The Enemies of Time

Andreas van D├╝hren

There are only a few things that don't change. One of those is the principle of fairness. What makes it so powerful is that it reaches far beyond matters of taste and opinion, feeling or any terminology. One may deny its demands, but finally it will enact itself like a law of nature. It's just balance, and even if one manages to manipulate gravity one has to admit that it takes some effort.
I always agreed on what Italo Svevo put at the end of one of his stories: Youth does not owe the old anything, definitely no respect. But then one may say as well, that the old don't owe the young people anything. If one fathers (or gives birth to) another individual, one is obliged to take care of it until it is mature, and during this period the child has to obey. That's fair enough. Anything else should be negotiated, that is, it needs some good reason in particular.
Apparently this balance is not kept anymore, and one indication is that old people have become fascinated by the young ones, while the latter tend to detest the former. It is deplorable to see how eager the old are to gain attention and some sort of confirmation from the young ones, and that this courtship almost inevitably ends up in disappointment or, like any unanswered desire, in abusive practices. Another indication is that the young ones don't want to kill their parents anymore in order to emancipate themselves, but that they prefer a certain dependence for the sake of keeping the image of youth. In consequence the young ones stay under arrest, though a comfortable one, while complaining about being cheated out of their future.
Traditionally, becoming an artist was one way of conquering the future. Since it has become just another department of the entertainment industry, art doesn't offer any way out but rather prolongs the deception. It has therefore become an overruling contradiction that, while cultivating the image, the effective qualities of youth have been abandoned: idealism (taking in account a certain self-indulgence, some stubborn naivety), strength (perhaps not very refined), swiftness (though taken for impatience sometimes), and I even wonder if today one can still rely on the specific beauty of youth, that is, the moment of surprise, the simple evidence of the new – considering most young people's strict rejection of any possible irritation.
One experience one can make (which, of course, needs time, but not time alone), is that if one feels some imbalance in relation to others one should try even harder to keep one's own balance, that is, one should not expect fairness being provided by others. So, the young ones should ask themselves, for example, if they are really interested in the future: an open field, hardly to be perceived as space, constituted by the unknown, but to be appropriated by enacting concepts (not necessarily plans and schedules) and by developing ideas (which is something different than repeating claims). They should consider that the future, quite as well as the past, demands responsibility, that appropriation does not mean making yourself comfortable but transforming yourself as well as the actual matter. I don't question these capabilities concerning youth in general; it just seems that youth doesn't want to show those capabilities in the field of art, while it is art that demands these in particular. So, there seems to be a misunderstanding: Contemporary society sticks to an association of certain values and the profession of art, while denying almost every demand this very association implies.
Here we are confronted with what may be the most dramatic change: Youth doesn't sense itself being apart from the reign of society anymore; it doesn't feel itself anymore provoked by some arrogant-hypocrite authority representing everything one doesn't want to go for, and instead of running away, one sneaks into every part of it as relaxed as possible and claims for oneself whatever makes society work already. Even speaking of change has become awkward; as a mode of conventional excitement it may be accepted, as long as it doesn't concern oneself. (In this context it may be significant that the term »self-criticism« nowadays doesn't imply a condition for developing a mature personality anymore, but is understood simply as a disease.) We can almost state that youth has abandoned the ambition of being different from the old.
It has become a common observation that we are about to leave behind the realm of history, stepping out of what had been understood as a natural context of time and space, action and language, shaping ourselves and, as well, enabling us to emancipate ourselves from what would otherwise submit us to the past. This understanding might have been questionable: of course, that context was not truly natural; but it did work objectively: it provided enlightenment and progress. Now there is more than one evidence for the human race living in some regression, and we should be afraid of what is about to take the place of history and what is known as myth, the irrational version of any plot.
Perhaps we would not have to be afraid, if that context, as it is shifting anyway, could be defined anew: it is the relation of time and space which would have to be rearranged. But it seems that youth is not aware of this task. Any close observation of young people's behaviour shows not so much an ignorance towards the past or a profound anxiety concerning the future; instead, they seem to have difficulties with standing the present, that is, the inherent movement of time itself – as if this movement were a constant reminder of something they cannot grasp immediately.
Actually, present itself is the most genuine and simple relation of time and space; but it cannot be mapped, only experienced, and consequently it cannot be digitalized: it cannot provide for the illusion of being in control. And even if one doesn't consider it being a quality in itself, one cannot deny that present is the primary condition of reality. Avoiding that condition – which means as much as avoiding experience at all – has consequences not only in terms of any attitude towards life or concerning something we still call »art«; it also leads to misconceptions of society and politics.
Traditionally, there was a certain tolerance for youth keeping some misconceptions, as long as these were due to mere lack of experience (and history knows innumerable wise guys fooling themselves). Prolonging that state of mind artificially – as if going for a never-ending immaturity – has led to the reign of fake which is terrifying us now. As with fairness, truth is something we cannot just demand, and it is not just given; one has to elaborate it, as it has to get figured out. Resulting from a process, truth is to be distinguished from innocence; it does not belong to any party, therefore it doesn't feed any need for identity.
If young people today want to make a change, one of the first things to do is to drop any definition of themselves. It would be easier then to reject any generalization about youth.