There’s an idea I struggle with, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone, but it’s still a struggle. T. S. Eliot was a lot of things, but mainly he was incredibly intelligent. I fancy myself at least as sharp as the average crayon in the box, but I know there’s a point at which intelligence isn’t much more than fluff (those familiar with Milne might think of Pooh who has “more fluff up there than the average bear”). It’s been my experience that to the extent a person is cranially-gifted, he or she will be frought with undesirable difficulty. It’s reciprocal, much as money brings problems. Right, P Diddy?
Case in point, T. S. Eliot. We don’t really know if he had trouble putting intellect behind him. My suspicion is, he didn’t have the same trouble we do today. Times were different then. Biographer, Stephen Spender says that Eliot’s attitude to life was to follow the pattern of rituals for connecting with the tradition of the artists who had gone before. It’s this characteristic (as well as staggering intelligence) that puts him at the top of the curriculum in so many creative writing programs around the country. If you recall, it was also this characteristic Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye was most lacking according to his professor, this respect for the past, the things that had gone before. His prof has a theory I consider fairly self-evident: an artist is great to the extent she is inspired by the former greats.
T. S. Eliot believed it with his life. We stand only for the foundation underneath. If we know nothing of that foundation, what possible purpose can we serve to the larger community? If the world needs beauty, art, meaning, redemption, peace, grace, joy, and wonder, why would we waste our time on anything less than digging into the lives of those who already worked in this clay?
And it isn’t only art. What if we didn’t know of the faith traditions? Or of the cultural changes that had already taken place? The saying goes, we’d be bound to repeat them. It’s to our doom that we don’t study and learn about the past. There can be no present without it.
That’s the danger I take in talking about a revolution. A lot of kids my age would like to adopt the typical assumptions, the images the word conjures up. They fancy themselves pretty smart and they’d like to see some old fogeys overthrown. “Revolution” sounds unfounded, maverick, rogue. It has an inherent selfish quality that places self-interest above establishment and the new before the old. It isn’t typically a call to increased control and restraint.
But true intelligence respects the past. This revolution is all about those things. For the sons of this revolution, the old chaotic, busy, self-obsessed world is being replaced. The question is, what will replace it? Will it be more aware, informed, and in control? Careful? Astute? Realistic? For a generation that prefers pot-stirring to studying, it’s a challenge. But I think some are willing. And honestly, it doesn’t really matter how many will come with us. To the victors go the spoils.
Still, I want to be there with you when we see the new world. I want to feel it when we rise above it together, committed to our humble, small steps, and to the aim of helping each other through. I want to see the bigger picture of the true revolution revealed, so much, sometimes, I think I can almost make it out. It’s right there, in the shadowlands. Do you see it? It’s our birthright. These are our minutes ticking by. Do you sense them? They were given to us for a purpose. We’ll rise above the walls of this prison by looking into the history, the history we are destined to become, revealing the worlds that went before. The secrets. And we’ll leave a pattern for those who would follow.
This is the foundation and it isn’t based on our own intelligence. This is the road we will walk to the top of the hill.