row and tomorrow may creep into the present, but so do allnour yesterdays. Nothing is more important to the creativenprocess than the conception of the past. Cultures havenbecome ossified from too strict a veneration for the past; butnthey have been turned to cultural froth by ignorance ornneglect of the past. If a culture is absolutely obliged tonchoose, it is better to mummify the past than to be innignorance of it. But far better, as the West’s coursenillustrates, is the steering carefully between the Scylla ofnrapt immobility and the Charybdis of idle neglect. What isnimportant is use of the past to serve the present.nThe great ages of Western history, beginning with Pericles’nAthens and including the High Middle Ages, and notnforgetting America’s 18th century, have been built around ansingularly delicate but potent balancing of past and present,na balancing in which the imperatives of the present make allnthe brighter the rich and diverse resources of the past. Therenis a telescoping of the generations in such ages. St.nAugustine likened the development of humanity to theneducation of a single individual through all time. In then13th century an allegorical figure became common innwriting: that of a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant.nThe dwarf represented the present, the giant the past. Onlynby availing himself of the giant could the dwarf see fartherninto the future than could the giant.nMy own sense of individual biography suggests that thenpast has similar importance in the works of highly creativenindividuals. There is an acute feeling for what Eliot callednthe “usable past.” Eliot’s reverence for the past is best shownnby his mining of it for often radical poetic purposes. FromnPlato to Einstein there is a continuing respect for the past, anrespect that is based upon the sense of the past’s richness as anmine of resources in all areas of the human mind. MaxnPlanck, whose quantum theory is often held to be the singlenmost revolutionary idea in 20th-century physical science,nwas notorious for his traditionalism; he himself said that henfound the theory in materials available to everyone; and hensaid also that he had not turned to this new theory untilnevery possible explanation from the past had been examinednfirst. Churchill said that he loved the past, distrusted thenpresent, and feared the future. A friend likened his mind tona layer-cake, each layer an epoch of the past. For all that,nChurchill’s grasp of the present was, as we know gratefully,nsuperior. The greater of the Impressionists knew andnrespected the past; they sought only to build on it by use ofninventions in color. Had it not been for a blockheadednestablishment in Paris, fearful of all innovation in art, thenImpressionists would have shown their canvases in conventionalngalleries; and their true relation to the past wouldnhave been instantiy evident.nThe most unbelievable thing about the 20th century isnthe near-loss of the past: loss through crippling and distortion,noften through its murder. Quite rightiy does thenhistorian J.H. Plumb refer to “the death of the past.” Eliotnspeaks of “disowning the past.” Our conception of presentnand past is no longer the dwarf standing on a giant’snshoulders. In our art and literature and philosophy, thendwarf has gotten down from the giant, to stand on thenground and kick the giant’s ankles. Our flouting of the pastnis exactly commensurate with our narcissism of the presentnand our worship of the future. The greatest crime thenintellectual can be thought guilty of is that of treating thenpast with respect, of “romanticizing the past” as conventionnand cant usually have it. Nostalgia, which is the rust ofnmemory, is permitted because it sells well; but not history.nHence, as everyone knows, the scuttling of curriculum innthe schools by undermining the study of history. Nevernwould the NEA “turn the clock back,” as they love to say.nSuch undermining is far from being merely a conceit ofnschools of education. It stems from our transformed popularnregard for the past. For at least three centuries in the Westnthere has been a relentiess growth of systems of thoughtnbased upon a proposed extermination of the past fromnhuman thought. Descartes’ rationalism, which has beennwell called “intellectual terrorism,” urged the burning of allnlibraries and museums; Rousseau drew from this Cartesiannphilosophical nihilism a program of all-out political nihilism;nMarx, child of both Descartes and Rousseau, sawnall history as the necessary destruction of the past, innthe interest of an ever-evolving present. And Freud populatednthe racial past with mythologically derived demonsnwhich relegate memory and tradition to the bins of thenunconscious.nI In- /;ij)s/ iiiil)cln;ihli.- lliiiii^ :ihoiif Hic 20th crnliir i tin:nnear loss ut tlic past. . . . Oiir conception ot present iuidnpast ;s no longer thini the cl»urf stimdim; on n ghini’snshoulders. In onr art and litenitnre and philosophy. thendwarf has gotten down from the giant, to stand on theniironiitl and kick Ihe !:ianl .inkles.nBut for all the assaults of modern Western history, thenpast is fundamentally indestructible. As I said, man is antime-binding creature; he can no more live without the pastnin his contemplation of the present than he can live withoutnoxygen. The past is inseparable from the creative processnand also from simple adaptation to crisis. The single greatestnmessage of Orwell’s J 984 is the tribute paid to the past by itsnincessant distortion by the totalitarian masters. The Bolsheviks,ndetermined at first to create the new Soviet mannovernight and to wipe out the Russian past, were not long inndiscovering the value of linking the Communist present tonthe pasts of Novgorod, Kiev, and the courts of Ivan andnPeter. Over and over the lesson is the same: cast the past outnthe front door, as did Descartes, Rousseau, and Marx, andnit will enter the side door. Inasmuch as the future isnabsolutely dark to our eyes and is the abode of charlatans,nwe have only the past to go to when we seek relief from thenfrustrations of the present. Not to the past of nostalgics,nromantics, and antiquarians, but the past that is a vastntheater in time with innumerable human dramas fromnwhich to draw inspiration and even role-models.nSomeone, I think it was Camus, conceived the parable ofnthe bee. It is in man’s power, the parable says, to destroy thenbee with a single clench of his hand. But the bee’s sting hasnkept it alive as a species for 50 million years. It is the sting ofnthe neglected past that will surely force us to restore it to thenhigh place our forefathers gave it. And this will not be longnin coming, I firmly believe. ccnnnMARCH 1986 / 23n