Tag Archives: Proclus

The dustbin of history escapes from… er, um, ah… the dustbin of history

Sounds a bit like the conundrum that triggered Bertrand Russell’s nervous breakdown in 1901 as he set about finessing set theory. Can a set be a member of itself? Turns out it depends who’s asking. Or put it another way: Is this a question?

But enough prevarication. I come bearing gifts. Because philologists, I have been informed, reliably, have recently been noting the improbable revival of that most hallowed of receptacles, the Dustbin of History.

This was, you will hardly need reminding, an object much-beloved once-upon-a-time by Marxist historians, though credit for its consecration can’t go to Charlie Marx himself. No: that plaudit goes instead to Charlie’s pithy grandson (philosophically speaking) Lenin.

But yes, clearly, the notion is properly Marxist. In a universe where the passage of time is synonymous with progress, it’s axiomatic that some ideas and methods will become obsolete. And where do you put things when they’ve become obsolete?

That’s right! Lenin initially evoked the bin as a final resting place for the moderate Menshevik wing of his party. The Mensheviks were bad eggs, the sorts of wretches we’d now call Blairites and spit at in the street.

So of course they deserved their fate. But over the years, though it had originally been fashioned from the finest galvanised steel, the bin began losing its lustre. The last thing consigned to it (or so we thought) was that sublime breezeblock monument to Marx’s life and work, The Berlin Wall.

In the last few months, though, we’ve seen it (the bin, not the wall) making the odd re-appearance.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the notion that sundry Mensheviks have been escaping, intent on wreaking all sorts of mischief.

But one commentator will be pleased, and indeed will feel vindicated. Over the last couple of decades or so, he has continued to evoke the Dustbin of History, and he has done so without any need to resort to apologetic irony. We are of course referring to that Hegelian philosopher and social commentator, Homer Simpson, famed for reducing the concept to a resonant three-letter acronym: “DOH!”

Suggested essay questions

  1. “Hegel hielt weniger auf Plotin als auf Proclus, und legte besonders diesem Buche des letzteren einen grossen Wert bei.” (Friedrich Creuzer) Discuss
  2. Set in order: i) the UK Parliament ii) British Home Stores iii) Welsh figure-skating
  3. Have you used both sides of your paper?
  4. Conjugate: i) ecstatically ii) with ironic detachment iii) soundly
  5. “All proper tea is theft” (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on the Lapsang Souchong Crisis of 1764.) Are you calling me a liar?
  6. Can you catch the Zika virus from a toilet seat? (Please demonstrate.)
  7. Ever felt like just giving up and starting again?