What is present other than all those things--physical objects, ideas, and sensibilities as well as their traces and fragments--that have somehow persisted into our own time? It is a characteristic, yet peculiar condition of modern life: Even though our world is made up of just these things from the past, more often than not, they have become unintelligible to us, if not invisible. Is there any way to save them from disappearing altogether, let alone to save us from the emptiness that comes from living in a time that is so oblivious to the past that we are unaware of how radically estranged we are? The aim of this column, which will appear as a regular feature of TNR Online, is to attempt some tentative answers to such questions with short reflections--this sort of journalism used to be called feuilletonisme, in the days when journalism was still concerned with serious writing--on concrete aspects of life as one individual lives it, so as to understand a little more clearly why the world looks and feels the way it does.
By Rochelle Gurstein