Spores from the Past

In seeking to develop the new intensities, the alternative, off-line forms of culture and attention . . . it may well at last be necessary, while cautiously stepping forward across the ominous threshold into the future, to keep at least one eye hard trained on the past, on its objects, and on the parade of types that make up the humans that we once were. Somewhere in that pageantry a million little spores lie, each representing a pathway once primed but never taken, along which human consciousness might today still travel, and free itself from the precariously narrowing trajectory on which it is otherwise perilously embarked. (VC 100)
Though I am disagreeing with many of Kwinter's claims, he seems to me entirely correct that in moving into the future we must keep an eye on past modes of life that may have resources we have lost sight of.

But even here Kwinter accepts too readily the modernist myth. In saying we should look for undeveloped spores and paths not taken, he is reaffirming the modernist denigration of the actual past as the realm of error and superstition. It is true that we should look for past possibilities that were not realized, but why assume that all the realized possibilities are to be passed over? Why restrict ourselves to the ungrown spores? There may also be useful plants amid the luxuriant mature growths of the past.

For instance, the kind of textual resourcefulness and interrelation that can help resist the leveling and totalizing effects of new communication technologies may find assistance in practices and attitudes developed by Talmudic and Medieval commentators and Renaissance polymaths, practices which do not quite fit our notions of being either specialists or generalists.