Friday, August 10, 2007

Blue Wound - part II - the perspective of time.

Click here for part I or here for part III.

I have read three chapters of the Blue Wound thus far. I have noticed an element that I often see in Garrett's writings. Garrett writes allegorically.

It is often impossible to discuss ultimate issues in the language of a simple narrative. It is impossible to understand ultimate issues unless the writer adds some element to the story. In Garrett's case, that element is perspective. Garrett's writings have always been about perspective and Garrett always finds a way to provide perspective.

In the early chapters of Blue Wound, Garrett provides the perspective of time. Garrett presents the image of an open plain in which many cities rise and fall, such as would happen over many centuries. The main character is permitted to watch, from a distance, as cities spring into being, become wealthy and ostentatious and are destroyed by marauding hordes. He provides the following explanation:

A city is like a giant hanging by the umbilical cord. Its belly is outside of itself, at a distance, in the keeping of others. Cut it off from its belly and it surrenders or dies. As the first city was so the last one is. No city endures.
pp. 23-24 (italics added)

The narrator then sees multiple cities rising on the same distant plain, only to attack one another. The surviving city possessed a "great tower" and ". . . was the most beautiful one and I had almost prayed that it should have the victory, for I hated to see it fall."

But even that city succumbed. It succumbed to internal strife instead of marauders from beyond its walls. The result was the same. "The tower burned and fell." (p. 25).

I read and promote Garet Garrett not because I believe him to have possessed psychic powers. I read his works because he had perspective. He could observe events of the 1920's and draw the right conclusions. By thinking forward, ignoring petty political arguments of the moment, and remembering history, he could write words that future generations might confuse with prophesy.

In fact, Garrett drew on the lessons of Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Babylon, Dehli, and countless other cities that fell to internal strife or marauding hordes or both. From those lessons and the trends Garrett observed in his own time, it was not hard for Garrett to filter out the "issues of the day" and predict the events of the future.

Garrett presents his story by speeding up the chronology and allowing one observer to narrate centuries of history in two or three pages. When we see the centuries unfold before our eyes, we gain perspective. We see the forest instead of a few trees.

Garrett was not some Nostradamus, predicting specific future events like an oracle to be deciphered. He possessed wisdom and experience, not intuition. He provides perspective, not revelation.

Garrett wrote in the age when the skyscraper was rapidly overtaking the landscape of modern cities. Knowing the fate of previous civilizations, knowing the reasons for those fates and seeing the path upon which America was then beginning to embark - it was not difficult for Garrett to foresee the future of our greatest cities. He never knew of the World Trade Center and did not predict which marauders would destroy it. But had Garrett seen the film from our own recent history that has become ingrained in our own memory, he would not have been surprised.

At the time of Blue Wound's publication (1921), the New Deal was little more than a decade away. The intellectual forces that propelled us down that road already existed. Those forces had found voice in academic institutions and were rapidly remaking the intellectual landscape of our culture. By the 1920's, those voices were quite loud and militant. Those voices had already found safe haven around the world. America was one catalyst away from crossing a Rubicon of its own making.

I don't expect all of the answers from Blue Wound. But I expect a little more insight into the world of 1921 and how we fell into the clutches of the New Deal and, ultimately, our present situation.

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