LIVING BACKWARDS

 

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT

 

One thing that I have been made aware of through all of the reading I have been doing about Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the Lost Generation’s pilgrimage to the City Of Light is that each generation seeks to establish its unique identity, each pursues its dreams during that short window of time that youth opens and then all too quickly closes. Of course, this is no new concept to me or anyone else, youth always rebels against the status quo, but it has been interesting to see how that sense of adventure and discovery played out in the 1920’s, how all of those incredible individuals, concentrated both by fate and by choice, in one amazingly tolerant city for a brief period of their lives, dealt with the youthful pursuit of their dreams and ambitions. America had neither the understanding nor the awareness to host that generation’s coming of age.

Harold Loeb, who served as the unwilling model for Robert Cohn in Hemingway’s roman à clef The Sun Also Rises, at the conclusion of his 1959 memoir The Way It Was, perhaps summed it up most accurately when he said that “We were not so different from those who preceded us. Perhaps our hopes were a little higher, our disappointments deeper: but at least ours was a generation that had set out to discover, a generation that had chosen to dare.” Like so many other youthful generations his, above all else, had dared to be different. I think each new generation has to dare to be different in order to establish its direction, its spirit and eventually its legacy. The Beat Generation threw off the yoke of the conservative 1950’s when Allen Ginsberg howled his protest to an apathetically groggy nation, it’s head buried in a lackadaisical consumerism that sugar coated the puss oozing out from within. And I remember my own generation shredding the phony moralistic self-centered ‘brown shoes don’t make it’ plastic bullshit philosophy of war for profit, confronting the blatant exploitation of the environment, and challenging the iron clad WASP shackle of racism in exposing the ugly face of discrimination that fostered and condoned, as Randy Newman so poignantly and sarcastically put it in his song Rednecks, the idea of “keepin’ the niggers down.” My generation took up where the Beats left off and we ran all the way with it. And it may not seem like it now, but we made a difference.

The sad thing is that the time of youth is all too short and fleeting, and no one experienced it more directly than the Lost Generation, because the Great Depression and another world war ended the party. By the time one has learned enough to realize and implement one’s dreams, the energy and spirit of youth vanish into the realities and obligations that come with growing older. The once new generation, with all its fervor and ideals, dissipates into the atmosphere of maturity, lost forever in mid-promise. An individual can keep some of that fire burning within throughout their life, I certainly have tried to do just that, but there’s no going back. The dare has been played and the bluff called. Only the memories remain. Which reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass:

“Living backwards!” Alice repeated in great astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”
“—but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.”
“I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”
“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.

000 SteinGertrude Stein’s studio apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris. Photo taken in July 2013.


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Categories: Paris, Perspective, Photography | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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