Saturday, December 01, 2012

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose—"the more it changes, the more it's the same thing"

I regularly skim through a few of the current day's words from the wise, but find that the wise are writing much the same things they were writing this time last year, this time last month, this time four or five or fifteen years ago. Maybe even a hundred and fifteen years ago.

Similar issues, problems, complaints, horrors are presented, using different words, quoting different song lyrics, different quotes from long ago writers, but stating much the same things. Readers, for the most part, already uncomfortably aware of the issues described, read on, in the way listeners like to hear an old song, or a well-known melody over and over again. These erudite pieces have become a kind of background verbal music of life, as it is lived.

I don't know why I carry on skimming those pages myself - apart from the forlorn hope that one day there might be a suggestion, a whispering hint of some possible solution.

The epigram translated from the French as: "the more things change, the more they remain the same" was written in 1849 by Alphonse Karr in his monthly satirical journal Les Guêpes (The Wasps). It has stood the test of time!

The seemingly unchanging pattern of life in the USA was brought home to me again the other evening while watching an old (1994) video tape of Comic Relief VI. A gaggle of comedians took part, some still going strong in the US (for example Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, all looking alarmingly fresh and youthful), some others have been lost in the mists of later years. There were far too many repetitive jokes concerning that peculiar episode about an American couple, the Bobbitts, whose difficult relationship resulted in an incident in 1993 when Lorena severed John's penis with a knife. The penis was subsequently surgically re-attached. Many of the political jokes, though, could easily seem fresh if told today, with names changed. Bill Clinton had been President for a year or so, memories of Reagan's terms were still fresh and providing fodder for material, references to the urgent need for jobs, and to bring down the deficit etc. were there. Plus ça change! I was, actually, quite surprised and, to be honest I found it a little spooky. I wasn't here in the US during those times, nor even vaguely interested in political goings on in the states, in 1993/4, back in England.

After a recent news skimming session I reached to the shelf under my desk, pulled out Carl Sandburg's The People, Yes, a hard-backed copy, second printing dated 1936 - before I'd seen the light of day. I suspect Mr Sandburg was well- acquainted with the unchanging nature of life for we, The People. The book has become a favourite of mine. I often open it at random, always find something helpful and appropriate. This time it opened at section 102, from which (my own highlighting):

Is there a time to counsel,

"Be sober and patient while yet saying Yes
to freedom for cockeyed liars and bigots"?

Is there a time to say,

"The facts and guide measurements are yet
to be found and put to work: there are
dawns and false dawns read in a ball of
revolving crystals"?

Is there a time to repeat,

"The living passion of millions can rise
into a whirlwind: the storm once loose
who can ride it? you? or you? or you?
Only history, only tomorrow, knows
for every revolution breaks
as a child of its own convulsive hour
shooting patterns never told of beforehand"?

Thought: when "the storm" breaks loose will the familiar pattern change, or will we simply return to a different segment of the overall pattern, only to go around again - as do the planets?


mike said...

Well, many find comfort in the familiarities of repetition...kind of like staying at the Marriott Inn, eating at Red Lobster, and having a latte at Starbucks all in one day when out of town, but maybe the master plan is to eventually break free of the cohort. I can't find my "Living on Earth" driver's manual, so I can't answer this question...ask me again several incarnations from now.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Will do!
Amoeba to amoeba ?

We are creatures of habit - even the maverick "free spirits" among us have their habits - but they'll deny it. How could we be otherwise, patterned, as we are by planets and their regular cycles?

Coincidentally, after publishing this post this morning I went to Cannonfire (see links in sidebar) - one of my habits - and there noticed a line from its author which is a kind of echo of what I saw in that 1994 Comic Relief tape:

Joseph, the Blogger wrote:

To my eyes, it's beginning to look a lot like 1995. A Republican congress stands ready to inflict severe economic pain on the people in the name of fiscal austerity. Of course, their love of austerity kicks in only when a Democrat is president. If Obama had lost, conservatives would have reverted to the Cheney position -- "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." (Cliff Notes)

Wisewebwoman said...

I hear ya, T. But would add to this crazy confluence the dire aspect of climate change which is already affecting so many.


mike (again) said...

"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
Karl Marx

Chomp said...

“Plus ça change et plus c’est la même chose”, that’s true.
This is our world today...

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
Karl Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ True - it's another, new, layer we'll all have to contend with soon, along with the same ol' same ol' stuff we're more used to.

Twilight said...

mike and Chomp ~~ "Two minds with but a single thought" ! A very relevant thought too!
:-) Though maybe it'd be nearer the truth, or what we experience, if reversed - "first as farce second as tragedy"?

mike (again) said...

Let's just say that ANY repetition is a farcical was so ludicrous that I cried, as I was being thrown over the fiscal cliff.

mike (again) said...

P.S. I think the politicians are down-playing this cliff thing...shouldn't it be Mt. Everest?

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Farcical tragedy - that about covers in the 21st century that is, including cliffs fiscal or otherwise.

I suppose it should, properly, be looked on as climbing Mt Everest, rather than falling off a cliff - but that'd entail constant and determined effort on everyone's part, not welcome in the USA, it seems, by neither the 1% nor the rest of us.

Ray Bradbury:
"You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

The opposite of thinking on one's feet then.

Chomp said...

The opposite? First farce and then tragedy? Well, while Napoleon I was substantially a military leader, it was only with Napoleon III that industrial development became strong, really strong in France, and bourgoisie became truly leader...

So the opposite is possible, all depends from the point of view we want to see it...

James Higham said...

Ooo, I love it when a lady writes French.

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~~ Yes - as in most things, it's in the eye of the beholder. :-)

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~

À quelque chose malheur est bon!