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Why I Live in the Past

2,110 words

I don’t like the present very much. So I live in the past.

Just about everything about this day and age depresses and angers me. The ignorance, the lies, the vulgarity, the hypocrisy, the bad manners. The witless movies aimed at those with IQs of 85 and under. “Diversity.” Feminism. Having to press “1” to hear the menu in English. Having to hear a menu at all. TSA (the last time I flew they removed the cheese from my backpack and X-rayed it separately). The relentless focus on money and “practicality.” The inescapable ugliness of this concrete, advertisement bedecked wasteland (which most ordinary people don’t even notice anymore). The brass, shrill, F-word besprinkled speech of today’s slatternly young women. The use of “disrespect” as a verb. And I could go on.

One way I deal with all of this is by means of a kind of dark, detached, withering humor – which I direct at things from my throne high atop Mount Olympus. When I get together with like-minded friends we spend most of our time observing others and rubbishing them. The other way I deal with the rot of the day is by entering into the past. For me, the past is like another world I can escape to. There are many doorways back into the past. Reading history is one of them, of course.

Another – perhaps my favorite way – is old movies. I like watching films from the ’40s, ’50s, and even the ’60s — just because everyone dresses so much better in those films than they do today. (This is a large part of the secret to the success of Mad Men.) Everything I know about how to dress I learned from watching Hitchcock films (and James Bond). I like corny old movies, and I like them on principle. This is because I feel that the ability to enjoy them and be moved by them is a mark of purity and simple virtue. That most of us are unable to watch such films today without laughing is a mark of our corruption. Yes, I even watch silent films. To me they are to the cinema what Greek drama is to theater.

People seem more real in old movies. Men are men and women are women. They have real emotions and let them out, without having to go through an ideological screening process. They seem closer to nature – even when they are shown living in urban environments. I get the same feeling when I look at very old photographs – such as the family photos we still have from the 19th century. As everybody always notices in these old pictures, the people aren’t smiling. They have a harder, tougher quality. But what always fascinates me is the eyes. They have a faraway look, like every single one of them is a bit touched (as they say in the South). You feel like you can see history on those eyes. And a connection to something that we’ve lost. It’s like they were all hooked up to the great pitiless, primal life-generator, whereas we are mere bloodless simulacra.

I like films from the past and films about the past – especially the distant past. Films set in the ’40s or ’50s do display a nice contrast to today, and make me feel wistful. But if you’re clever you can perceive the rot beginning to set in, even back then. You can recognize the patterns of decay; the things that just kept on getting worse until we got saddled with today. (And, of course, these things will keep on getting worse.) Which is why I love films that take me back a few centuries – so long as there’s some credibility to them. And so long as they don’t fall into the “When things were rotten” mold. Reading a history of Rome is a way to enter into the past. But a film like Quo Vadis?, for all its flaws, makes that past come alive.

I also like films that are preoccupied with the past. A good example would be the very appropriately-named Out of the Past (1947) with Robert Mitchum. This is one of my favorite films, and it is the best film noir of them all.

But let’s not forget television shows. A few months ago I reviewed the misguided Tim Burton Dark Shadows film, and it became an excuse for me to reminisce about the original TV series. And my own review then prompted me to start watching Dark Shadows on Netflix – and getting hooked on it all over again. Dark Shadows starts off as the story of Victoria Winters, a young woman who grew up in an orphanage with no knowledge of her parents at all. She goes to work as governess for the aristocratic Collins family in Maine, a clan with a rich past. A woman without a past goes to work for a family that things about almost nothing other than the past.

Inevitably, Victoria becomes obsessed by the Collins family history and fantasizes about being one of them. Late in the show’s first year the main character then becomes a figure literally of the past: Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire obsessed with his own past and with reliving his great romance with long-dead Josette. At a certain point, Victoria is transported back in time to the 1790s, where the ancestors of the present-day Collins family are played by the same set of actors. (This storyline lasted for many weeks, and these are considered Dark Shadows’ “classic” episodes.)

