I remember years ago an argument in some classroom or other over the shape of history. Straight line or circular? That is, does history proceed in a straight line, events stringing along one after the other (the highway version) or even piling one atop the other (the ladder version) in some kind of teleological journey to the future? Or do we simply repeat ourselves, over and over again, like a dog chasing its tail, in pursuit of a future that is never reached, our eyes fixed firmly on the forever vanishing promise of that little white tip of the tail.
At the time I opted for something in between - a spiral shape. That is, we repeat ourselves but not in precisely the same way, thereby retaining some possibility for a different future. The hope was, of course, that the difference would be a positive one. As the years went by, however, I began to think that it was the dystopian futures that were more likely. That Mad Max was a more probable description of what the future might bring than, say, .
To prove my point, I just Googled Utopian science fiction hoping for some more recent example than (which, upon examination, turns out to be more satire than utopian). There aren't any. Which reminded me of a favorite professor who taught me that Utopia actually means the best place that is no place. Of dystopian literature, there is no end.
Dystopia is change we can believe in.
All of this came to mind last night watching Disc 5 (via Netflix) of Simon Schama's . The American Revolution, the British Empire in India, the French Revolution. Wordsworth and Wollstonecraft. Almost too much packed into too little time.
But so much of it familiar. Not in the way of familiar events. More in the way of that pesky circular vision argued in my classroom so long ago. Especially the concept of a relatively new and prosperous British public with a huge war machine that, after the American debacle, had redeemed itself at Trafalgar and Waterloo. The world's first superpower since Rome. With a super, transformative idea to go with it.
A sweet little white-tipped tail to chase. And around and around we go.