A friend sent me a text asking if I’d ever read the science fiction classic ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I know I read it back when I was reading more science fiction, but the only thing I remembered about the book was the lovely title. ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ is memorable.
My friend said he was surprised by the “rampant sexism” and that characters seemed amazed whenever a woman proved capable of anything. We exchanged a few texts about how things have changed—or not changed—in the 42 years since the book was published. Forty-two years may seem like a lot, but it is the definition of a MOTE (the tiniest speck) of time in the larger scheme of things.
His experience reminded me of reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in a book club a while back. The classic annoyed me. Everything that had made it important to generations of adolescents, made it irritating to me as an adult.
As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
We change and our responses to art change, too. It’s natural and normal, but it makes for some odd reunions with old literary friends. The character with whom you identify seems petty (or silly or selfish or worse). The romantic seduction that once swept you away rings false or wreaks of manipulation, when you read it a second time, after more experience with love. Even the epic quest that once inspired you can seem self-indulgent when it’s revisited.
The only thing that’s worse than not having a new response is having the same exact feelings years, or decades, later. Because that means you’re stuck and haven’t grown or changed in the intervening time. You really can’t go home again, but you can travel to new versions of those literary places. Or, you can simply let the memory remain and move on.