“…before I die I must know my beloved London again: for me it is the centre of civilization—tolerant, intelligent and completely out of control now, I hear”—Hanif Kureishi, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1988)
“D'you want me to go on? The end of the world is nigh, Bri. The game is up!”—Mike Leigh, Naked (1993)
In an essay published in 1969, Alastair Macintyre reflected upon the contradictory place of faith in the modern world, caught between absence and presence, absent because it is apparently no longer central to life, present because its structures still lie all around us. Macintyre suggests that it is at the moment when faith is lost that it becomes more easily, if trivially, incorporated into modern life: “[o]nly since the crisis of belief in the last century, however, has theism so emptied itself of any content that might affront us culturally that it has proved wholly assimilable.”
From the contemporary perspective, one might make the same observation of the secular creed of “Englishness.” It has been suggested that the post-1945 crisis of confidence in the pillars of that mythic “Englishness”—imperial greatness, economic strength, a uniform national and racial identity—can be set against the relatively easy and successful assimilation of past notions into perceptions of the present, perceived, for instance, in the “heritage” industry, whether in tourism or in film. If, as Macintyre remarks of faith in the modern world, we are saddled with “an identity that we can now neither fully recover nor yet quite disown,” it might be argued that England enjoys or endures the same predicament with regard to its national identity.