Thursday, July 22, 2010

Leopardi: Perpetual Adolescence

I am certainly not the first to notice -- or to bemoan -- the perpetual adolescence of my generation (that is, the Baby Boom Generation).  And I readily acknowledge that I cannot exempt myself from my own condemnation.  (That being said, I can unequivocally state that I have never worn a baseball cap backwards.)  

However, reading one of Giacomo Leopardi's Thoughts (Pensieri) a few years ago, I had occasion to consider whether I was being too harsh on my generation.  To wit:  is it possible that life itself is much more adolescent, much more childish, than we imagined it would be when we "grew up"?  Here is Leopardi:

"Assuredly that which first, and perhaps above everything else, strikes with wonder the minds of well-educated young men on their entrance into the world, is the frivolity of the ordinary occupations, the pastimes, the talk, the inclinations, and the dispositions of society in general.  Most of them, it is true, soon become accustomed to this frivolous mode of life, and adapt themselves to it, though not without pain and difficulty.  It appears to them at first that they have become children again; and so it really is for those who have been well-educated and who possess good natural abilities.

Such persons, when they commence to live, as it is called, must, as it were, retrace their course and infantilise themselves as much as possible.  They discover that it was a delusion to imagine that it was their business to become men in their thoughts and actions and to put away all remnants of childhood.  For, on the contrary, men in general, however old they grow in years, always continue to live in great part like children."

Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri, LXX, in Essays, Dialogues and Thoughts (translated by James Thomson) (1905), pages 366-367.

So, am I being too hard on my generation?  Is perpetual adolescence the way of the world?  Could it be --  perish the thought! -- that Baby Boomers are not distinctively immature?  I shall leave that determination to posterity.

                                  Stanley Spencer, "The Bridge" (1920)


PAL said...

Thanks for the Spencer. Never seen this particular one.

An Anxious Anglican said...

I suspect that there really is a difference between us and previous generations. For example, I cannot imagine collective contemporary America (or the West, generally) making the sacrifices that were necessary to prevail against our opponents in WWII. I hope that our children - having gained a measure of perspective about the self-absorption of our generation - will be made of tougher stuff, but . . . we shall see!

Thanks again for the great effort on the blog!


Stephen Pentz said...

PAL: Thank you for the comment on the Spencer painting -- I'm looking forward to the time when I can get over to England again to see some of his work in person! I'd love to visit the Spencer Gallery in Cookham. As always, thanks for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bill: Thank you very much for visiting and for commenting. I agree with your observations about our generation -- I must confess that the questions that I posed in the final paragraph of my post are, alas, largely rhetorical (which you no doubt deduced).

And thank you also for your kind comment about this blog in general. As I have said before, my only goal is to share my enthusiasms with others, and if those enthusiasms are sometimes appreciated by you and others I am gratified and flattered. Thanks again.