Sometimes in my dreams I return to my elementary school, which in dream-form is large and strangely austere. It's full of pillars and courtyards like a crumbling Roman house. I'm ill again; and all day I slip in and out of sleep, and dream of locales, old haunts, childhood memories. As if illness causes a sort of temporary regression.
It used to be that people wrote books that tried to encompass everything. Histories of the world, of mankind, of the universe, of Europe or the African continent; encyclopedias, overviews of civilisations, tomes that chronicled every human accomplishment since the invention of fire. Now people write books of such amazing specificity: books on the banana, the pineapple, the sewer rats of Manhattan, biographies of little-known scientists and histories of obscure cultural practices.
Is this because we think we have a grasp of the big picture now, or because we've given up on it entirely? Sometimes I think it would be nice if we still had people who could tell us with such confidence that "it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." If only so that we could shout no, it isn't!, if we so chose.