Thursday, February 20, 2014

Etiam si omnes--ego non.

There was a book review in Tuesday's "New York Times," that I think is worth reflecting on. The book is called "Not I. Memoirs of a German Childhood" and it was written by the great historian Joachim Fest. Fest is best-known for his ground-breaking biography of Adolph Hitler, but this book "shrinks the Wagnerian scale of German history in the 1930s and 1940s to chamber music dimensions." You can read the review here.

Fest's story starts in 1936 when his father summons he and his brother into the study of their house in Berlin for a heart-to-heart talk. Fest's father, Johannes, had already lost his job as a Headmaster at an elementary school owing to his opposition to Hitler.

Johannes explained his position to his sons this way. He instructed them to write down a Latin phrase. I happen to think they are words that more of us might live by. "Etiam si omnes--ego non." "Even if all the others do--I will not."

I think about these words in light of Rich Siegel's screed on the purported virtues of the Barbarian Group's one long desk. Etiam si omnes--ego non.

The modern notion of blissful collaboration, of group groping, of the democratization of the creative process and the "all men are created equal" style of creative critiquing completely misses the soul of creative people and in fact the creative processes.

We do not like to be lumped together as a mass.

We are iconoclasts.

Or misanthropes.

We don't like being surrounded by banal chatter.

Mostly, we don't being told what to do, what to think, how to act, where to sit.

There are two other things that the senior Fest taught his sons.

"Don't forget irony," he said. "It's the entry ticket to humanity."

And perhaps Fest's most advertising-relevant advice: "Endure the clowns!"

 But most of all, Etiam si omnes--ego non.

Even if all others do--I will not.

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