“A people without history / Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern / Of timeless moments.” – T.S. Eliot, from Little Gidding
This month on All Nine we approach the next of the nine muses, Clio (or Kleio, as some call her – she’ll answer to both names), with the goal of getting to know her a bit better.
Let me make a quick intro then provide some elaboration. First: meet Clio, the muse of history. She dances. She sings. She plays the lyre, like her big sister. Apparently she writes and reads a lot, because often she is seen with open scrolls and piles of books in her selfies.
Her name comes from the Greek “to make famous” or “celebrate.” Clio is one of the paparazzi, in a way. Except instead of chasing down the famous-for-fifteen-minutes crowd, she captures those she deems historical-for-all-time heroes. She celebrates (therefore making “celebrities of”) those who mark our collective timelines in a way that they need to be marked – in heavy physical tomes, not ethereal cyberspace.
Our ability to make famous and be famous – to create celebrities – has increased dramatically in recent decades. We can capture virtually every action of every human in every millisecond of time. But surely that doesn’t make each such “document” an historical one. In fact, the sheer volume of such documentation diminishes our ability to distinguish ephemera from historical moment.
Not all moments are equal. There are timeless moments and time-filled moments. Clio is the muse of timelessness. Clio is the one that narrows down for us those moments and interactions that have far-reaching (not just for now) significance. She is the muse that points out the remarkable and says, “Heads up! Take note. This one’s a keeper.”
Clio’s wisdom and clarity of the ages is perhaps more important today than ever, when we are constantly encouraged to “be in the moment.” I have myself told writers to focus on just what is before them and write about that, even a crumpled up piece of paper or a stick of gum, a stand of trees in a frozen wetland, the seemingly mundane. These are simply exercises to get the writing juices flowing, certainly, and in itself the idea of being “in the moment” is not a bad thing. Sometimes that “in the moment” practice can even open up a sense of timelessness.
But at what point does the ordinary routine stuff of life– this moment disconnected from any other moment – become overly documented? Are we getting stuck in the exercise – the practice? And are we so caught up in “reality tv” that we skip the real show, the Grand Performance?
I hope not.
No, I go one better than hope: I welcome Clio here in this moment to give us her glasses for the timeless. Please pull up a chair, gather up your lyre, and join us this month to celebrate history and this historical moment.