In Search of Lost Time

David Clemens

Around 10 B.C.E., the Roman poet Horace asserted that poetry’s purpose is “to delight and instruct.”  More recently, in the Wall Street Journal, James Collins declared that in her novels, Jane Austen delights and instructs in how to live a moral life.  He asks, "What, then, are the values that Austen would teach us? Value-laden words and phrases appear again and again in her work, often in clusters: self- knowledge, generosity, humility; elegance, propriety, cheerful orderliness; good understanding, correct opinion, knowledge of the world, a warm heart, steady, observant, moderate, candid, sensibility to what is amiable and lovely." Austen’s words boggle the modern mind as quaintly alien and vaguely religious.  They are signifiers of archaic virtues foreign to our national conversation.  Today, there is only one master virtue that trumps all others:  tolerance. However, real moral instruction is predicated on narrative, the arrangement of events in Time such that choices and actions have perceptible consequences.  Unfortunately, our wired and wireless world tirelessly militates against narrative.  On electronic networks, as Sven Birkerts put it, everything is “laterally associative rather than vertically cumulative” and what comes before is unrelated to what comes after.  The hyperlink replaces the transition word (linking may be a major factor in the decline of student ability in logic, grammar, and narrative understanding).  Students don’t even perceive cause and effect relationships because they have returned to an Eden-of-the-screens, outside of Time, dwelling in what Lewis Lapham called “the enchanted garden of the eternal now.”

  • Share

Most Commented

May 15, 2015

1.

Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

October 6, 2020

2.

Pulitzer Board Must Revoke Nikole Hannah-Jones' Prize

We call on the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the 2020 Prize for Commentary awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in “The 1619 Project.” ...

December 22, 2020

3.

From John David to David Acevedo: Why I’m Leaving Behind My NAS Pseudonym for Good

In this piece, NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo, formerly known as John David, recounts why he chose to write pseudonymously and why he has decided to go public...

Most Read

May 15, 2015

1.

Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

January 12, 2021

2.

Tracking "Cancel Culture" in Higher Education

UPDATED 1/12/21: A repository of 117 administrators, professors, and students who have been "canceled" for expressing views deemed unacceptable by higher education ideologu...

May 26, 2010

3.

10 Reasons Not to Go to College

A sampling of arguments for the idea that college may not be for everyone....