The title of this blog comes from the work of Julian Marias, a Spanish philosopher who reassessed the writings of his master, Ortega y Gasset, in a book called Generation: A historical method. In the opening pages of this 1970 book, Marias posed a provocative question and outlined a compelling task, both of which have stuck with me since I first read his book. The provocative question was this:
“When an old man says ‘in my day’ he is referring not [to] the present in which he actually lives and speaks but to some past time. Although he lives today, it is apparent that this is not ‘his’ time. To which portion of the past does he feel he belongs? With what zone of his life does it coincide? When an old person speaks of ‘my time,’ meaning some past period, he seems to reveal that he lives in the present as an exile or an alien. Are not our lives formed by the very subtle essence of a certain period?“
The question was rhetorical. Marias indeed believed that the meetup of our lives and our “times” mattered deeply to both history and biographies. And to scholars, philosophers, historians and others concerned with deep reflection and research into the state of things, he proposed that we think of history as “a drama with a plot and characters”. He wrote that the thinking person’s task is to ask who those characters are, what their ages are, and “what is the elemental ‘present’ of history?”
This blog is a writing ritual for me, but it is also meant to be a window on “the elemental present”, one I will fog up and wipe clean in the hopes of gathering a crowd to peer through it with me.
Oh – and me? I’m Karen Foster, and I’m a Banting post-doctoral fellow at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I defended my dissertation (at Carleton University, on generations and work) in the final days of 2011 and hope to keep on keepin’ on in academia. If you want more information about my research, including publications, check me out on Academia.edu.
Every post on this blog is made better by talking it over with this guy.