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11/15/2005 Entry: "Blame it on Vienna"

"Unlike puberty, which is a specific biological marker, adolescence is a cultural artifact: a way-station between childhood and adulthood whose duration and even existence vary across time and place. Evidence suggests that the concept of adolescence did not emerge -- as a subject in literature, art, pedagogy, criminal justice or social psychology -- in Western society until the latter part of the nineteenth century. The reification of adolescence was in large part a product of bourgeois capitalism, which placed heretofore unknown emphasis on secondary education as a prerequisite to entering the middleclass workforce. Increased life expectancy and a decrease in infant mortality made it less necessary to commence the reproductive cycle during one’s teen years. In fact, in Schiele’s Vienna, bourgeois men were not encouraged to marry before they had reached their twenty-fifth birthday, at which time they were finally deemed fit to support a family. The postponement of adult responsibilities created an uneasy interim period during which young men were expected to "sow their wild oats" amongst prostitutes and the like. Young middle-class women, who were expected neither to work nor to be sexually active, were largely denied this phase of youthful experimentation; they were often married off at an early age to comparatively older men.

"The predominantly male adolescent subculture that developed as a result of these conditions was to some extent defined in opposition to the elderly forces that circumscribed the subculture’s boundaries. The strict teachers who ran the schools and the bearded gentlemen who controlled the pathways to subsequent professional success were associated with conservative social and artistic values that came to seem increasingly outmoded. Across central Europe in the 1890s, a cry arose for greater creative freedom and for an art more in tune with contemporary concerns. Secession movements in Berlin, Munich, Vienna and elsewhere attempted to wrest control from reactionary art academies by establishing venues wherein innovative artists could display and market their work. The German style of the period, Jugendstil (Youth Style) took its name from the popular Munich periodical Die Jugend (Youth). In Austria, the literary movement Jung Wien (Young Vienna) brought to the fore authors such as the teenage Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Franz Wedekind’s 1891 play Spring’s Awakening set up a central metaphor for his generation. It is surely no coincidence that, seven years later, the Vienna Secession chose to name its journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring). Spring connoted both artistic renewal and the first flowering of youth."
Coming of Age. Egon Schiele and the Modernist Culture of Youth, Galerie St. Etienne, New York, November 15, 2005 - January 7, 2006 (via the remarkable Wood S Lot)

I never realized 19th century Vienna was responsible for 7 of 9, rap, and Grand Theft Auto. Huh.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson

Replies: 3 comments

A few years ago I read a history of the European Middle Ages (I'm drawing a blank re author/title, but I am pretty sure her first name was Barbara) which drove home the salient point that in the Middle Ages, by the ripe age of 14, most women were married, and most men were doing adult work (military, trades, farming, whatever). In other words, there was no such thing as a teenager. Explains why there were so many wars!

Posted by seth Anderson @ 11/15/2005 04:04 PM PST

I think you're thinking of Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror." Real wrist-breaker, but worth it.

Posted by Ginger @ 11/15/2005 09:39 PM PST

Yes, that was it, thank you. Strange how the mind works (or doesn't).

Posted by Seth @ 11/16/2005 09:47 AM PST

 

 

 

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