This series was very accurately described as a “Gothic romance,” and preoccupation with the past – old mansions and abbeys, family curses, hauntings, etc. – is a staple of Gothic fiction. Why? And why is Gothic fiction “Gothic”? What is it about the northern European soul that causes it to be so moved by dark and stormy nights, secret passages, and old family secrets? Other peoples value the past, and preserve tradition, but somehow with us it’s different. The past is an uncanny thing for us. It really is like a different world, that sometimes has the capacity to cross over into this one.

In a sense, the past is more real than the present. It is more real because it is complete. My life is ongoing. I have no idea where it will lead, or what it will be defined by. In this sense, it is indefinite. A single act, a single spoken or written sentence can define an entire life and give it meaning. Think of any historical figure. Always in their story there is some major deed or event that defines the whole life. Reading their story – knowing where their life is headed – we understand everything before the event as leading up to it, as preparing the way. If the historical figure survives this event, we understand everything after it as its result – or as anticlimax.

Historical lives are therefore like works of fiction. We only recognize that there’s a plot once the life is over. Then we see it in terms of acts and story arcs. Fictional characters are “larger than life.” They seem more real to us. Sherlock Holmes is far more real to me than my UPS man, and I know far more about him. But the same is true of historical figures. (I’m almost tempted to ask, given how fascinating the past is, who needs fiction when we have history?)  Our lives, as we are living them, are like stories that keep going and going, making us wonder if there really is a point to it all. What’s the plot? Or is there a plot at all? This is the same thing as wondering if there’s any meaning or purpose to our lives.

But it is only once a life is over that we can truly know what its meaning and purpose was. Every completed life is like a completed story, and, like fiction, has much to teach us. This is true even of seemingly insignificant lives. The lives of great men are like classic, sprawling novels (or epic poems). The lives of little men are like short stories (or, in the case of very little men, limericks).

This perspective has taught me a great deal about how life should be led. Essentially, you really have to choose whether you want to be the author of your own story – your own life – or let circumstances (or fate) do the authoring for you. I have learned to adopt the perspective of a third party looking over my life and assessing it, discerning the patterns in it, seeing where it seems to be headed. I have learned that I must keep squarely in mind that every choice, every action on my part is irrevocable. All form part of my past – instantly, as soon as the choice is made or the action undertaken. All form part of the story that is my life. At every step, I must ask of my decisions and my actions whether I want this to be part of that story. I am, in a sense, actively seeking to create the past – at least where I am concerned.

Certainly, part of my concern is with what will be said about me after I am gone – with how I will be remembered. This will be dismissed as narcissism. However, as my readers know I owned (and defended) the narcissist label some time ago. In fact, I don’t think that my concern with my pastness is any different from that of my barbarian ancestors, who lived lives they hoped might be set down in sagas and sung about. Perhaps it is this that sets us apart from other people, where history and the past is concerned. We are the people who do not just remember the past, but seek to create a past for ourselves.

Or, at least, that’s how we used to be. But Americans and (increasingly) Europeans are shockingly ignorant of history. It is to the future that we moderns now consistently orient ourselves. But the future is indefinite. It offers us no guidance. Only the past is definite; only in the past do we find lessons (really, myths) to live by. The result for our people today is that they are as indefinite as their future: devoid of a center, wishy-washy, changeable, malleable.

Fundamentally, the conflict between Left and Right is the conflict between the future focus and the past focus. Conservatives (real conservatives) are not seeking to go back, which is impossible. They are seeking to go forward, looking to the past for guidance. Finding in the past some evidence for unchangeable human truths. But the Left (and the phony “neo-cons”) go forward blindly, sure in the belief that the past has nothing to reveal because there are no unchangeable human truths.

