If you read nothing else today, please take time to read Gerard Vanderleun’s stunning and brilliant essay, The Return of History. Send it to everyone you know and stick it in your harddrive. He puts its better and more lucidly than anyone could: the “vacation from history” is over, the “me-like-fun” era is over, and it is once again – as before in America, in all of her greatests eras – “us-time.”
It’s difficult to excerpt something this rich, but a little taste:
N THE DAYS AFTER THE TOWERS FELL, in the ash that covered the Brooklyn street where I lived at that time, in the smoke that rose for months from that spot across the river, when rising up in the skyscraper I worked in, or riding deep beneath the river in the subway, or passing the thousand small shrines of puddled candle wax below the walls with the hundreds of photographs of “The Missing,” it was not too much to say that you could feel the doors of history open all about you.
With the end of the Soviet Union in a whimper and not a bang brighter than the sun on earth, history was officially over. The moment even got its own book, “The End of History,” which stimulated an argument that even more than the book emphasized that history was over.
Most sensible people liked it that way. In fact, a lot of people really liked it that way. Because if history for the world was over, these people could get on making the history that really mattered to them: The History of Me.
More and more throughout the 90s “History” was “out,” and “Me” was in. “Me,” “Having My Space,” “How to Be Your Own Best Friend,” “Me, Myself, I,” were hallmarks of that self-besotted age. The History of Me was huge in the 90s and rolled right through the millennium. It even had a Customized President to preside over those years; the Most Me President ever. A perfect man for the time and one who, in the end, did not disappoint in choosing “Me” over “Country.” How could he do otherwise? It was the option his constituency of Many-Million-Mes elected him to select. I know because I was into Me then and I voted for him because, well, because he seemed to be “just like me.” It was a sad day when “Me” couldn’t run for a third term, but The Party of Me offered up “Mini-Me” and a lot of Mes turned out for him too.
Unlike millions of miffed Mini-Mes, I wasn’t too upset when he didn’t get in after stamping his feet and holding his breath. I suppose I should have. It was what all the really intense Mini-Mes were doing. But I’d already started to become disgusted with all the Me-ness that had been going around so long and this tantrum of the Mini-Mes just made me not want to hang around them. After all, we were well beyond the End of History by this point, so what did it matter?
Then on one bright and unusually fine New York September morning History came back with a vengeance we’d never seen before in the history of America. It came back and it stayed and stayed and stayed. The doors of history swung open again and we were all propelled through them into… what?
Do yourself a favor and read it all!