10.0710 change

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 17 Feb 1997 18:50:46 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 710.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (32)
Subject: times they are a'changin

"In periods like the present, when knowledge is every day extending, and the
habits and thoughts of mankind are perpetually changing under the influence
of new discoveries, it is no easy matter to throw ourselves back into a time
in which for centuries the European world grew upon a single type.... So
absolutely has change become the law of our present condition, that it is
identified with energy and moral health; to cease to change is to lose place
in the great race; and to pass away from off the earth with the same
convictions which we found when we entered it, is to have missed the best
object for which we now seem to exist."

So begins James Anthony Froude's 12-volume <cite>History of England</cite>
(1865-70). Of course we can say that people in the dim past of which he
spoke were so S L O W that even to a Victorian his own age appeared
dizzyingly metamorphic by contrast. Such a response, however, seems to me a
cheap escape from a much more interesting and difficult possibility: that
the vision of continual change is not our property, not uniquely linked to
the age of the computer, but is a realisation independent of historical
period. Of course this vision is much easier to have if we look at our own
present, about which we have abundant data and from which we are
insufficiently distant to see the unchanging patterns. It is also easier to
get, I suppose, at certain historical moments, e.g. our own, or the
spectacularly energetic Victorian period. But only easier. I wonder about
Heraclitus and Chuang Tzu, great masters of change. Consider Ovid also.

We've all had enough, I'm sure, of the bug-eyed prophets who insist that
with the computer the heavens have rolled back as a scroll and the divine
light has made all things new. Ok, it has, but the newness of all things is
not new, nor is the proclaiming of it. If this is so, then what is?


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Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk