Weltschmerz

Conrad H. Pavellas, 1913 – 2000

(Written 20 April 2012)

I am suffering from weltschmerz, a condition my father often had when we lived five awful years on the wrong side of the Gowanus Parkway at Third Avenue and 48th Street in Brooklyn—before we returned home to San Francisco in 1951.

Much of this feeling stems from my perception that all is not quite right with the country I love: the United States of America. There are many articles in the press and opinion journals about the current or inevitable decline of the USA, and a lesser number of writings refuting this.

Certainly the press sells papers by the implicit motto “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is only a reflection of ourselves. There seems to be a wretched excess of such “news” in recent months. Perhaps my years have accumulated too much of what the press presents and I have grown sour.

As an antidote I have spent part of this day celebrating the USA through listening to words and, mostly, music.

I have celebrated with Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, James Earl Jones, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. These are some of the many people who speak to me of the America I love.

I listened to James Earl Jones recite A Lincoln Portrait, accompanied by the music of Aaron Copland. I listened also, with tears streaming, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

I read again Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, part of which is spoken in A Lincoln Portrait.

I reminisced on my many listenings to Bernstein’s West Side Story, about which I have written. Yesterday I viewed a film on the life and work of Bernstein which celebrated his loving investment in the musical education of Americans, especially the young.

I mentally reviewed the work of George Gershwin whose joyous music buoyed me in my youth, and even still: Porgy and Bess; his Piano Concerto; Rhapsody in Blue which I played inexpertly on the piano at age 15; and others.

I reminisced about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his famous speech, but even more so about his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, which I have also mentioned in my writing.

Other people and occasions travel through my mind as I continue to struggle to regain my balance under this cloud of weltschmerz.

These memories, and the music and words I listened to, did help, but I still am searching for what there is now in the USA that is similar in nature to what I have written about here. When the youth of today are my age, what will they remember to make them grateful to have spent their formative years in the USA? What memories of public figures and what music will bring tears to their eyes?

Perhaps some young people will respond to this, teaching me to see what they may see as a positive answer to this question.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
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8 Responses to Weltschmerz

  1. I don’t suppose Britain is much better. Love Luther Kings speach. I used to be such a fan of the USA but endless corruption and pointless wars have taken their toll. Or are we both just old and cynical?

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  2. I feel very sad for you and for the America represented by your choices, Ron. For me Wlat Whitman transcends all. I feel the horror of the UK capitulation to the New World Order except I thrive on Vaughan Williams,Michael Tippett, JBPriestley, Richard Jefferies, Hilaire Belloc and various lesser-known English giants I revere, Compared with them the Power Possessors are evil spirits pursuing their own agenda who can’t affect my love of the South Downs and the rolling English/Scots/Welsh countryside with which I choose to identify.

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    • Ron Pavellas says:

      Hello Colin,
      I wrote this, as I noted at the beginning, eight years ago. It was where I was then, and at the moment of writing. The ensuing years have brought me to another place, not different, but larger to include that ‘weltschmerz’ place. A little more on this, below.
      But first, I must say I also respond with great feeling and affection to the works of Vaughan Williams, Shakespeare, Gilbert & Sullivan, and other English (British?) creators. They are part of my heritage, as well–as are also almost all the major composers of Italy, Austria, Bohemia, Germany , ( https://wp.me/prazu-1CI ) France, Russia, and the melancholic North. Of course the artists throughout time are part of my and our heritage, as well.
      My views and perceptions have since 2012 included much reading and re-reading of writings in the realm of what others may view as ‘mysticism,’ but what I perceive as the roots of humanity. Rather than go on is this vein, I will conclude with saying that my current reading, on which I will someday comment in these pages, is “Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity”, by Peter Kingsley (British). ( https://catafalque.org )
      What is going on in the world, as exemplified by both the USA and China, is the natural outcome of what we, in ancient times, abandoned; and what we, in the time of Roger Bacon (~1250 AD), brought forward to replace what we abandoned. I encapsulated this (before my current readings) here:
      “An Oration form the Future”: https://wp.me/prazu-1VX
      Best wishes, and thank you for reading and commenting.

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  3. I can sympathize with weltschmerz, the “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” But to attain “a mood of sentimental sadness,” idealism isn’t even required.

    All one has to do is, as you point out here, look back to the real world accomplishments of Americans in the past. Or if one lacks such historical knowledge, look to reasonably well-functioning social democracies in other countries that exist as we speak. It doesn’t have to be an ideal state, just better than what dominates in this country in this moment.

    I don’t know what that will mean for the present youth in their future older age. I’m part of GenX that has reached middle age, certainly old enough for nostalgia, if not old enough to remember the earlier times from your own youth. My young adult mind was mostly shaped in the 1990s and after with only faint memories of the the late Cold War era.

    To find inspiration in the American past, I have to go back far beyond my personal life experience from my own youth, such as also listening to the wisdom of MLK. But I do appreciate some of the popular culture that shaped my view of the world from my youth, although of a very different variety than what you list. As an example, the optimistic vision of Star Trek TNG comes to mind. Or of another variety, the raw emotion of Kurt Cobain’s voice.

    I’m not sure what is comparable in the world right now. Similar to the sour mood of the 1970s and 1980s, there is a lot of post-apocalyptic and other dark entertainment that has been produced in this new century. That definitely shapes young minds.

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  4. LarsErik says:

    Have you suffered from weltschmerz only eight years? My medicin can be a tour with bicycle some quiet roads i the forest. Or music like stringquartetts by Mozart, Schubert or songs by Mahler. Or, if nothing works, some songs from the Land of the Free: I always get in a positiv mood by Arlo Guthrie´s Alices Restaurant Massacree, the long live-version and by any song of Pete Seeger, so warm, democratic. He helps me to turn on the light again..

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