A Failure of the Young Man as an Artist

I’ve been devoting entirely too much time to fiction lately. I can tell because I’m reaching further and further afield to find new material, and unfortunately have been finding stuff that I don’t like. It has been a great temptation, any number of times, to start a grand tirade about the current state of fiction, but then there are a number of reasons that it might not be such a good idea.

1) In order to do justice to the topic, I would need to read a lot more of what gets published nowadays, most of which I now dip into and put back on the shelf after a few pages.

2) Assuming anyone ever read what I have to say, I would end up with a lot of enemies and a reputation as a curmudgeon.

3) Until I make the NYT best-seller list, nobody will bother with what I have to say anyway.

So for now I’ll continue to take the occasional potshot while using more of my reading time for non-fiction. Perusing my shelves for something light and not-yet-read, I picked out a volume of Dr. Goebbels’ diaries that I’d picked up somewhere. Goebbels, head of the Nazi propaganda department, easily makes the short list of the world’s ickiest human beings. By his own admission he despised all of humanity except for Hitler, whom he worshipped with a particularly nauseating brand of boot-licking. Because he had been declared unfit for military service during World War I, and thus had no war record to stand behind, he ingratiated himself by creating the other thing Hitler was known to admire, a big family. The rumor in Berlin was that his wife was required to produce one child every year. He ended up with six, all of whose first names began with ‘H,’ which I can only assume was in homage of his idol, and all of whom he poisoned before himself committing suicide.

But here’s an interesting detail I hadn’t known before: Like Hitler, Goebbels was a frustrated artist. While working as a journalist he wrote and failed to get published a novel, two plays in verse, and miscellaneous romantic poetry. His doctoral thesis had been on the 18th century romantic playwright Wilhelm von Schütz. My guess is that when it came to writing his own stuff, he hadn’t noticed that times had changed. The Nazis were never known for their tolerance of contemporary artistic styles.

It was Wolfgang Menzel, in 1836, who named his country the land of poets and thinkers. He says that Germans don’t do much, but always have time for thinking, poetizing, and writing (Die Deutschen thun nicht viel, aber . . . liebt es zu denken und zu dichten, und zum Schreiben hat es immer Zeit). He goes on to say that whatever a German has in one hand, in the other will be a book. What he doesn’t take up is the question of what happens when a German’s own books don’t get published.

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