Changes, Continuities, Cycles, Cynicism

So I think it’s about time I realized that off-the-cuff ranting suits my purposes better than anything well thought out.  At least not here.

Favorite song right now:  “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found)” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (who, by the way, have a new album out – am excited).  You can find the lyrics (except “come on, come on, come on (repeated) … over and over again”) here.   The best part:

you look like david bowie

but you’ve nothing new to show me

start another fire

and watch it slowly die

The cynicism of the song – “start another fire, and watch it slowly die” – got me thinking about history, of course, and the differences between the concept of history as cyclical, and history as progressive/linear.

Cyclical history, most basically, can be seen in annual (or periodic) rebirth, collapse, growth, the changing of the seasons and the inevitable turn from winter to summer and winter again.  More facetiously, in Shirley Bassey singing “it’s all just a little bit of history repeating,” or the Matrix’s claim that there have been many Neos before.  My rudimentary understanding of Buddhism tells me that there might be something cyclical in there too, even if it is toward a purpose.

Progressive or linear history, on the other hand, deals with continuity and change – and implicitly for many, the idea that things are getting “better.” (Or, alternatively, that things are always getting “worse,” when that seductive and deceptive idea of nostalgia sucks you in).  This can be described as Whig history, but that has a bit too much pedantic baggage to be interesting here.  Marxism, Modernization (per Weber), and the good old humanist/futurists fall in this category, as do perhaps those people who wish to efface humankind from the natural environment (thus returning to a pre-sullied, truer, world).

Anyway, interesting to me in both of those ideas is cynicism and hope have a place, if you want to put them there.  Do you see redemption in perpetual rebirth, or the endless weight of the same old shit?  Do you believe in tomorrow, or mourn for yesterday?

Either way, these ways of understanding the past inevitably provide a way of conceptualizing and anticipating the future – will you see this again?  Has this already happened many times before?  Or, is this new?  Is it good?  Can we learn from it and move forward?  Or are we pushing ourselves away from where we should have been all along?

And maybe that’s why we care about history.  It doesn’t matter what *really* happened.  We just want to make sense of what will happen.

Laurie Anderson has, as always, an intriguing insight into these concepts with her song, “Same Time Tomorrow.”  She begins with an unprogrammed VCR clock – “Good morning,  good night” – and later asks, “Are things getting better?  Or are they getting worse?”  Lyrics here.

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2 comments so far

  1. Curtis Plowgian on

    Ok, so I took some time to read some of your blog (I figured it’s only fair since I asked you to read mine). As Evan’s feminism teacher would say, “your prose is smooth and reasonable”. Comparing our blogs is reminiscent of comparing our senior research projects. Basically yours is better-written and a lot longer. Not that mine is bad, it’s just more ordinary. It has an accessible “everyman” kind of quality to it. To put it in musical terms, if you were Tchaikovsky or Chopin, I would be Bob Dylan. This provides yet another clear demonstration why you should be in academia and I should not.

  2. zozer319 on

    Well, thanks very much for the praise. However the more interesting exercise would not be to compare the style (or even the substance), really, of the two blogs, cuz they are doing different things. Yours are probably actually more thought out than mine, which end up being off-the-cuff rambles that stop whenever I run out of steam. So comment on anything you find interesting – especially if you disagree – cuz if you look behind whatever I’ve written, there’s not really anything more there. It’s just some thoughts. : )


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