Cultural Revolution

The new century (20th) looks back on the old one.

The just-buried century in Austria could not be said to have covered itself with glory during its second half. It had been clever in technology, business, and science, but beyond these focal points of its energy it was stagnant and treacherous as a swamp. It had painted like the Old Masters, written like Goethe and Schiller, and built its houses in the style of the Gothic and the Renaissance. The demands of the ideal ruled like a police headquarters over all expression of life. But thanks to the unwritten law that allows mankind no imitation without tying it to an exaggeration, everything was produced with a degree of craftsmanship the admired prototypes could never have achieved,… (I,52)

 The new century unleashed a long suppressed energy, if not a clear purpose.

There were those who loved the overman and those who loved the underman; there were health cults and sun cults and cults of consumptive maidens; there was enthusiasm for the hero worshipers and for the believers in the Common Man; people were devout and skeptical, naturalistic and mannered, robust and morbid; they dreamed of old tree-lined avenues in palace parks, autumnal gardens, glassy ponds, gems, hashish, disease, and demonism, but also of prairies, immense horizons, forges and rolling mills, naked wrestlers, slave uprisings, early man, and the smashing of society. These were certainly opposing and widely varying battle cries, but uttered in the same breath. An analysis of that epoch might produce some such nonsense as a square circle trying to consist of wooden iron, but in reality it all blended into shimmering sense. (I,53)

Lucky the person who has lived through such a time.

 If one does not want to, there is no need to make too much of this bygone “movement.” It really affected only that thin, unstable layer of humanity, the intellectuals, who are unanimously despised by all those who rejoice in impregnable views, no matter how divergent from one another (the kind of people who are back in the saddle today, thank God); the general population was not involved. Still, even though it did not become a historical event, it was an evenlet, and the two friends, Walter and Ulrich, in their early youth had just caught its afterglow. Something went through the thicket of beliefs in those days like a single wind bending many trees–a spirit of heresy and reform, the blessed sense of an arising and going forth, a mini-renaissance and -reformation, such as only the best of times experience; whoever entered the world then felt, at the first corner, the breath of this spirit on his cheek. (I,53-54)


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