Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Watch the Great Fall

Beyond Progress and Nostalgia

My name is Paul and I am a nostalgic.

Sometimes it can be good to get things off your chest. I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, but I have often been addicted to dreams. This is the lot of the writer. You become a writer because the world you encountered in the stories you read as a child is more exciting than the world you are actually living in. More exciting and, in a strange way, more real. Your world is school and suburbs and bus stops and breakfast cereals and maths homework and being forced to wash your dad’s car at the weekend and wondering how to talk to girls and listening to the charts to work out what kind of music it’s permissible to like. This is not Lothlorien, and neither is it Earthsea. The worlds created by Tolkein and Asimov and Verne and Howard are better than this, and there is no doubt at all that given a splinter of a chance you would prefer to live in them. Then, one day, you pick up a pen and realise that you can create your own.

Meanwhile, out in what is fondly called ‘the real world’ by people who often don’t know very much about reality, you are living in the Machine. If you have the kind of sensibility which prefers Lothlorien to Isengard, this means that you are a character in a tragedy rather than a heroic epic. Most of the things you like are fading away. The great forests and the stories made in and by them. The strange cultures spanning centuries of time. The little pubs and the curious uninhabited places. The thrumming temples and dark marshlands and crooked villages and folk tales and conviviality and spontaneous song and old houses which might have witches in them. The possibility of dragons. The empty beaches and wild hilltops, the chance of getting lost in the rain forever or discovering something that was never on any map. A world without maps, a world without engines.

This world, you can see, is on the way out, if it is not already long gone. The one that is manifesting to replace it is a left-brain paradise, all straight lines and concrete car parks where the corn exchange used to be. The future is STEM and chatbots and cashless parking meters and economic growth and asteroid mining forever and ever. There is no arguing with it. You can feel the great craters that it makes in the world, you can feel what is being tarmacked and neatened and rationalised into oblivion, and the depth of what is leaving, but you cannot explain or justify it in the terms which are now the terms we live by. And so, given your sensibility – you who are already becoming a self-exiled poet – you find that nostalgia is a form of rebellion. The world in your heart merges with the world that used to be. At least you have somewhere to hide.


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