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Z as in Zeitgeist


The word "Zeitgeist" is a German word that translates into English as the spirit of the times, and when I consider it for the present age (which, by the way, applying it to the present is forbidden in its German usage), I come up with the description: mass psychic numbing through the banality of virtual social interactivity (i.e., social networking). I also think hyper-globalization and the dissipation of nationalistic feelings could describe the present day Zeitgeist. And one more idea I have is the pre-slippage into the neo dark ages.

I would never say that I wish I were living in a different time, for the general quality of life is quite high still, at least here in America. However, I find it easy to slip into reverie about—my imagined ideas of—the Zeitgeist of earlier times. For instance, I was visiting a museum the other day that had on exhibit the life of Gertrude Stein who was an eminent figure of the "Lost Generation" of artists and writers who lived in Paris after World War I. While walking through the exhibit, I could feel the titillation of the creative spirit that filled these American expatriates, as they were known. I imagined Gertrude Stein's living room with looming masterpieces of art and a small circle of interested individuals reading poetry.

I can also think of an earlier time, many years before the American Civil War, when the Zeitgeist here in America was marked by a new thought movement called transcendentalism, which was led by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transcendentalists stimulated an intellectual movement called the lyceum movement in which adult academic (not vocational) education was the supreme passion. Can you imagine?

Then there's the post World War II beat generation, a literary rebellion seeking to unite naked self-expression with the written and spoken word without the tyrannical constraint of an overbearing and stifling formality. The Zeitgeist of the beat generation inspired me to earn a degree in English, oddly enough.

I suppose what I am describing here is mostly the creative and intellectual spirit of the times, and I suppose it is easier to glamorize the past than it is to forge a new spirit for the day. Ultimately, I suppose, I am projecting my own failure to participate or engage in whatever the current intellectual and creative spirit is. Perhaps I am the one who is bereft of creative and intellectual spirit, so much so that I cannot recognize it on Facebook. Perhaps it is my lack of interest (or ability) in mass consumerism that has me unthrilled about buying more and more foreign products, and it could be my closer approach to death that makes me feel we are entering the dark ages.

Indeed, perhaps my dismal outlook is related to my age. Can a non-charismatic old lady spur a movement? And I don't mean a bowel movement. I really want to start a neo-lyceum movement. I have imagined structuring meetings like Toastmaster meetings, but instead of focusing strictly on form (as the Toastmasters do), I would have content be the main concern. I once posted an ad for such a meeting on craigslist, and it returned no replies other than a spam ad. I have searched for posts by others and have seen a few interesting ones. However, they were all 50 miles or more away from home. This movement has got to be convenient! Seriously, it needs to appeal to the working class.

For now I will be content in the thought that I have just planted a Zeitgeist seed. I'll be sure to get this article on Facebook and definitely on Twitter, though I'll have to put some effort in reducing it to 140 characters.

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