Saturday, November 28, 2009


Stick with me on this post dear readers, because it is got all sorts of news and problems. The bespectacled fellow above is one Stefan Zweig born this day 1881 in Vienna, Austria. The big news is that Herr Zweig is one of this project's milestones, he is the lucky fellow to be anointed the 100th hero of the day. Into triple digits is pretty exciting, and getting there with Herr Zweig is perfect. This perfection, like most anything I do properly in my life, was acheived quite by accident. You see, until about a 3 months ago I had no idea who the hell Herr Zweig was, but his name kept cropping up on my Amazon page and other searches I did. Thinking it might be a good idea to give his work a whirl, I ordered his book "The World of Yesterday." I was, to put it mildly, blow away, the book is his attempt at autobiography, written in his final exile from his homeland during the early stages of World War II. The irony of this post is that I just finished the book yesterday, and here I am today trying to write the hero post for him. I am sure I will do him a disservice, but still one must give it a shot. Anyone who ever thought they had ability to string two sentences together in some sort of coherent should ready "Yesterday." Sentences so perfect as to make you weep, ideas that are so genius you will curse yourself for not being alive when Zweig was so you could learn at his feet. This book, the first I have read by him, was written without any notes, any of his letters, and in exile in a hotel. It is his summing up of his life, Jewish by birth, but not by religion, he was hounded out of Austria by the Nazis, and his books banned and burned by those literary thugs. He was, in his day, one of the most translated authors in the world. His works have fallen a bit by the wayside today, and that is this world's loss. One of the best parts of the book is when he discusses his "fame." He states that "in normal circumstances, the name a human being bears is no more than the band is to a cigar: a means of identification, a superficial, almost unimportant thing that is only loosely related to the real subject, the true ego." Good stuff that, and gives one pause, a lot to chew on in that, extremely well written, sentence. He goes on to say that success has a way of swelling the name, and unmooring it from the person that bears it. The name becomes a power in itself, an independent thing, an article of commerce, that transforms the person that bears it. He explains all of this in the context that, for him, his name soon became a burden. His wish to remain free and independent was hampered by the name recognition that followed him around. He writes "unintentionally, and because of the currency of my books I found myself in something that was like a business which demanded order, clarity, punctuality and skill if it were to be handled correctly-all very respectable virtues which alas by no means correspond to my nature, and which seriously threatened to disturb my innocent, simple musings and dreaming." Words of wisdom to all those glory hounds out there, and not just in the literary world. Careful of become a caricature of yourself, something that becomes so big that it traps you inside of it, a name prison if you will. However the sad part of Herr Zweig's life is that being born in a Jewish family meant that he was to be driven from his homeland into exile, and his will to live taken from him. As he entered his exile in England (later to be Brazil), he took a small apartment in London, and experienced a strong sense of deja vu. "I felt as if I had entered that other little apartment which I had fixed up for myself almost thirty years earlier in Vienna; the rooms quite small, and the one welcome greeting these very book against the wall. . . . " He continues to realize that maybe his life has come full circle. "Was this a symbol that my life after long expansion was shriveling to an earlier form of being and that I was becoming my own shadow?" "Everything which I had attempted, achieved, learned, enjoyed, in the meantime seemed wafted away and now over fifty years old, I faced a beginning, was once more a student working at a desk, only not as credulous, not as enthusiastic, with a suspicion of gray in my hair and faint dawn of despair over my wearied soul." Sad stuff, and it soon became more than he could bear, forced again to move this time from Britain to Brazil, Zweig realized his strength was not up to the task, and the day after posting the final manuscript to "The World of Yesterday" he and his wife committed suicide. In his final note he stated "I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth." His world had become extinct, and his was unable to find the strength to continue into the new world, one that still had to face almost three years of World War, before the darkness lifted. So for writing one of the best books I have ever read, and for being able to put into words something things I wish I had thought of, Stefan Zweig (November 28th, 1881- February 22, 1942, at the age of 60), you are my hero of the day.

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