puts it like this: “The way of presentism is to whore the past / For passions of the moment. That is pestilence / Also.” ....

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