Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sorrows of the internet age

Early this morning, I finally achieved one of my lifetime goals: I finished reading Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther." I'm not sure why it took so long; it's not that demanding a book. I was drawn to it as a kid when I heard that the fate of the young hero set off a wave of copycat suicides in Europe. I was too young at the time to read it, I suppose, and put it off, then somehow lost track of the notion.

Learning German, it came to mind again, and I found a cheap paperback copy. But by the time my German became good enough to take it on, the idea had somehow slipped away again. I chipped away at a few pages from time to time, but years passed, and my German fell into disuse, and I lost the nerve for the project. But teaching for the last few years has put some polish back on my German, and I finally took a crack at it this summer. Then school started, and a few other books intervened, but I finally finished it off this morning.

Was it worth the wait? Maybe not. Werther's sensibility is a bit too far removed from our own to feel all that much sympathy for his plight. Pull yourself together, man, my inner critic kept saying. And I found the long recitation from "Ossian" near the end a needless, and language challenging, distraction. But, by God, I made it.

And just in time. Now that suicides are the stuff of internet entertainment, not just Sturm und Drang novels, Goethe will never seem the same again.

UPDATE: If you don't think the world is quite a sick enough place, scroll through the comments for the link above. Trust me, the world is plenty sick enough.

1 comment:

Ed Kemmick said...

Funny thing is, so many smart people like Goethe were taken in by "Ossian," which was supposed to be a lost Scottish epic, discovered rather like Joe Smith's golden tablets, and "translated" into modern English.

Samuel Johnson knew better. Asked if he really thought a contemporary man could have written Ossian, Johnson replied, "Yes. Many men. Many women. And many children."