As a movement, the New Right seeks to move forward by looking to the past and learning from it. This is the essence of what some of us call Traditionalism. But some of us are haunted by the thought that our efforts are in vain; that the forces arrayed against us are too strong. Perhaps all the reading, writing, activism, poverty, and self-denial are for naught.

To such people, I recommend living in the past as I do. And I ask them to imagine that, after death, they could look upon their completed life and take in the whole story. Or to imagine that their life belongs to another, whose biography they happen to be perusing. At a certain point in the story, the life of the New Rightist comes to a crucial juncture: to give in to the doubts and give up; to “get a real job,” and join the mainstream. Or to continue the fight and have faith – even if, in fact, it leads to naught. Which is the story that is more admirable? Which sort of man would you be more proud to be? Which is the sort of man that makes history? Only one answer is possible here. The detached focus one needs to see one’s life this way is difficult to maintain. Still more difficult, however, is to exercise the will and compel yourself to take those actions that you know will make your life the proud story of a great man.

To save the future, we must look to the past – and act. In doing so, we create a glorious past for ourselves. A past that will, I promise you, be the stuff of new sagas. Think about this, when the doubt begins to nag.

 

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16 Comments

  1. selbstgebildete
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    ‘. . . every action on my part is irrevocable. All form part of my past – instantly, as soon as the choice is made or the action undertaken. All form part of the story that is my life. At every step, I must ask of my decisions and my actions whether I want this to be part of that story.’

    That is real philosophy.

  2. Petronius
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Amen to that.

  3. Deviance
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Just about everything about this day and age depresses and angers me.

    Have you thought about seeing a shrink?

    /Cynical humor.

    Otherwise, I of course agree with your opinion and understand your experience. I don’t think anyone is really happy in the West today — everyone seems tense and stressful… and people who were born at the right end of the bell curve tend to be even less happier than everyone, because they ask themselves questions.

    And when you imagine what could be, or what could have been, instead of this horrible world, you become even more depressed.

    This perspective has taught me a great deal about how life should be led. Essentially, you really have to choose whether you want to be the author of your own story – your own life – or let circumstances (or fate) do the authoring for you. I have learned to adopt the perspective of a third party looking over my life and assessing it, discerning the patterns in it, seeing where it seems to be headed. I have learned that I must keep squarely in mind that every choice, every action on my part is irrevocable. All form part of my past – instantly, as soon as the choice is made or the action undertaken. All form part of the story that is my life. At every step, I must ask of my decisions and my actions whether I want this to be part of that story. I am, in a sense, actively seeking to create the past – at least where I am concerned.

    Great. But the single fact you had to figure it out yourself, that this vital sentiment was not ingrained in you at an early age, proves that our culture is broken.

  4. WG
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    This is good. I sympathise to some degree. A respect for our historical Tradition is essential.

    But if we’re going to win this thing, it’s equally if not more important to live in the Future.

    We must have inspiring myth of where we need to be, and how we’re going to get there.

    We look to the future.

    I recommend that our people stop immersing themselves in what was, and start preparing for what will be.

    The story is yet to be written.

  5. Andrees
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Regarding your comments about future focus and past focus:

    A few days ago, reading the Counter-Currents article on Cosmotheism, I realized that most of the people who proudly “don’t care” about the future of their race don’t actually care about anything that happens beyond the near future. You often hear self-identified conservatives make claims about the long term consequences of actions, especially when they talk about economics. I can’t recall any instances of similar concern among liberals.

    • guiscard
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Well human beings are basically ‘selfish’ creatures in a sense, so one asks ‘What’s in it for me?’. This is generally where religious(post-life) thought played it’s part. You see, when we expect to exist in the future, then ‘judgement’ from our peers, god, reincarnation, Valhalla etc has meaning. The problem I find, is that ‘greater men’ like a Pierce or Bowden can push the type of system where ‘our energy goes into the whole’ or something similar. Now for them, it’s ok because they’ve written their names in the history books… they’ve become the ‘supermen’ we all aim to be… but what of the footsoldiers? What motivation is there to die (nameless) for a cause, only to disappear into nothingness.
      Conversely, the liberals are like counterfeit ubermensch. Without any real beliefs, initiation, trials etc they walk around in perfect harmony with who they are.

