“You are all a lost generation.” Six words that were uttered by Gertrude Stein in conversation with Ernest Hemingway became immortalised in the epigraph of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and came to define a generation.
Lost though they may have been, coming to grips with the post-World War I, pre-Great Depression world, the so-called Lost Generation would mostly find themselves, ironically, under the tutelage of the very woman who coined the term.
The Lost Generation found its hub in Stein’s home at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, with artistic luminaries of the time such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Ezra Pound regularly attending meetings that would define the modernist artistic movement.
Paris in the early 1900s was itself a hub for artists, regardless of whether or not they were part of Stein’s Lost Generation; when Samuel Beckett found himself living in Paris permanently following a falling out with his mother, he was taken under the wing of another great Irish mind in exile; James Joyce. It was simple: if you were a writer, you should have been in Paris.
It was during a stroll in Paris’s fifth arrondissement during the summer, going from Hemingway’s former place of residence on Rue du Cardinal Lemoine to his former place of work on Rue Descartes, that it struck me: we are the true Lost Generation.
Gertrude Stein would probably laugh if she were to read those words, but think about it; the original generation was lost because they came of age during the first World War, while those of us who are of “typical” college age have come of age in a post-9/11 world where peace is nothing but an ideal and a distant memory.
The people who define our Lost Generation can no longer become lost in something like the bustling artistic scene of Paris in the Roaring Twenties because nothing comparable exists today. Regional artistic scenes still exist, such as Chicago’s drill music scene, but the day of people expatriating to create one city as a centre of excellence is over, thanks in no small part to the internet.
A striking image comes to mind of our children, 30 years in the future, scrolling through archived internet forums to see the conversations of our day’s great artistic minds instead of walking the cobbled streets of the fifth arrondissement. While that may lead to a better understanding of how these minds worked as we could record exactly what was said/written (the idea of knowing exactly what was said between Beckett and Joyce is incredibly tantalising), it also eliminates the romantic element of standing outside these places and imagining what was said and done there in years gone by.
Perhaps, like is said in Ecclesiastes, the earth abideth forever and neither we nor they are lost, but battered by the wars and loneliness of the world. One thing is for sure, we are scattered and the internet has eliminated any incentive, other than exploration, to reverse that.
Odrán de Bhaldraithe
Image credit: thenation.com