Samstag, 1.7.2023, 17:45h

Carey Harrison

(New York)

Plus ça change …

…plus c’est la même chose: an observation we owe to Alphonse Karr, a literary boulevardier (he often wrote for Le Figaro) whose life spanned the 19th century and whose professional and political ups and downs, as a staunch republican in an age of republican reverses, are mirrored in his best-known maxim (he published a book of them). Smug as it is, I dare say it’s reassuring to recite plus ça change—three words will do, no need to complete the formula, so complete is our submission to it—while resigning ourselves to yet another example of history repeating itself. Yet there are developments, surprises, changes. There are shocks. There are permanent reverses. The challenge is to pick which ones are on the way. The slow-motion car wreck that is humanity’s attitude to terminal climate change is both new and not nearly new enough; the spread of authoritarianism is hardly a novelty—the civilized world as it appeared in 1940 signalled that authoritarian regimes would soon dominate the liberal map. So… is the real shock coming from AI, from gene manipulation, from robotics? From generational conflict? Human infertility? From the revolutionary potential of income inequality, starvation, water shortage? These too are taking their time coming to the boil. They are boils that could drown us. And is the greatest threat one that we see coming yet refuse to lift a finger to resist? Or is it, as history surely insinuates, from a direction few if any could have predicted. Plus ça change, plus ça turns up out of left field. My own definitive shock came when the British Communist Party disbanded itself. You may laugh (I hope you do). You may be thinking, how could anyone tell? A valid point. But we had a member of Parliament once. (In wartime.) And I didn’t think a Communist Party could declare itself defunct. Wasn’t it an existential fact? Clearly not. So here’s my question. Is the tipping point the one we identify as such, or precisely the one we missed, even as it was happening? Isn’t the latter painfully true of private, personal, medical and domestic upheavals—maturing right under our nose, protected by our innate human compulsion to look at the wrong thing?
Misdirection? Isn’t that the thing that never changes?

Carey Harrison
was born in London during The Blitz, the Luftwaffe’s bombing onslaught, and as soon as the war ended he was taken to America, where he has lived on and off, for the past seventy-nine years. The off periods have coincided with his British education, at Harrow School and Cambridge, and a teaching post at Essex University. He has subsequently taught comparative literature at Cornell, at UC San Diego, at UT Austin, at the Florida Institute of Technology, and for the past thirty years at the City University of New York. He is the author of sixteen novels and over 200 plays and scripts for TV, theatre, radio, and film. His work has been shown in thirty-seven countries, and translated into thirteen languages. His novels have won him a Fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He is Professor of Humor at CUNY’s Brooklyn College and a member of the Einstein Forum’s Board of Advisors.

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