"Is this how time normally passes? Really slow, and in order?" The DoctorReading the recently released Autobiography of Mark Twain, itself a kind of anachronism, I am struck by how anachronistic Twain himself seems. Granted, in the context of an autobiography time is necessarily warped according to perception, narrative, etc. But he seems to pine for an earlier time constantly as he writes about the political and social problems of his own time. It's a fascinating read for many reasons, but one of the most intriguing aspects for me is the sense that even in his time, the earlier decades were, to him, a bucolic paradise that we were moving away from without cause. He decries the evils of the era, certainly; his disdain for slavery is present from the start. But he also feels, apparently, as though the evils of his time are increasing, moving away from that better time towards an industrial/mechanistic Abaddon. It's a sentiment that would not be out of place today, centuries ago... or perhaps in the future. There is often a sense that we are living in end times, and the world is getting worse. A kind of nostalgia, or fear of the modern. I can imagine a few places where the sentiment is less, or there is a kind of enthusiasm for modern society (the Renaissance, the turn of the 20th century, the 50s seemed to have some writers who were extremely positive about their respective eras.)
I am definitely guilty of idealizing the past. I often wonder what it would be like to move to one of these different eras, living the life of one of my ancestors. It's silly: the reality would be more dangerous and slower than I can imagine. (I'm a person who gets bored in a town with fewer than two hundred thousand people. Village life is not for me.)
There are undoubtably aspects that were better. The big business excess and deception that Twain decried in 1870 has continued, and gotten worse, in the 21st century. Wage slavery (which was called wage slavery, even then) has become the norm. He doesn't mention crime as much as poverty, perhaps because he was insulated from crime by his social position, perhaps because he simply didn't see it as being the concern that poverty was. In many ways, however, he is talking about the same society we live in today. The problems are the same, the joys the same. He looks backwards to his youth as a better time, but not a substantially different one.
Which I suppose is probably true of myself as well. As much as I'd love to journey to the 19th century and walk around, take in the reality of the world at that time... I'd still be me. I'd still be eating, drinking, thinking. I'd like to think my life would be more intense, exciting, real; I'd like to think the problems would be somehow more manageable. But I don't really believe that they would be.
Still, seeing the photograph of Twain in 1906, sitting on a porch, smoking a cigar makes me want to be there. Irrationally, stupidly, I pine for that past. Maybe it is a simple as an escape from the insanity of my era into the insanity of a different era. Maybe it's a chance to look at the world that existed before the problems of my time came into focus. My generation's mistakes were yet to be made. My parents' generations were yet to make their lapses in judgment.
Most likely it's a chance to wear cool suits and carry my pocket watch without looking as dorky as I do now.
Yeah, that is definitely it.