The Time Before

The possible history of functionalism and its relation to aesthetics

The soldiers would be there soon. Not right this moment. Soon. He continued to answer their questions. They were scared. they had a right to be. he couldn't let them see how terrified he was. They would have a life after the soldiers got here. He couldn't let them see what was going to happen to him. To all the people they'd known. the would be saved. They could be brainwashed. They could be converted.. He was too set in his ways. No, they wouldn't have to wear uniforms. Children don't wear uniforms, even there. They were nervous. He could feel them getting ready to cry. It would be a pitiful sound. Probably the little girl would start. She was a crier that one. Gentle, sensitive, and exactly the type of person most in danger of crying when the people around her needed strength, poor little kid. No, he didn't know any of them. No, he'd never met them. What are they like. Yes, what were they like.

The idea wasn't brilliant. It would serve. The story would take their minds off the sounds of the soldiers. The distant rattle of the war. He pulled the little one to his chest.

Do you know the story of the time before the war. Of course they didn't, there was no such story. Even his generation had grown up during the war and among its stories of the horror of the enemy. His grandparents had been alive when the political conflict turned into the war, but it had been a long time since anyone had made stories of the time before. It was good to see them, to let his eyes caress them, even if it was only in the dim light of the smoke-hazed moon drifting through the small window. In the time before the war, the two peoples had been one. They had lived in harmony. They had bickered a little, but they were in general agreement. Each side did what they were interested in, everyone had a tacit understanding of the basic requirements for life, and though they might critique each other, but they generally got along. A little saccharine, he was under pressure.

Why did they change? Why indeed. He tried to remember, and it seemed to him that there was something terrible done by someone, but he couldn't remember what it would have been. Not a good idea anyway. He looked at them, they would be part of that group in a few hours. They would have to accept their new parents, their new nation, their new life. We did something terrible. Maybe they had. We tried to take over the whole world. Hadn't they? We tried to make the world follow us, to believe what we believed, to use our methods, our styles, to give up what they loved in favour of what we loved. They got angry. They didn't think it was right to ignore them.

Because we were too proud. Too sure. We thought we were right. That our ways would bring a better world for everyone. We ignored them because we were so sure we were right. The soldiers could be heard. They were close. Maybe only an hour, maybe only a few minutes. The little one's eyes were weepy. No, we aren't evil. No, they won't kill you. We were wrong. Would they kill the children? No. Not even they would do that.

They had to react. They started their own revolution, but they fell into the same trap. Should he do this. It would make their life harder. But if he didn't, the battle would continue. Better to have them understand both sides. They reacted, claimed their way was the only way. They mounted their own campaign, and they were better than us. We sought power based on the populace' preference. They made arguments that convinced the populace, their ideas caught the imagination. They were so beautifully precise. They made guarantees of better lives, they conquered us.

Wrong. Totally wrong. The little one was openly crying. Back to the original idea, not the war, the time before. But do you know the story of the time before the war? They lived in harmony. How, when both wanted to rule? He remembered something from his history lessons. There had been an old man.

There was an old man, far back in the mists of history, and he was the father of us all. Yes, that worked. You see, both sides of the battle were part of the same family, all descended from that father, named Vitrius, that didn't sound quite right, but it worked. What was the family like? How did they get along. Was that the way it would be when the soldiers got here? No. But maybe in time. Maybe they would remember the old man, and the family that had been before the war.

Why would they remember the family? How? Who was the family? What did they do?

Crouched in the attic, the man wracked his brain, trying to remember the stories of the time before. The stories of the people who had blended function and aesthetics, who had seen both sides of the conflict and seen them as one. What was decor?

No, not just decoration. It was an idea of the old people, the people before. There was a part of the family that thought that the use of proper decoration was a functional part of the building. He could remember that. Decor, and charactère, wasn't it? Yes. You see, part of both. But that's not all. Some of them saw the beauty in efficiency, and others the efficiency of beauty. Well, no, that wasn't the same. You see, some people thought that the reason efficiency was good was because it created a beautiful result. Well, I don't know. Maybe because there was an order, a balance in the solution, so that showed up in the result. And other people, they thought that the reason beauty was good was because it was efficient. You see. Good.

Yes, they are similar, that's what I was talking about, you see. Both of them thought almost the same thing. They'd fight about it sometimes, and sometimes one or the other would win over the people for a while, but when we tried to take over, we upset the balance. We tried to go too far, and to balance it out, they had to go the other way.

Maybe. That's up to you guys, really. You're going to be part of them while you're growing up. It's you that will decide whether we ever reach a balance, or whether we just keep rocking back and forth until we ruin everything. The little one was lost. She was crying all-out now. The bigger ones. They were okay though. They'd take care of her. They'd get the message out. And even the little one, she'd remember her parents as people who wanted peace, and she'd maybe grow up and save the world. Who knew. He hugged all of them close one last time. In the streets he could hear the soldiers, could feel his life slipping into the past, could feel the little one sobbing into his chest one last time.

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This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1997