August 13, 2011

"...under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart."

John Buchan, A Vista from Before:

...In my nightmare I would picture such a world. I assumed – no doubt an impossible assumption – that mankind was amply provided for as the inmates of a well-managed orphanage. New inventions and a perfecting of transport had caused the whole earth to huddle together. There was no corner of the globe left unexplored and unexploited, no geographical mysteries to fire the imagination. Broad highways crowded with automobiles threaded the remotest lands, and overhead great air-liners carried week-end tourists to the wilds of Africa and Asia. Everywhere there were guest-houses and luxury hotels and wayside camps and filling-stations. What once were the savage tribes of Equatoria and Polynesia were now in reserves as an attraction to trippers, who bought from them curios and holiday momentoes. The globe, too, was full of pleasure-cities where people could escape the rigour of their own climate and enjoy perpetual holiday.

In such a world everyone would have leisure. But everyone would be restless, for there would be no spiritual discipline in life. Some kind of mechanical philosophy of politics would have triumphed, and everybody would have this neat little part in the state machine. Everybody would be comfortable, but since there could be no great demand for intellectual exertion everybody would be also slightly idiotic. Their shallow minds would be easily bored, and therefore unstable. Their life would be largely a quest for amusement. The raffish existence led today by certain groups would have become the normal existence of large sections of society.

Some kind of intellectual life no doubt would remain, though the old political disputes would have cancelled each other out, and the world would not have the stimulus of a contest of ideals, which is, after all, a spiritual thing. Scientists and philosophers would still spin theories about the universe. Art would be in the hands of coteries, and literature dominated by petite chapelles. There would be religion, too, of a kind, in glossy upholstered churches with elaborate music. It would be a feverish, bustling world, self-satisfied and yet malcontent, and under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart.

The soil of human nature, which in the Dark Ages lay fallow, would now be worked out. Men would go everywhere and live nowhere; know everything and understand nothing. In the perpetual hurry of life there would be no chance of quiet for the soul. In the tumult of a jazz existence what hope would there be for the small voices of the prophets and philosophers and poets? A world which claimed to be a triumph of the human personality would in truth have killed that personality. In such a bagman's paradise, where life would be rationalised and padded with every material comfort, there would be little satisfaction for the immortal part of man. It would be a new Vanity Fair with Mr. Talkative as the chief figure on the town council. The essence of civilisation lies in man's defiance of an impersonal universe. It makes no difference that a mechanised universe may be his own creation if he allows his handiwork to enslave him. Not for the first time in history have the idols that humanity has shaped for its own ends become its master."

By John Buchan from "Memory Hold-the-Door" (1940)...

"in glossy upholstered churches with elaborate music. " Gag me with a spoon, as the saints of old would say. That's where we are. I hate it utterly. Well, I hate glossy upholstered anything. It's all the same sickness.

WORD NOTE: In old English slang a bagman was a traveling salesman. That's probably the reference of "bagman's paradise," rather than the American meaning.

Posted by John Weidner at August 13, 2011 10:52 PM
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