The present era is so proud that it has produced a phenomenon which I imagined to be unprecedented: the present’s resentment of the past, resentment because the past had the audacity to happen without us being there, without our cautious opinion and our hesitant consent, and even worse without our gaining any advantage from it. Most extraordinary of all is that this resentment has nothing to do, apparently, with feelings of envy for past splendors that vanished without including us, or feelings of distaste for an excellence of which we were aware, but to which we did not contribute, one that we missed and failed to experience, that scorned us and which we did not ourselves witness, because the arrogance of our times has reached such proportions that it cannot admit the idea, not even a shadow or missed or breath of an idea, that things were better before. No, it’s just pure resentment for anything that presumed to happen beyond our boundaries and owed no debt to us, for anything that is over and has, therefore, escaped us. It has escaped our control and our maneuverings and our decisions, despite all these leaders going around apologizing for the outrages committed by their ancestors, even seeking to make amends by offering offensive gifts of money to the descendants of the aggrieved, regardless of how gladly those descendants may pocket those gifts and even demand them, for they, too, are opportunists, an eye on the main chance. Have used ever seen anything more stupid or farcical: cynicism on that part of those who give, cynicism on the part of those who receive. It’s just another acts of pride: a king or a prime minister assumes the right to attribute to his Church, to his Crown or to his country, to those who are alive now, the crimes of their predecessors, crimes which those same predecessors did not see or recognize as such all those centuries ago? Who do our representatives and our government think they are, asking forgiveness in the name of those who were free to do what they did and who are now dead? What right have they to make amends for them, to contradict the dead? Is it was purely symbolic, it would be mere oafish affectation or propaganda. However, symbolism is out of the question as long as there are offers of “compensation,” grotesquely retrospective monetary ones to boot. A person is a person and does not continue to exist through his remote descendants, not even his immediate ones, who often prove unfaithful; and these transactions and gestures do nothing for those who suffered, for those who really were persecuted and tortured, enslaved and murdered in their one, real life: they are lost forever in the night of time and in the night of infamy, which is doubtless no less long. To offer or accept apologies now, vicariously, to demand them or proffer them for the evil done to victims who are now formless and abstract, is an outright mockery of their scorched flesh and their severed heads, of their pierced breasts, of their broken bones and slit throats. Of the real and unknown names of which they were stripped or which they renounced. A mockery of the past. No, the past is simply not to be borne; we cannot bear not being able to do anything about it, not being able to influence it, to direct it, to avoid it. And so, if possible, it is twisted or tampered with or altered, or falsified, or else made into a liturgy, a ceremony, and emblem and, finally, a spectacle, or simply shuffled around and changed so that, despite everything, it at least looks as if we were intervening, even though the past is utterly fixed, a fact we choose to ignore. And if it isn’t, if that proves impossible, then it’s erased, suppressed, exiled or expelled, or else buried. And it happens, one or the other of those things happens all too often because the past doesn’t defend itself, it can’t. And so now no one wants to think about what they see or what is going on or what, deep down, they know, about what they already sense to be unstable and mutable, what might even be nothing, or what, in a sense, will not have been at all. No one is prepared, therefore, to know anything with certainty, because certainties have been eradicated, as if they were contagious diseases. And so it goes, and so the world goes.
Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear.
This novel is full of stunning and elegant digressions like this, and I’m completely captivated by it.