Sunday, May 1, 2011

It was the best of times...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

- Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870),  A Tale of Two Cities

The opening words of the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities are well known. It employs the literary technique of doubles – the contrasting of opposite themes, locales, characters, events etc – to introduce the age and setting, the novel thereafter using doubles throughout its structure: Paris and London in 1775, when the novel is set; Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay; Lucie and Madame Defarge; good and evil, the past and the future; wisdom and folly., and so on.

The above quoted passage, in its comparisons, paradoxes and contradictions, also highlights some other aspect of the human condition. One such aspect is typified by what is known as Imbresi’s Conservation of Filth Law: “In order for something to become clean, something else must become dirty.” Everything comes with a price.

Our present age has the highest technological development ever seen, yet we are overpopulating the planet, depleting its finite resources and treating the environment as though we hold a renewable lease. We are the most advanced, the most skilled, the most knowledgeable, we have ever been, yet we are beset with wars, terrorism, religious division and discord within our own societies, countries and cultures.

Read Dickens' words again and then ponder whether the statement “the period was so far like the present period” is not more apt for 2011 than for 1775.

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