Monday, August 4, 2008

The heartbreak of time

Thomas Hibbs reviews the newest dramatization of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I hadn't planned on seeing it--in spite of the fact that Emma Thompson plays Lady Marchmain--and he certainly hasn't changed my mind. But his review was an opportunity to bask once again in a few delightful passages of my all-time favorite novel.

The film's central mistake, Hibbs says, is its inability to rise above nostalgia. This is a classic misunderstanding of Waugh--and, I believe, Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, and Belloc: their love of past times and memory is not a desire to return to what is lost. They recognize the limits time places on the human person and on human culture, but also see in the history of salvation the possibility of time redeemed and put at the service of eternity. Hibbs articulates it quite nicely:

"The desire to arrest time, to hold onto the present as if it could be preserved from age, is a powerful human motive—one at the root of art itself. (In both the book and the film one cannot help but think of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”) While the film’s focus is on guilt and lost innocence, Waugh’s focus is on the way faith overcomes the limits of romanticism regarding innocence and the past. It is not simply, as Lady Marchmain severely puts it, that time and eternity are at odds with one another. Instead, the task of faithful memory, or desire recollected through grace, is to discern the workings of providence in and through the moments of time. Thus, time itself, ordinarily an instrument of decay, can be redeemed, as the moments of time are gathered, rather than dispersed."

I try to remember the ideas of "arresting time" and "the task of faithful memory" and "desire recollected through grace" and, of course, divine providence working in time. Watching a baby grow must be one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking experiences in time. Beautiful, because the child emerges so sweetly and innocently and with such love; heartbreaking, because you know babyhood is swift and is lost forever. I want to live in time and memory with the eyes of faith--to perceive the life that does not decay, to gather the moments given to us.

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