Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Walking Backward into the Future...

by the Sandwichman

For a while in the 1990s I used a quote from a book review by Canada's new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, in my signature file: "Only in mediocre art does life unfold as fate." As fate would have it, 12 years later I can now Google search the phrase and come up with 70 or so of my own musings from a decade ago. I was only able to find the originl source of the quote, "The Illusion of Fate" in the February 13, 1995 New Republic, by truncating the phrase.
Side-shadowing speaks to the contingent and haphazard way our lives unfold. This contingency leaves us with a haunted sense of lives that we might have lived, choices that we might have had good reason to make. Only in mediocre art does life unfold as fate. Yet all of us yearn, in Bernstein's words, for the possibility that our biography "will be revealed as destiny," and that "the life we ended up having was, from the outset, actually the only possible one." This is what makes us suckers for bad books.
Earlier in his review -- commenting on the demise of the "grand narratives" of Marx, Freud, Weber, Durkheim, etc. -- Ignatieff observed that the passing of those commanding theories "leaves us in a curious state of intellectual denudation. For theories of the past are always maps of a possible future. Now we are walking backward into the future, and without maps."

I wonder if Ignatieff will now, as Liberal leader, advocate a "contingent and haphazard" party program.


Ken Houghton said...

"I wonder if Ignatieff will now, as Liberal leader, advocate a "contingent and haphazard" party program."

And that would be different from the current Liberal Party approach of Stephan Dion exactly how?

Anonymous said...

His point is that this is the only way our lives go, although books, both fiction and history, tend to impose a narrative which suggests that this was not what happened. So yes, he will, just as Dion did, just as Trudeau did, just as Abraham Lincoln and Washington and Churchill and Hitler and whoever you can name did.

Sandwichman said...

QQ, I am distinguishing, however, between how things will go (contingently and haphazardly) and whether Iggy will go so far as to advocate a program that concedes that reality.