The Sorrows of Young Werther, Perspectives in Fiction, Reading HabitsRecently I read "The Sorrows of Young Werther" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.My brother put this book on my desk some time back and described it as a "frustratingly good depiction of teenage boy brain". It sat there for a while, as books tend to. Life has been busy. I had to flip the book over because the cover's stock photo of tears streaming down a man's face scared me, and I didn't want to look at it every day of my life. As I read it I found my brother's assessment of the book to be a fair one, and it has me thinking about my relationship to fiction, particularly when it centers adolescent experiences.
too much to look at on a daily basis.
Part of what I found fun about this book was the form it was written in: of letters to a particular friend interspersed by editorial comments to piece together narrative holes. This format intuitively clicks in relation to my experiences in online life, watching people vent out their crises in public. Letter form isn't just a substitute or supplement for dialogue, it explores disconnects between our presented written selves and our actual behaviors. I've seen reviews of this book connect it specifically to Twitter, calling it "The Posts of Young Werther" or something to that effect. The classical Twitter-internet narrative parallel here has something to do about some cool goth girl online having an unspeakably messy room, or something.I expected to feel very disconnected from this book because of the youthful perspective it's trying to evoke. The style of writing (it's Goethe for goodness' sake) evokes little similarity to any teenaged writing I've written, but it manages to evoke the perceptual lens of it so clearly. It's a rarity for me to find something that explores adolescence in a way that resonates with the actual memory of it. I feel like in the media I've consumed, themes similar to this depress me in a way that little else is capable of. Given, I'm used to video games and movie writing, and light touches upon internet and YA fiction.I'm remembering playing Life is Strange at 16 and feeling frustrated and sad, not being able to connect the dots on how romanticized and oversweet it all is. Obviously there's a story that involves some reflection of human emotion here, but it almost hurt me with how difficult it was to connect with in any sincerity. One of the reasons I had so much trouble getting back into reading in more recent years is that many forms of written fiction I tried to engage in seemed to operate on some contingency of the human experience that I was completely missing out on. Character interactions often felt romanticized in a way that I can recognize as almost human but leave me feeling intensely alienated.There's something about framing a character as likeable so wholly that I can't understand. Within some writing I can feel instructions on some ideal of social conformity embedded within narratives and characters, and it's never something I could reconcile personally. I only have my own intensely withdrawn and socially anxious perspective to relate things to, which makes the world a lot smaller. So maybe a story that operates on terms of reflection, introspection, lamentation and disconnects from reality is the perfect thing for me, even if it is simultaneously an overblown tragic romance about a pathetic young man deeply in love with a married woman. Less on the contents of the events, more on the impression it leaves.There's a thread woven throughout that resonates with me particularly: the framing of artistic perception and study as something indicative of youthful passion and naivety, and something that is deeply swayed by literally any emotional experience. When Werther gets sad the whole world in his eyes breaks entirely, and there is no longer anything worth depicting. He's entirely swept up in his own self-conception of reality in a way that seems irreconcilable. The depths of his very soul, his pure reverence or irreverence of the world, depending on the day, is justification enough to prop up his artistry and ego.Within this I find memories of burying myself deeply into artistic practice as a way of coping with things. I don't think I'd like Werther's paintings very much as he describes them, for reasons uncannily similar to the reasons I don't like my own paintings. Maybe being deeply swayed by things is part of what brings artistic work to be cheesy - a painting of a garden will only evoke that tender memory it houses for the artist.(Anyways, hello, this is my first blog post. I've been getting excited about writing these things up for a while now - this is the first time I've done something of this sort. "Longer form" writing is elusive to me. I'm sure there's a lot I'm missing in this post that would be cool to say but I guess that's the nature of these things. I'm trying to figure out my relationship to writing and how to not self-redact so hard when trying to talk. More on that later I'm sure. Thanks for reading.)