A consoling thought for the novelists, from Milan Kundera’s The Curtain, which I have just finished:
Applied to art, the notion of history has nothing to do with progress; it does not imply improvement, amelioration, an ascent; it resembles a journey undertaken to explore unknown lands and chart them. The novelist’s ambition is not to do something better than his predecessors but to see what they did not see, say what they did not say. Flaubert’s poetics does not devalue Balzac’s, any more than the discovery of the North Pole renders obsolete the discovery of America.
It reminds me somewhat of T.S. Eliot’s argument in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and yet we hope to see something different.
On an unrelated note, I have started on My Life List #30: Memorize an entire New Testament letter (that’s not Jude or Philemon). I chose 1 John, which is a legitimate book; it has five full chapters, and possibly THE most difficult first sentence ever to memorize. Sheesh.