“现代化思维”
Selected from Class Picture
by Tobias Wolff
- translated by JQZ

The New Yorker Jan. 6, 2003
Variation on the Word Sleep The Matter of Words Reconsidering ARbus

前天刚看到一篇小故事,说一个“稀有文物”级的老作家被一个颇有名望的“贵族”中学请去教育有成学子。讲座完毕是提问时间,一个年轻的英文老师提了个问题,说,“您不觉得您那种一板一眼的八股文已经过时了么?那么古老的文字安排怎么可以用来表现当今人的现代化思维呢?又如何表达今天的意识形态?”

“现代化思维,”老作家问,“那是什么?”

年轻教师很得意的说,“像工业革命,两次世界大战,趋于饱和的市场经济的广告宣传,现代科学使人们慢慢失去信仰,人类时时面对的世界末日的威胁。。。”

老先生龙目圆睁,胡子翘翘,滔滔不绝道,
“战争!从有人类开始就有战争,谁告诉你说二次大战与伊利亚特之战不同?同样的肮脏,同样的残酷,
我在二战里失去了我最好的朋友,Achilles的好友也是战死的。你以为,我和Achilles为亡友流的眼泪有什么不一样么?你以为我的悲哀比Achilles要深么?就因为我开的车是石油驱动的,而Achilles的座骑是马?!笑话!

“诚然,自认为是有史以来最肩负重任,或最不幸,最好,最坏,最NB的一代,有何不可?但是你要知道,自古以来,所有的人都是这样想的。说归齐,那不过是给各种各样的懒惰习惯找了个冠冕堂皇的借口罢了。”(注:最喜欢的就是这最后一句,'it makes a grand excuse for all manner of laziness.')
[snip]
The headmaster...told us that Mr. Frost had agreed to take a few questions, if we had any.[snip]

Your work, sir, Mr. Ramsey said, follows a certain tradition, shall we say, a formal  tradition, as in that last poem you read,...[snip]...The question is whether such a rigidly formal arrangement of language is adequate to express the modern consciousness.

Modern consciousness, Frost said. What's that?

Ah! Good question, sir. Well --very   roughly speaking, I would describe it as the mind's response to industrialization, ...[snip]... two world wars, the concentration camp, the dimming of faith by science, and, of course, the constant threat of annihilation. Surely theswe things have had an effect on us. Surely they have changed our thinking.

Surely nothing. Frost said. He stared down at Mr. Ramsey. Don't tell me about science, ...[snip]...he said, and don't tell me about war. I lost my nearest friend in the one they call the Great War. So did Achilles lose his friend in war, and Homer did no injustice to his grief by writing about it in dactylic hexameters. There've always been wars, and they've always been as foul as we could make them. It is very fine and pleasant to think ourselves the most put-upon folk in history, but then everyone has thought that from the beginning--it makes a grand excuse for all manner of laziness.

[snip]