PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
PNR266 Now Available
The latest issue of PN Review is now available to read online. read more
Most Read... Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
M. Wynn ThomasThe Other Side of the Hedge
(PN Review 239)
Jamie OsbornIn conversation with Sasha Dugdale
(PN Review 240)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing ‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
(PN Review 236)
Next Issue Stav Poleg Running Between Languages Jeffrey Meyers on Mr W.H. (Auden) Miles Burrows The Critic as Cleaning Lady Timothy Ades translates Brecht, Karen Leeder translates Ulrike Almut Sandig
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

On the Past and its Present Moment Clive Wilmer

Independence you had better cease to talk of, for you are dependent not only on every act of people whom you never heard of, who are living round you, but on every past act of what has been dust for a thousand years. So also, does the course of a thousand years to come, depend upon the little perishing strength that is in you.
Ruskin, Fors Clavigera


I wonder if any age in history has prided itself as ours does on being modern. Most previous eras have invoked some ancient time as the source of taste and wisdom - it is from this habit, after all, that we derive the notion of the Classic - yet the modern age, as its very adoption of the word 'modern' suggests, regards itself as final, unprecedented, a point of arrival. There is something paradoxical in this. It could be argued that no other period has ever been more conscious of historical process. Yet in practice we think of the past as a single lump and of our world as the culmination of history: there is no further to go - we are not very hopeful, but we do not look back on anyone with reverence. As a result, the contemporary world is left with the oxymoron 'post-modern' as the only available category for itself. It is almost like living a posthumous existence.

I am not going to pretend that our predicament is one we can ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image