Our age has witnessed great achievements in all areas of life. But it seems to me that late modernity hasn’t yet been able to produce a literary work capable of encapsulating the spirit of our age, a single work of essential synthesis, a synopsis of all the knowledge, vitality, concerns, fears and passions of the world we live in. It might be because our age is more fragmented than previous ones, or that we have lost the ability to represent ourselves in meaningful ways. We are like atoms floating in molecular space unable to form molecules and form a coherent picture of themselves.
Distant ages were successfully captured in literary nutshells. The preclassical period of capricious gods and fearless heroes was distilled in Homer’s epic poems. The restraint and rationality of the classical period found a home in Virgil’s Aeneid. The complexity of the Western medieval period found a convergence plane in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Each of these works constitutes the DNA of the age that produced them. Engaging with them is like rolling out a tightly packed carpet, unlocking the fragrances of an entire age. They are compelling precisely because of this unique quality they possess. They are like essential oils, concentrated particles preserving the secrets of lost worlds, waiting to be unravelled, broken and dispensed.