I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

So in case you haven’t heard, the world’s economy is not doing so well, and the closer we march towards an economic ice age, the frostier the outlook on “book&reading jobs” as well: disappearing jobs in American academia, library closures in Britain, universities going bankrupt in Germany, not to mention the closing of bookstores all over the place. Given these dire prospects, it is very uplifting and encouraging to hear some good job news, too.

Anxious about my own uncertain future, I find my reading invigorated by a sense of urgency and verisimilitude. I have read Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday a couple of years ago and it struck a chord, but as I am rereading it now, passages such as the following resonate much more deeply:

How Lilliputian were all these cares, how wind-still the time! It had better luck, the generation of my parents and my grandparents, it lived quietly, straight and clearly from one of its life to the other. But even so, I do not know if I envy them. How they remained blissfully unaware of the bitter realities, of the tricks and forces of fate, how they lived apart from all those crises and problems that crush the heart but at the same time marvelously uplift it! How little they kney, as they muddled through in security and comfort and possessions, that life can also be tension and profusion, a continuous state of being surprised, and being lifted up from all sides; little did they think in their touching liberalism and optimism that each succeeding day that dawns outside our window can smash our life. Not even in their darkest nights was it possible for them to dream how dangerous man can be, or how much power he has to withstand dangers and overcome trials. We who have been hounded through all the rapids of life, we who have been torn loose from all roots that held us, we, always beginning anew when we have been driven to the end, we, victims and yet willing servants of unknown, mystic forces, we, for whom comfort has become a saga and security a childhood dream, we have felt the tension from pole to pole and the eternal dread of the eternal new in every fiber of our being. Every hour of our years was bound up with the world’s destiny. Suffering and joyful we have lived time and history far beyond our own little existence, while they, the older generation, were confined with themselves. Therefore each one of us, even the smallest of our generation, today knows a thousand times more about reality than the wisest of our ancestors. But nothing was given to us: we paid the price, fully and validly, for everything.

Of course, our current situation in the West does not (yet) compare to the devastation that took place in the first half of the 20th century, and I hope we have learnt enough from history to avoid another such cataclysm. Fingers crossed. But just in case we fuck up once more, I’ll give The Waste Land another shot. Ti theleis?


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