There are not many concepts in the modern world which are more misunderstood than ‘youth’. When, in the last century, the idea got momentum that humanity was on its way to ever more progress beyond the bloody obstacles of world wars and genocide, an aversion to the past and a focus on an open and better future became a dominant mindset of Western civilization, soon spreading all over the globe. From the Second World War onwards, ‘youth culture’ with its own music and its own dress code, and its own rebellion against an ugly world which was not of their making, became another field to be exploited by commerce, feeding the idea that remaining young forever were an ideal to strive after, youth as a stage that had to be fixed and frozen, instead of the longing for maturity which was a stage young people tried to reach as soon as possible in earlier times. This obsession with youth is a new thing, as youth itself always is. But the collective obsession with the notion of ‘new’ without context, as if it were a value in itself, is neurotic: the term is nothing more than a historic category and says nothing about meaning or quality of the thing that is new. The paradoxical nature of spring is that it is both new and eternal, it is like an ever-present phoenix rising again and again from the ashes of that which has no life in it.
Nothing is more disappointing than a literal interpretation of youth, because its literalness quickly withers with the passing of time. In a physical sense, Nature cautiously offers man a short period of physical blossoming, which quickly looses its fragrance of a beginning, while his existence still stretches-out in much longer periods than its spring could possibly last. Why is this so? Probably because on a purely physical level, the perfection and complexity of the human form is simply too difficult to maintain any longer on the same level. But the human person is not merely his material presence, but a totality within which the physical part is only a means of expression and of functioning. Strictly speaking, Nature had no reason to dress-up human physique with all of those impressive aesthetic qualities to arrive at a form with which the person were able to function and to express itself, as can be seen in the aesthetic failures of camels, crocodiles, apes, and too many insects to be mentioned, who can function perfectly well in spite of their aesthetics.
The German philosopher Schopenhauer claimed in his main work ‘The World as Will and Representation’ (1818) that Nature simply used a trick to get the two sexes mating by making them seem attractive to each other, and as soon as offspring has been achieved – the only goal of Nature: preserving the species – all youthful attractiveness quickly disappears and ugly, dreary existence filled with suffering and boredom is all that remains. (Inevitably, the reader of that impressive tome accumulates a profound pity on the author’s personal life experience.) But there is a different way of looking at these things, namely: maybe Nature had a specific meaning with the human spring period. It is a fact that for most people, ‘youth’ is a far from ideal stage of life: dealing with grave insecurities, the turmoils of adolescence, the prison of circumstance and social pressures with their educational trajectories, and the undermining existential question bubbling-up of: ‘What am I doing here? And if so, why?’ A basic fact of human life is that the person as a whole only reaches maturity much later than what vaguely can be called ‘youth’; it is as if the energies of youth can only come to full blossoming after a long trajectory of maturing and growing. It is as if all the creative qualities of youth gradually turn ‘inward’ and settle within the invisible space of the human psyche: it is like a transformation process whereby the physical is gradually changed from something material into something psychological, or said differently – into something spiritual (the term used as encompassing both the intellectual, emotional and intuitive faculties of the personality). As German poet, author, and cultural philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: ‘Youth would be an ideal condition if it came much later in life.’
The symbol mostly used to describe the notion of ‘youth’ is the season of spring. What other is it than the explosion of Nature’s creativity? It is definitely the most striking, the most artfully spectacular season of the year, showing the life forces renewing their creation again and again, in a never-ending cycle of hope. In this sense, the spring of the human species assembles all the potential of the individual in a frenzy of energy, to be launched beyond the limitations of the physical into the infinite space of the psyche, where the energies can renew themselves time and again without the prison of matter. This explains the creative capacities of some type of artists, who appear to possess an infinite source of creative invention well into old age. Composers like Claudio Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi come to mind who wrote some of their best works after a long life of production. So, the spring of youth is much more than what it seems on the outside, it represents an eternal principle of creation, of the life force, and when it can be transformed inwards this source will continue to radiate beyond the conventional stages of life. This also explains the youthful and lively emanation of people who have been able to preserve their contact with this invisible source, as the strange phenomenon of still very young people who seem to have been snuffed-out at 25, maybe due to circumstances or personality disorder, or having succumbed to convention, or having read Schopenhauer’s book.
Considered in this way, ‘youth’ is a symbol of creation, which means that every time spring is exploding from the cracks of frozen winter, a future opens itself up where the elements of life that are eternal, appear again in their original form of potential, creating a new future of continuity. But this has only meaning if considered as a transcendental process and not as a literal, material period in human life which has to be ‘frozen’ – this is the best way of turning youth into the dead hand of winter. Although every spring is a new one, it is also a return to eternal sources, doing away with the lifeless debris of what had to die, like the wind blowing away the dead leaves of last season. Spring and youth are the same thing, and two things in the same time: renewal of eternal life and creating new possibilities, creating a new future with every resurrection of the life force of Nature.
What would such vision
mean for the arts? As no other art, it is music which demonstrates the curious
combination of death and resurrection every time a work is performed. The
score, being the dead letter of instruction, is born again in the understanding
of the performers, who infuse the practical instructions with the ‘life blood’ of
their subjectivity, so that the vision which initially hovered in the composer’s
psyche is realized in the reality of the present. This makes a good work new
for ever, because in its performances it is celebrating spring, the same season
in which it was born, and is born eternally. This means that the repertoire of classical music cannot age, simply because it is young by nature. Music is only one form of the
transformation process of Nature’s energies into new life, it can be detected everywhere else, if seen from the point of view of the supremacy of the spirit. For that reason, the
power of youth has to be understood as the power of Nature’s continual attempts
at becoming spirit, of which music is the most profound demonstration.