A professor I had described the difference between Western and Eastern culture this way: Western culture believes that history points forwards. It is bringing itself towards some end point, honing itself into something purer and in some way perfect – though perfection may mean destruction. Our world is a story, and we are certain that it will end, the way all stories do, with a new sort of equilibrium established.
History is different in Eastern culture, he said. Once there was a golden age, but it is over now; and things deteriorate. They are continuing to deteriorate, often gracefully, and beautiful things are found in the ruins, and at times some facsimile of the golden age is established for a while. But it always falls apart again, and each time it returns a little coarser. There is no endpoint in sight, only a constant tumbling of the pieces of that perfect civilization, thinning out. Time seems to be getting wider. It’s not going anywhere.