  6. G_W_Hayduke
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Been too long, Mr Costello. Yet another outstanding column. Just spent the last 30 minutes or so re-reading Guys, and Dystopia Is Now, and a few others.

    • Jef Costello
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I’m very pleased that you enjoy my work.

  7. Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Cheer Up!

    “I think we all agree, the past is over.” — GEORGE W. BUSH, Dallas Morning News, May 10, 2000

    “Cheer up, world, it may never happen!” — Edina Monsoon

  8. Michael O'Meara
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a beautiful piece.

    It expresses the archeofuturism not of the New Right alone, but of the European Tradition, as it endeavors to ‘return to the spirit that lies not in the past per se, but in advance of what is to come’.

  9. BasilX
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    The sentiments so beautifully expressed by J.Costello touches us.We feel ashamed.
    When we were young we dreamed about heroic deeds,self-sacrifice,reaching high, pursuing noble ideals.We dreamed to be in the court of king Arthur,Charles Martel or defending Constantinople against the Turk ,to save the city and people against total destruction and slavery. Only if it was Charles Martel instead of the corrupt Byzantine court.It pains me even now when I see western tourist visiting Constantinople .Then, we grew-up, educated in western liberal or socialist-communist schools.We wanted to be “successful”. When now we see the “new world”we feel that we have betrayed our ancestors.We feel ashamed.Then deep in our soul we want to believe that it is not everything lost.

  10. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    About a month back, I accidentally tuned into a web station that played the best music of the Thirties, Forties, and early Fifties.

    I was just stunned at how a common theme flowed throughout all of the music, particularly the Big Bands of the Forties, and that was an incredible sense of the Positive that you hear in everything.

    A friend who knows of my philosophical leanings (well, some of them!) invited me over recently to see the new home theater set-up. She demonstrated its capabilities with the Blu-Ray disc of “How The West Was Won.” Absolutely, totally, stunning – sound quality, color quality, and a story that said Manifest Destiny in its every moment, and the joyous fulfillment of the Duty to such a Destiny.

    I am downloading the music from that station, and play it throughout the day. The incredible sense of confidence is just the diametric opposite of what we hear today.

    An an aside, sometimes, late at night, I will lie awake, stare at the latest projections of economic decline, and face a cold, stark feeling of horror that the future my Posterity will face will be something like the scene in “Atlas Shrugged,” when Dagny and Hank visited the old factory. I see the decline before me, clearly in the date, masked by the willingness of people to assume horrific amounts of debt to make their economic decline, which only makes the end all the more depressing. I look at the net worth of banks and corporations when you include the off balance sheet entities and their liabilities, and realize that the idea we can return to the Fifties and early Sixties is a delusional exercise in wishful thinking. Look at the online archives of “Life” and “Look” magazine from that time. Look at the same locations they describe today, and realize that it can not get any better; quite the contrary.

    I’ve been toying with developing an alternative history outline of the future, based on Covington’s Northwest Republic novels, using the situations he describes as examples for how an alternative economic and political system would work – MUST work! – to ensuring that what remains of Western Man in this phase of Western Civilization.

    My Prime Symbol for what is coming is near the end of “Atlas Shrugged,” when Eddie Williers is on the Taggart Comet, stopped forever in the desert, trying desperately to make the train run as if by magic, pulling wires, throwing switches and levers, all to no effect. In the distance, the hoof beats of the horses of The Raiders can be heard. They will offer safe transport to a colony, for the right people, for the right price. Williers stays with the Comet, and the scene ends with him on the train tracks, on his knees, helpless, as the only man-made tool still functioning, the trains headlight, grows dimmer. In all too believable microcosm, the Dominion of Humanity is replaced by the Domination of The Darkness.

