(St. Mark the Evangelist - -from the Gospel of Ebbon, 9th Century.)
The following is one of my favorite quotes, from a book by the art historian Henri Focillion entitled, The Year 1000. Will post this and add a little more commentary later:"
History is made of a threefold cluster of activating forces--- traditions, influences, and experiments; and every civilization perhaps every epoch of every civilization, stresses one or the other of these forces in turn. Tradition resembles a vertical force rising out of the depth of the ages; but at times it loses its cohesion, its vital drive, and then fictions and disorting myths appear in its place. perhaps this must be so if tradition is to adapt itself to the new times. Tradition is only seldom unalloyed. In fact there are traditions that are out and out inventions, to serve this or that cause, and they are of no small interest. But diverse as the facets of tradition's internal ferment may be,the ferment represents the working of the past in the historical present. Influences, in turn, represent the technique of interchange and cross-fertilization. Peoples communicate with other peoples by such influences; the foreign influences which they bring are
accepted more or less passively- - -by way of infiltration, or by a shock, because they answer a profound need, or because they are disturbing. They are like a horizontal level of water rippled by diverse currents which establish a kind of changing harmony, a more or less stable consensus within the human community.
But the enrichment and renewal of history clearly come from the experiments that are quickened by mans urge to inquire and create. Experiments, one might say , dig into the future. They may be groping, insecure and full of mistakes; they may not always be fortunate; but without them the substance of history would quickly be exhausted, without them there would be no history but merely a hopeless round of lifeless forms of conservatism.
Periods bereft of the genius of trial and of risk lend truth to the brief and terrible phrase of the Merovingian writer, mundus senescit. --
(the world grows old)
To comment further: Using Focillions measuring stick, if one looks back over the last 50 years of the 20th century and on up to now, we see a period of extended experimentation in this country; the 60's and early 70's and then two periods of intense conservatism, the Reagan era and then the new Bush era. Not forgetting that the 1950's ,the I like Ike era was one of harking back to tradition taken to the max.
To have lived through and been a bit whipsawed by all the change during this time period, one can understand, why there might be a clinging to tradition as an anchor , or shelter during a storm of change.
On the other hand if one wants to appreciate a hopeless round of lifeless forms of conservatism try taping say, 3 hours of Dick Chenry giving speeches on Cspan or CSPAN2. and watching him for 3 hours.
Now as we enter the 2nd half of the first decade of the 21st century, I would say we are seeing most experimentation staunched in favor of another hopeless round of lifeless forms of conservatism.
And we are also having to deal with the influences of the West's encounter with Islam and the Islamic world. Whatever the outcome of the Iraq war, each Iraq war veteran will bring back a small bit of influence with them; of being in a culture very different from ours, and of experiencing events very much outside their frame of reference of usual American life.
At this point it is hard to say how this will all play out. Whoever chances to read this, I do suggest using Focillions measuring stick as it were and apply it to history on your own. See where it takes you, and what it reveals for you. Okay enough of this extended commentary for now. Selah.