“Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.”
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, The Dry Salvages
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.”
F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
L P Hartley, The Go Between
The vast shifting mass of ‘the past’ is subject to an eternal edit: academic blacksmithing, forensic scrutiny, reappraisal, revision, speculation, opinion and critical competitiveness. Often, there is no conclusive consensus. Was the Great War avoidable? Whose fault was it? Depends who you ask. New evidence can challenge received wisdom and evolving contemporary attitudes can colour the perception of established facts. These, in turn, are photo-shopped to better illustrate preferred narratives. We see it through the distorting lens of the present as its long wake recedes behind us.
Only the future is constant. The past changes all the time.