The Youth Movement

But can’t youth overturn the past, set a new more meaningful course?

They then have only a vague recollections of their youth, when there was still an opposing power in them. This opposing power tugs and spins, will not settle anywhere and blows up a storm of aimless struggles to escape; the mockery of the young, their revolt against institutions, their readiness for everything that is heroic, for martyrdom or crime, their fiery earnestness, their instability–all this means nothing more than their struggles to escape. Basically, these struggles merely indicate that nothing a young person does is done from an unequivocal inner necessity, even though they behave as if  whatever they are intent upon at the moment must be done, and without delay. Someone comes up with a splendid new gesture, outward or inward–how shall we translate it?–vital pose? A form into which inner meaning streams like helium into a balloon? An expression of impression? A technique of being? It can be a new mustache or a new idea. It is playacting, but like all playacting it tries to say something, of course–and like the sparrows off the rooftops when someone scatters crumbs on the ground, young souls instantly pounce on it. Imagine, if you will, what it is to have a heavy world weighing on tongue, hands and eyes, a chilled moon of earth, houses mores, pictures, and books, and inside nothing but an unstable, shifting mist; what a joy it must be whenever someone brings out a slogan in which one thinks one can recognize oneself. What is more natural than that every person of intense feeling get hold of this new form before the common run of people does? If offers that moment of self-realization, of balance between inner and outer, between being crushed and exploding. (I,137-138)

 With a little attention, one can probably always detect in the latest Future  signs of the coming Old Times. The new ideas will then be a mere thirty years older but contented and with a little extra fat on their bones or past their prime, much as one glimpses alongside a girl’s shining features the extinguished face of the mother; or they have had no success, and are down to skin and bones, shrunken to a reform proposed by some old fool who is called the Great So-and-so by his fifty admirers.

Ulrich looks around at the neighborhood that had been the site of so much intellectual and artistic ferment in his youth.

Now these houses stood in the late, already fading afternoon light, like kindly aunts in outmoded hats, quite proper and irrelevant and anything but exciting. He was tempted to a little smile. But the people who had left these unassuming relics behind had meanwhile become professors, celebrities, names, recognized participants in the recognized development of progress; they had made it by a more or less direct path from the mist to the petrifact, and for that reason history may report of them someday, in giving its account of the century: “Among those present were…” (I,138-139)


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