“I can’t live in the past”: this is one of the apparently meaninglessncliches that reveals so much about the way we look atnourselves. Of course, it would take a time machine to enablenus to live in the past and even then it would be someone else’snpast and not our own. What we really mean by that and similarnexpressions is simply that we do not vt^sh to think about thenthings that have actually happened—^to us and to others—nbecause it is infinitely more pleasant to live in the future, whennjust about anything could happen. It is strange, after all, hownwords like “past” and “old” have become terms of reproach,nwhile “new” and “up-to-date” are synonyms for good. It isnalways hard to explain to Latin students that studere rebusnnovis—^pursue new things—does not mean “make useM innovations”nbut rather, “plot damnable rebellion.” Popularnmusic provides the best cotnment on our attitude: while “Tomorrow”nwas the optimistic showstopper ia. Annie, songwritersnlike Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder used “yesterday”nto sum up all the unhappiness and futility of their existence: “Inbelieve in yesterday”—^it has a tragic ring, even in the mouthnof a cynical old roue like Sinatra.nX his resentment of the past is something fairly new in thenworld. It is bound up with our being modern—2L state we havenbeen enjoying for three centuries. The comforting thing aboutnbeing modem is that one is able to live in the future, withoutnthe least regard for all those previous generations of modems,nwho are cheerfully consigned to the dustbin of history. Ofncourse, it was not always so. Once upon a time most men tooknit for granted that all the best things—^the stuff that made lifenworth living—were an inheritance from their ancestors, a richnaccumulated legacy from the past The fiiture, so they thought,nwas a delusion, an infinity of disappointed hopes. And thenpresent Was but a mere hypothesis, the imaginary equatornbetween the unreal fiiture and the solid past. If a line were tonbe drawn, it was between the past, which was continuallynbeing realized in the present, and the always-receding horizonnof the future. Even in the last century such people may havenbeen in the majority. The country gentlemen who listened tonBurke (or at least read him: no one acmally seems to havenlistened to him), they knew that the future was very likely tonbe worse than the past. Mettemich, in his own way an archconservative,nwas so resistant to change that he disliked havingnto write the date of a new year.nThere are few like Mettemich around today. Conservativennow seems to mean progressive or even modernist The pastnis now virtually a closed book, the refuge of historical novelistsnand down-at-heels academics. It elicits all the interest of andeceased millionaire after the will has been read. Everywherenwe look the symbols of former ages, our concrete links withnthe past, are disappearing. In one generation the face of ourngreatest city has been changed beyond recognition. Buildingsnthat New Yorkers once (with New York modesty) acclaimednChronicles of Colturen• THE PAST TODAYnC O M M E N Tnnnas masterpieces are casually tumed over to the wrecking ball.nMark Twain, that greatest of American parvenu intellectuals,nused to say that most cities in Europe needed a good fire. Suchnsentiments are apparendy being carried out, albeit with greaterncaution, in New York. An occasional disaster at the rightntime and place can provide the opportunity for a great buildingnproject, as on the Athenian Acropolis. But the people ofnAtihens did not, after a generation or two, raze the Parthenonnto make way for a more up-to-date temple, much less annexpressway to Thebes.nAt is not just in architecture that we display our r^e againstnthe past Even in our families—^the bastions of conservativenimpulses—^we are losing all sense of continuity with what hasngone before. Rare is the son who follows his fether’s vocationnor mns the family business: getting ahead is now what’s important.nOur children grow up with so litde idea of the past that itnis easy for them to think the world was created only yesterday,nthat it is a place where things can have whatever meaning wenchoose to give them. They are like the savages who might usena chalice for a chamber pot or scratch in the bean-patch withnan imperial scepter. Homes—once the sacred repository ofnfemily tradition—^are now what the realtor arranges for us tonmove into every three years, and grandparents—^if they arenknovm at all—are only people to “reach out and touch” byntelephone. The hero of Peter De ynes’sMadderMusic reflectsnon the feet that his second wife had never met his fether andnthat he had never met her mottier; “Christ,” he exclaims,n”what vras the coimtry coming to.”nWe hear so much, ihese days, of the sense of fragmentationnand alienation diich has overtaken modem life, but the problemnalways seems to be posed horizontally: the loneliness ofnthe 200-odd million individuals now alive in the U.S. Perhapsnwe are more disturbed by a vertical alienation: the dissociationnfrom our ancestors, an afflUction that always seems to benpassed down—^tike a femily curse—to subsequent generations.nModernity requfres that everything, especially works of thenmind and of the im^ination, be subject to fashion. For onen