Sunday, 10 January 2010



"Ruinen erwecken in mir erhabene Ideen. Alles wird zunichte, alles verfällt, alles vergeht. Nur die Welt bleibt bestehen. Nur die Zeit dauert fort. Wie alt ist doch unsere Welt! Ich wandle zwischen zwei Ewigkeiten. Wohin ich auch blicke, überall weisen mich die Gegenstände, die mich umgeben, auf das Ende aller Dinge hin, und so finde ich mich mit dem Ende ab, das mich erwartet."

Denis Diderot, Der Salon von 1767

Like most students in Austrian schools I had to choose subjects I was especially interested in when I was 16. It means attending extra lessons and learning things that aren't part of the regular curriculum. I chose several subjects, but my favourite was History. Of course it was - four hours of History per week instead of two, the French revolution instead of the Austrian constitution and a memorable trip to an exhibition about Afghanistan where Diderot's quote was painted on a wall. I must have been about 17 back then and I thought that French history would always be my greatest interest. I was wrong, but that quote, scribbled down on a scrap of paper, has been on display in my room ever since.
Whereas most people in my year didn't quite know or couldn't decide what to do with themselves after school, I always wanted to do just this one thing, I was only really interested in the past, it was the only thing that seemed right and important and it still is. Why am I writing about this now? Well, I watched a program on TV about Eastern Prussia in the 40s yesterday, and the day before I read a document about rich people stealing a shepherd's goat on a small Dalmatian island in the 15th century. And people don't really change all that much. When I was 17, I said I'd never want to work with people because I couldn't stand it, couldnt's stand them and now that I'm 22 I've come to realise how wrong I was.
I suppose you could be a historian because you'd want to escape into another world or because you're interested in theory, but to me that's a bit cynical. To me, it's about trying to grasp every last bit of information about humanity there is. The cleverest people I know have all used their knowledge to do something, to help others in one way or another. One day, I hope to do the same. It would be a nightmare to become like Faust, to study endlessly and yet achieve nothing worthwhile.

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