Change appears on this calendar only once every few years. This illustrates the point that major change – as opposed to minor change, which occurs constantly – should occur infrequently. People need stability in the everyday conduct of their lives, businesses and other affairs. Change should occur when major flaws have been revealed in the existing course of conduct, such that change is likely to improve the situation.
Major personal changes may occur several times in the lifetime of a healthy and well-adjusted person, while a robust scientific theory may endure for hundreds of years before it falls into crisis and is replaced. Thomas S. Kuhn described this phenomenon in his classic work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1996) (originally published 1962).
Change is essential to progress. Society needs advocates of change, though it may reject most of their entreaties.
No instant, he wrote, is self-contained, just as no action in a theatrical pageant nor any drop in a flowing river is self-contained. Each moment incorporates what came right after and what is coming right after. . . . There was always something more to be learned, another stroke to be gleaned from nature that would make a picture closer to perfect. [Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci, (Simon & Schuster, 2017), p. 518.]
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin authored a famous essay entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox”. His central argument is that some people focus narrowly on one issue or set of concerns, while others cast their view more broadly. Historian Gordon S. Wood discusses this in the introduction to his book, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. Wood observes that as a specialist on the American Revolution he is a hedgehog. Illustrating that point, here are links to his main works, in addition to the book linked above:
- The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (University of North Carolina Press, 1969).
- The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Knopf, 1991).
- Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (Penguin Press, 2006).
- The American Revolution: A History (Modern Library, 2002).
- Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (Penguin Press, 2017): two great figures “Beg to Differ”.
- Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (Penguin Press, 2004).
Gene Sharp is a political theorist whose work is credited with informing grass-roots democratic uprisings in Europe and Egypt. A main point of contention in his work is that rulers have no power if the people do not obey. He has devised strategies for non-violent resistance against unpopular rulers. His works include:
- Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part 1: Power and Struggle (Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973).
- Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action (Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973).
- Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part 3: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action (Porter Sargent Publishers, 1985).
- Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (Horizons Books, 2005).
Malcolm X changed in his personal life “from a petty criminal and drug user to a long-term prisoner to an influential minister to a separatist political activist to a humanist to a martyr” and in so doing, changed a nation.
- Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley (1965).
- Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking, 2011).
On resistance to change:
- Douglas R. Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era (Bloomsbury Press, 2014): chronicling resistance to a more just society after the Civil War and to the present.
Other works on change:
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster, 2013): chronicling the progressive era in American politics when “change” was meaningful.
- William Taubman, Gorbachev: His Life and Times (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017). “ . . . it is hard to think of many figures who shaped the last half-century of world history more than he did. He put an end to the totalitarian system created by Lenin and Stalin. He freed Russians to speak their minds without fear; ended the Communist monopoly on power and held competitive elections. He paved the way for Eastern Europe to leave Moscow’s orbit, largely without violence. And he made peace with the West.”
- Ted Gioia, Music: A Subversive History (Basic Books, 2019): “ . . . Gioia recounts how shamans tapped the forces of rhythm in the service of transcendence; how Sappho, the Greek lyric poet, pointed the way for singers to express their personal feelings and not merely extol powerful men and gods; how the Anglo-Saxon folk songs of the working poor defied social strictures by glorying in sex and violence; how the anguished sounds of slave singing helped shape the music of the Arab world as well as that of the West; and how, in the classical sphere, exalted figures such as Bach and Beethoven were once radical nonconformists in social as well as musical ways.”
- Kevin Boyle, The Shattering: America in the 1960s (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021): “. . . rich, layered account of the 1960s, which necessarily traces the key events of the preceding decade . . .”
On personal change:
- Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018): “’The Cost of Living’ is about how Levy escaped a suffocating marriage and, at roughly age 50, began to take herself seriously as an artist and as an individual soul. ‘What would it cost to step out of character and stop the story?’ she asks.” “There’s joy in her maneuvering through the rapids, difficult though they may be.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Last Train Home: about the annual lunar New Year’s migration in China and the social and cultural changes it reflects
- Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness: a documentary film about the creator of Fiddler On the Roof, and how he “created an entirely new literature” using his traditional Jewish heritage as a springboard
Max Ernst's Day and Night (1941) captures an important aspect of the creative process: the ability to move back and forth between primary mental processes such as dreams and secondary processes such as rational thought. Of this painting, he said: "So listen to the heartbeats of the earth. to yield to that fear which comets and the unknown inspire in men. To put out the sun at will. To light the searchlights of night's brain."
- Jackson Pollock, Out of the Web (1949)
- Max Ernst, The Phases of the Night (1946)
- Giorgio de Chirico, The Dream Turns (1913)
Film and Stage
- Persepolis: this autobiographical animated feature chronicles political, social and personal change through the eyes of a headstrong Iranian female, beginning with her childhood in the late 1970s and continuing into her adulthood in the 1990s. Her written autobiographical novels are among our fictional narratives.
- My Perestroika: a personal look at the changes resulting from Communism’s fall in Europe
- Room at the Top, about “cynical, disenchanted and footloose post-war youths of England” at the end of the 1950s, just before the Beatles
- Early Summer, a gentle and heavily emotional film about three generations in a changing culture
Seen in broad perspective, the 20th century presents an epic story of change. Ken Follett tells that story through the personal stories of five families in his “century trilogy”.
- Ken Follett, Fall of Giants (Dutton, 2010): Follett is “no Tolstoy” but the novel is “grippingly told, and readable to the end”.
- Ken Follett, Winter of the World (Dutton, 2012): “These books reel in readers with their simple talk, sharp twists and neatly nonsensical way of pairing earthshaking political events with frissons of romance.”
- Ken Follett, Edge of Eternity (Dutton, 2014): “. . . Follett created five families — Russian, English, Welsh, German and American — whose fates personalized historical events.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Paul Simon, “Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean”
Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favour.
As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
I could be monarch of a desert land
I could devote and dedicate forever
To the truths we keep coming back and back to.
So desert it would have to be, so walled
By mountain ranges half in summer snow,
No one would covet it or think it worth
The pains of conquering to force change on.
Scattered oases where men dwelt, but mostly
Sand dunes held loosely in tamarisk
Blown over and over themselves in idleness.
Sand grains should sugar in the natal dew
The babe born to the desert, the sand storm
Retard mid-waste my cowering caravans-
'There are bees in this wall.' He struck the clapboards,
Fierce heads looked out; small bodies pivoted.
We rose to go. Sunset blazed on the windows.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Music of The Beatles – albums:
- “Please Please Me”
- “With the Beatles”
- “A Hard Day’s Night”
- “Rubber Soul”
- “ Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
- “Magical Mystery Tour”
- “The White Album”
- “Yellow Submarine”
- “Abbey Road”
- “Let It Be”
- Live in Washington concert
- The look of cultural change: on the Ed Sullivan show, February 9, 1964
- Haydn, Symphony No. 64 in A Major, I:64, "Tempora mutantur" (Times of Change) (1773)
- Gubaidulina, In Croce, for cello & organ (for double bass and bayan) (for cello and accordion) (1979): representing a crossing in the interplay of the two instruments.
- Gubaidulina, Music for Flute, Strings & Percussion (1994): a second orchestra is tuned one-quarter tone low to set up a light-and-shadow, or echo effect.
- Christopher Rouse, String Quartet No. 1 (1982); String Quartet No. 2 (1988); Compline (1996)
- Golijov, La Pasión según San Marcos( Mark Passion) (2000): a contemporary version of the biblical gospel
- Wolpe, String Quartet (1969): “ . . . disruptive”, particularly in the second movement [from the liner notes to this album]