These days most education is moving online amidst the frenzy of doomsday alarmism and a dogged trust in fiscal stimulus bills and N95 masks; unusual practical concerns—will Safeway have beans and toilet paper today?—beset many households; the specter of economic recession haunts our minds, employment, and portfolios. These days it’s hard to maintain focus on teaching and studies, when the familiar securities of the saeculum are shattering around us, when hopeless cries for human intervention cram the airwaves.
The best literature teachers rely on classic books, but how can you tell a classic from a non-classic? One popular answer to this question is that you have to wait because it takes time to identify one. You must wait and see which books manage to transcend the concerns of their own time and place and speak to the hearts of people from other times and places; which books, in other words, address universal themes in universally compelling ways.
Whenever a discussion of time arises in the classroom, I often show students Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son and say, “This is time.”
Saturn was the Roman name of Cronus, the Titan who personified time and, fearing one of his children would destroy him, consumed them directly after they were born.