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A Writer’s European

Muse: Epilogue

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The Colosseum is a monument to societal upheaval. Photo by Gretchen Schutsky.
At The End Of A Weeks-Long Jaunt Through The Old World, A Young American Writer Finds The Golden Calf

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Epilogue of a three-part series.
Prologue | Part Two | Epilogue

April 4, 2012 — To an American, Europe is degeneration. Not exactly in the Nietzschean sense but more in the historical or anatomical sense. The buildings and societies and landmarks and civilizations are much older than what we are used to in America and give a new perspective on what it means to decay.

And that is why Western Europe is an important place to American writers.

So much of early American literature is dominated by the frontier — ergo, the unknown. The country was built on the myth of the American Dream, driving into the unconquered wilderness and dominating it, and its literature reflects that.

Authors like Mark Twain created characters that grow as they progress further into the wilderness. Their physical and emotional maturation matches a sort of actual progression through civilized America and into the uncharted.

Prologue | Part Two | Epilogue

In other words, these books focused on progress and creation and the unexpected. Their messages are ones of hope, showing that America had not yet reached its peak and that it could still achieve further greatness, despite its evils.

Everything could be overcome.

And that is why Western Europe is an important place to American writers.

Because it shows that nothing lasts forever. Every symbol of physical wealth and achievement, no matter how grand, will eventually fall into disrepair. Everything will be forgotten.

As I walked through the Colosseum in Rome and down the ruinous streets of the Palatine, I could not help but think that at some point in time people thought that those buildings would last forever.

Those people lived at the center of the civilized world in one of the greatest empires ever to steamroll the face of the earth and to them it would never end. Their homes and buildings and way of life were the pinnacle of civilized achievement.

And now it is all a glorified pile of rubble, playing host to millions of tourists with cameras. Once a pinnacle of human achievement and brutality and success, it is all now just an excuse to sell cheap souvenirs.

Everything will be overcome.

While this is a bleak message, it is an important one to learn, especially for Americans. We live in one of those historically great world empires, but nothing lasts forever.

Prologue | Part Two | Epilogue

For F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the lost generation it would have been easy to get caught up in their country's greatness. America was riding high at the top of the world, but then the world came crashing down.

War and hate diluted the country's greatness and distorted its perception. And the great writers fled across the Atlantic. What they found there was both profound and simple.

They found a culture, both similar and different from their own, that had accepted its own degeneration.

The old, decrepit relics of past glory had been turned into museums and parks and tourist attractions. They saw the old buildings and stone roads and knew that everything will fall.

That is how these authors created the modern American novel: in an instant they turned the American motif on its head by using the wealth and power and success of the nation to initiate its destruction.

Money, power, wealth were no longer things to be worshipped. Instead they were the golden calf at the center of these books. They were the relics of a past America bringing about the slow and rotting fall of the contemporary America.

Because greatness can only take you so far.

Those authors saw that when they sat on the streets of these fallen empires, and so did I. We saw these places that had accepted their fate and moved on, existing somewhere in the middle ground between decaying empire and reclaimed nature.

The world seems big at times, but, historically, it is so small. Time and time again human history repeats itself. We keep striving for bigger and better things, hoping that they will last this time.

But they do not.

Rome, and everything, will burn.

Epilogue of a three-part series.
Prologue | Part Two | Epilogue

Wayne Schutsky lives in Phoenix, Ariz. Follow him @ThemanofLetters.
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