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Explaining myself - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Explaining myself
In question seven from this meme, I asked people to mention things they didn't know about in my profile or interests. ashtur asked about "thirteenth generation" and thewhiteowl asked about Chaim Potok, so, here we go.

Thirteenth Generation
This is from a historical theory by William Strauss and Neil Howe, which speculates that four generational types, recurring in cycles, have shaped American history. (The Civil War doesn't fit their archetype, and they say it's an example of what happens when people try to push the cycle too fast.) The Thirteenth Generation is, literally, the thirteenth of their defined American generations, born 1961-1981, after the Boom, but before the next generation, which they call Millennials.

The four types of generations are Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Artist/Adaptive. Just a quote from the book, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584-2069:

  1. A dominant, inner-fixated IDEALIST GENERATION grows up as increasingly indulged youths after a secular crisis; comes of age inspiring a spiritual awakening; fragments into narcissistic rising adults; cultivates principle as moralistic midlifers; and emerges as visionary elders during the next secular crisis.
  2. A recessive REACTIVE GENERATION grows up underprotected and criticized youths during a spiritual awakening; matures into risk-taking, alienated rising adults; mellows into pragmatic midlife leaders during a secular crisis; and maintains respect (but less influence) as reclusive elders.
  3. A dominant, outer-fixated CIVIC GENERATION grows up as increasingly protected youths after a spiritual awakening; comes of age overcoming a secular crisis; unites into a heroic and achieving cadre of rising adults; sustains that image while building institutions as powerful midlifers; and emerges as busy elders attacked by the next spiritual awakening.
  4. A recessive ADAPTIVE GENERATION grows up as overprotected and suffocated youths during a secular crisis; matures into risk-averse, conformist rising adults; produces indecisive midlife arbitrator-leaders during a spiritual awakening; and maintains influence (but less respect) as sensitive elders.

The Thirteenth is a Reactive Generation, following the Idealist Boomers (came of age during the sixties awakening), the Adaptive Silents (came of age as the man in the gray flannel suit), and the Civic GIs (came of age during WWII).

Now, I don't think that this is a perfect description of everything, but it makes a surprising amount of sense, in that they equate how people behave as adults with the things they felt they were missing in children, the things they desperately want their own children to have. One thing I like about the book is it treats what's happening in a child's world as legitimate historical forces--what did it feel like to be a little kid during the Puritan Awakening? Or the Great Awakening? Or the Transcendentalist Awakening? There are roughly eighty year cycles between upsurges in this sort of thing, and between secular crises (the Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution, the Civil War, WWII, and now the War on Terror). Wars are fought in other eras, but they tend to be of a different sort, and with much different reaction back home.

A thirteener wrote an article in the early '90s comparing Barney to Sesame Street as children's programming (And A Purple Dinosaur Shall Lead Them) which kind of points out the different mindset of the up and coming generation, via the fun subject of PBS tv shows.

Anyway, that's where it comes from. I don't swallow it hook, line, and sinker, but I think it makes some sense, and at any rate, it's fun to be a generation. We can all remember Star Wars, Schoolhouse Rock, the Woodsy Owl Club, and Sesame Street together, right? That's good, even if the rest doesn't mean much. (But the book is thought-provoking. I recommend it. For the cultural stuff, their individual generational bio, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? is good, and has fun cartoons, and a kind of scary look at a possible future scenario comes about in The Fourth Turning.)

Chaim Potok
Potok was a novelist (also an ordained rabbi, and an Orthodox Jew), often writing about bright but troubled young people in the Orthodox and Chasidic world of Brooklyn. His first novel, The Chosen, dealt with the prodigy Danny Saunders, who was destined to be the Rebbe of his Hasidic sect, but whose fierce intellect wouldn't let him rest on Talmud alone. He wants to become a psychologist. The novel is told from the point of view of his Orthodox (but non-Chasidic) friend, Reuven Saunders. I'd had very little exposure to this particular part of Jewish culture, but Potok is very good at bringing you in without doing a lot of infodumps (and when he does, he has a good excuse--Reuven is also new to a lot of this, and when he needs information, he asks his professorial father, who enjoys giving the lectures and does it in character).

The Chosen is good, but my favorite is Davita's Harp, about a little girl who is born to a non-practicing Jewish woman and her non-practicing Christian husband. Both of her parents are Marxists in the '30s. While her father is away on some dangerous reporting missions, Ilana Davita (she is called by several names) becomes interested in the Jewish life of her neighbors, and against her parents' wishes, starts attending shul. After her father is killed, her mother also rejoins the Jewish world where her family is, and slowly rediscovers her own religiosity. All of which would be fairly trite, except that Ilana is infused with a sense of justice, and it's a world that's not always fair to bright and ambitious little girls. The book ends with neither a religiously uplifting message nor a rejection of religion, but with young Ilana Davita feeling angry and betrayed, but as enaged with the questions as ever. It's quite a complex scenario.

Potok can be very, very wordy, so if you don't like dense descriptive passages, he's probably not for you. But he occasionally lets his language simply take flight and soar. This is his entire treatment of the Holocaust in Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews (throughout, he has used a phrase from the Sumerian King's List to describe chaos--"Who was king? Who was not king?" This is the final time it appears):

On September 1, 1939, the legions of Germany invaded Poland.

Rivers ran with blood. Beasts roamed the land. Men slew children. People fled from towns for the security of forests. Blood and fire and pillars of smoke concealed the sun and fused together in an immense apocalypse, an
auto-da-fé that burned the soul of the world.

Who was king? Who was not king? Centuries of Christian and Roman hate were king in the guise of Teutonic pagans. The world was as silent as the Nile had once been. And the wanderings of European Jewry came to an end.

I've read a lot about the Holocaust, pages and pages, but that one imagistic fragment... it drives it home to me.
3 comments or Leave a comment
themorningstarr From: themorningstarr Date: March 2nd, 2004 10:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suppose that since I was born in 1981, that puts me in the 13th generation as well?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 2nd, 2004 10:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's the thought. Kind of like being on the cusp of an astrological sign, though. ;)
ashtur From: ashtur Date: March 3rd, 2004 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm... that's all interesting. Not sure what to make of it. I fit right into the same generation as you (born 1966), but not sure it fits me, but then again, I've always felt that I'm a bit out of step with my own generation.
3 comments or Leave a comment