    We are not helpless, we are Men. We are the Men of the West, men who, forty years ago, set foot on the Moon for the first time in history, and the flag we repeat WE planted, still flies there. THAT was accomplished with technology from the Nineteen Sixties, and would have been thought unthinkable in the Eighteen Sixties, a few scant generations prior.

    Note that in that century, horrific economic depressions hit, horrific world wars took place, and yet, because of our common linkage to the (Masculine) Duty to manifest a Destiny greater than they could imagine, our ancestors succeeded beyond their ancestors wildest dreams.

    We must recapture that Spirit, and we will.

    Covington has defined the only successful temporal framework for this. Period.

    To paraphrase Jef Costello, “I live in the past, today, so those who come after me can live in a better tomorrow.”

    One final comment: Kevin Alfred Strom ended one of his ADV’s with four words I had never heard from the National Alliance, and have only seen articulated by Harold Covngton. They are useful for reminding us of our Duty to conquer The Destroyer.

    Those four words?

    “We’re Going To WIN.”

  11. Donar van Holland
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Thank you for a very inspiring article!

    I liked it when you wrote about decisions being absolutely irrevocable. Indeed, I believe that if there is anywhere we might look for evidence of the spirit, it is not in the imaginings of energy bodies and the like, but here: in the instant of the decision.

    And you write: “I have learned to adopt the perspective of a third party looking over my life and assessing it”. In the pagan tradition you might say that you feel the gods observing you. I imagine the gods constantly whispering to us: “Don’t you want to become a superman?”

    I think you put it very well that the left does not (want to) believe in unchangeable human truths. Then of course the past has nothing to offer. The Right however, engages the past as a treasure house, full of valuable experiences.

    Sometimes these are told as myths. For example, the idea of Valhalla is absolutely essential to the Nordic tradition.

    We do not have a ruler in the sky who wants us to conform, to obey his arbitrary rules, to accept our guilt. This YHWH is indeed a petty god of the desert, quite possibly a projection in the sky of small-minded, arbitrary and jealous parents.

    Our Norse gods are gods of life, they want life in superabundance. They want us to overcome, to become glorious. And we can chose our field of action freely, according to our nature. Is this not a wonderful perspective?

    So indeed, let the gods and our ancestors inspire us and create a glorious past for ourselves!

  12. Karen Toffan
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Sympathise with you but there are very good movies, far and few between, almost always Gentile written & directed…Stranger than Paradise, Broken Flowers, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, Tree of Life, Das Boot, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Koyanaskatsi, The Last Picture Show, Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Rhinoceros, The Iceman Cometh, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, 3 Women and last but not least, National Lampoons Chrismas Vacation.

  13. Jaego Scorzne
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Some people prefer the Sunrise, some the Sunset. Some are inspired by the potential future and some by our godlike past. It all coverges into the Life which doth abide in Light. There is no Future without a Past. And anyone truly inspired by such a glorious history wills it to be resurrected in the future.

    Communists, who do not believe in life after death and thus no posthumous reward, will work on long term subversion the fruit of which they will not live to see. It’s a dark religion and it devotees put tepid Christians and Republicans to shame.

  14. MOB
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    One of the most important gifts that we derive from bringing our children into the world is an altered reality, kaleidoscopic–they change everything. If they’re lucky.

    Suddenly, securing a happy future for the beautiful little babe, the beautiful little boy or girl, the beautiful young man or woman – becomes the most important, the most rewarding thing that you can possibly do with your own days, which have become insignificant by comparison.

    No more deep philosophical discussions, no more Greenwich Village, almost no more red wine — it’s time to “maximize the potential” — to lift the next generation above your shoulders,
    Yes, I know that probably sounds annoyingly self-sacrificial–martyr-like, almost. But in essence, it’s the truth; children dissipate a parent’s longings for the past; the future beckons; it must be dealt with, for the sake of . . . see paragraph 2.

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