A Nervous Splendor

I just got another genius book pushed on me called “A Nervous Splendor.” For about 4 months in 1888, on the same block in Vienna, unpublished Freud, the prodigal Crown Prince Rudolf, Theodor Herzl, Hugo Wolf, Anton Bruckner, and Johannes Brahmes all lived together without knowing their inevitable collective contribution to history. The book interweaves their journey’s and hints at what the future holds. It ends the day Hilter is born.

“By such a paradox Vienna attained greatness after all. It bred geniuses who foretold a modern wound. And Rudolf too became in a time a sad but significant precursor. He was the herald of an alienation common to the youth of our day. Over him loomed Franz Joesph, a storybook incarnation of The Establishment….

Nervousness is the modern sickness. It is the sickness of the century. Outside, everything is gleam and gorgeousness. One lives only on the outside, one is led astray by the dancing phosphorescence…one no longer expects anything from the inner life, from thinking or believing.”

Which echoed what Alinsky said less than 100 years later about an entirely different world–you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

The rest of the middle class, with few exceptions, reside in suburbia, living in illusions of partial escape. Being more literate, they are even more lost. Nothing seems to make sense. They thought that a split-level house in the suburbs, two cars, two color TVs, country club membership, a bank account children in good prep schools and then in college, and they had it made. They got it–only to discover they didn’t have it. Many have lost their children–they dropped out of sight into something called the generation gap. They have seen values they held sacred sneered at and found themselves ridiculed as squares or relics of a dead world.

But basically, Austria had peaked and inertia was the only thing keep it going. There was optimism, but mostly just fear. It blanketed the town. And in response, people stuck to what they knew best. They further embraced the Monarchy. They reveled in customs, tradition and archaic expression. But none of that shook off the fear. And the one man with some optimism, the Crown Prince and heir to the throne, so hamstrung by the system, put a bullet in his head. And was succeeded by Franz Ferdinand and the First World War.

And so the book asks this question over and over again: “Why doest thou suffer? Why doest thou live?” It doesn’t answer it of course, but it’s still a good question.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.