“I cannot help but regret that I did not live fifty or a hundred years sooner. Life is too full in these times to be comprehensible. We know too many cities to be able to grow into any of them, and our arrivals and departures are no longer matters for emotional debauches, for they are too common. Similarly, we have too many friends to have any real friendships, too many books to know any of them well, and the quality of our impressions gives way to the quantity, so that life begins to seem like a movie, with hundreds of kaleidoscopic scenes flashing on and off our field of perception, gone before we have time to consider them.
I should like to have lived in the days when a visit was a matter of months, when political and social problems were regarded from simple standpoints called ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’ when foreign countries were still foreign, when a vast part of the world always bore the glamour of the great unknown, when there were still wars worth fighting and gods worth worshiping.”
An entry from George F. Kennan’s journals, written on December 20th, 1927.
Kennan, who jotted these words when he was twenty-three, opens them with a notation that he is currently reading Die Buddenbrooks, which he calls “this Forsyte Saga of old Lübeck”. Die Buddenbrooks is Thomas Mann’s 1901 novel about a north German family’s multi-generational decline at the hands of modernity. The books to which Kennan compares it, John Galsworthy’s once-popular Forsyte series, relate the tale of a nouveau riche British family struggling to transition from an agricultural to a mechanized economy. So Kennan’s mind was certainly stirred by the questions of modernism and internationalism when he was writing this entry.
Kennan would live another seventy-eight lucid years following this entry. I wonder what he came to think of the trappings of globalization — or, alternately, its traps.
- Martin Amis: “The world is getting infinitely less innocent all the time”