Puh … Where to start? I’m only a 150 pages into the book and my head is already filled with so many different emotions! Here are a few of them:
Ok, I was definitely born in an apathetic generation
On page 61, Chapter 2; “At school in the last century” – Stefan Zweig talks about attending grammar school and growing up with some highly enthusiastic class-mates. In one of the paragraphs, he writes:
“It had come over us like a fever, we had to know everything, acquire knowledge of all that was going on in every area of the arts and sciences. We crowded in with the university students in the afternoons to hear lectures, we went to all the art exhibitions, we went to the lecture theatre of the Department of Anatomy to watch dissections. Our curious nostrils sniffed at everything and anything. We stole into the rehearsals of the Philharmonic Orchestra, we rummaged around the second-hand bookshops, we looked at the booksellers’ display windows every day for instant information on what had just been published. And most of all, we read; we read everything we could lay hands on. We borrowed books from all the public libraries, and lent anything we could find to one another.”
After reading this one paragraph, I felt a strong urge to continue reading it over and over again. Why did these words make me feel so joyous? Why did the tone in Zweig’s writing work as a constant energizer on me? And last but not least … why was I so startled by the natural enthusiasm which inhabited these young boys’s minds at the time? Should it not be considered normal to behave like this as a young, blooming youth?
On page 75, the author continues surprising me.
“For naturally we had all, long ago, begun writing prose or poetry, making music, giving readings; after all, it is unnatural for young people to be passively enthusiastic; it is in their nature not just to absorb impressions but to respond to them productively. ”
Well Stefan Zweig … today, it’s natural to be apathetic about everything; at least, that is what we are (the youth) compared to your understanding of being enthusiastic.
2. The innocence between genders today is lost, and I would like to have it back
In his third Chapter; “Eros Matutinus” (which is latin and means early love) – he goes through the difficulties as well as advantages with the secrecy surrounding puberty and sexual desire. On page 98, the author exposes the aftermath of discrediting the simple acts of nature, involving man and woman:
“So ultimately the generation that was prudishly denied any sexual enlightenment, any form of easy social encounter with the opposite sex, was a thousand times more erotically obsessed than young people today, who have so much more freedom in love. Forbidden fruit exited a craving, only what is forbidden stimulates desire, and the less eyes saw and the ears heard the more minds dreamt.”
And in another paragraph, on page 100, he writes:
“If you greeted them in the street they would blush – do any young girls still blush? Alone with each other, they would giggle and whisper and laugh all the time, as if they were slightly tipsy —- Young girls were more girlish than the girls of today, less like women.”
(If I shall be very honest and personal with your guys, I feel as though I belong to this time – knowing that I usually experience huge difficulties trying not to blush in front of strangers, because I’m naturally a shy person. In fact, many times, I have wondered why other girls don’t blush as much today. Is it because of too much makeup? Who knows. All we know is that they have blushed before – so all hope isn’t lost.)
Back to the first paragraph – it makes a lot of sense to me, that if you normalize something too much, it will eventually loose it’s value and become rather colorless. This is exactly what’s happening in today’s society with all the openness about sex. Personally (and I think Stefan Zweig agrees with me on this one) I don’t see any reason as to why it should be talked about so much. It’s almost as if people today are making fun of something that should be regarded as a holy/beautiful ritual – by going into details about their private lives with their friends and family. Moreover, by making it a normal conversation-topic – just like any other – it will loose its beautifulness, and people will eventually start using each other – which almost always leads to someone getting hurt. So yes, I would like to have the innocence back. People are in need of a private life – because right now, most don’t have one.
3. There were not only good things about this time. Every generation has a downside, such as … the obvious. Medicine …
Of course, I am not completely dow-eyed. Neither was Stefan Zweig.
On page 110, Chapter 3, he writes:
“The unfortunate victim of a bad attack felt not only mentally but also physically soiled, and even after such a terrible cure he could never for the rest of his life be sure that the malicious virus might not wake from its dormancy at any moment, parlaying him from the spinal marrow outwards and softening the brain inside his skull. No wonder that at the time many young men diagnosed with the disease immediately reached for a revolver, finding it intolerable to feel hopelessly suspect to themselves and their close family.”
I have always said that if it weren’t for the undeveloped medical treatment (which is a fact about the past as far as we know) I would willingly go back to any other generation and stay there. Unfortunately, the payment is heavy; a huge anxiety surrounding physical health. I don’t know if I would be able to stand it, or maybe I would be an extreme hypochondriac and never develop anything severe. Who knows. Nevertheless, these boys (the ones who did not end up killing themselves of course) must have led a very interesting life, full of excitement and anxiety. I mean, how can life be anything but dull for these guys? Even Stefan Zweig writes about this, further down on the page:
“So youth in that pseudo-moral age was much more dramatic and on the other hand unclean, much more exiting and at the same time oppressive, than the novels and plays of the court writers describe it.”
4. Oh … so that’s the real definition of individual freedom! No wonder why I’ve never been able to grasp this term before … it’s because we don’t have it anywhere!
On page 111, he writes:
“We were able to live in a more cosmopolitan manner; the whole world was open to us. We could travel anywhere we liked without passes and permits; no one interrogated us about out beliefs, our origins, our race or religion. We certainly did – I do not deny it – have immeasurably more individual freedom, and we did not just welcome that, we made use of it.”
Again. I’m surprised when I really shouldn’t be surprised. I raise my eyebrows when I ought to be keeping a straight face. Traveling without passes and permits? No interrogation? Is that even … a thing?
I don’t think I have to say more. You get where I’m going with this.
Ok, so that was it! Four somewhat frustrating emotions that I experienced so far. How did your feel when reading the book?
Hope to hear from you very soon♥
Aftur S. Nerdrum