Monday, November 26, 2007

Lost in the Flood

This will shred you on shards of broken hearts. It might make you feel you, too, are drowning in the stream of the last century's nameless dead. Like the long, silent spiral of bodies and china table settings and novels that trailed up from gashed "Titanic" in the icewater. Multiplied by millions; who knew in 1912 this was to be the image of the dawning century? You may finish this story gasping and gulping breath. Or vertiginous. The ground beneath you suddenly turned transparent, you see you stand at the apex of a pile of corpses, as high as the sea is deep. And demoralized by the realization of how feeble is any attempt to redeem any of it now.

Sometimes I doubt whether I've spent the last 20 years researching the 19th century or escaping into it. Oh I can think of a hundred reasons I'd rather live now than then -- smallpox vaccines, air conditioning, bikinis -- but a decided advantage of being a human being in the 19th century was that you didn't have to somehow explain the 20th.