Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Baggage At The Grand Budapest Hotel

I had off work today because of Passover, and my wife only had a half day at her school.  This meant that with the girls at day care, we would actually be able to go out on a date by ourselves.  We saw a matinee of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we both enjoyed.

My enjoyment was bittersweet, however.  The historical Central European setting reminded me that I had once studied German history (and European history more broadly) for well over a decade.  I developed a real love of the lesser known period of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and while the film takes place in the early 1930s, the main characters (Zero and M. Gustave) both long to return to the world before the Great War.  That sense of having been ripped away from a more comfortable world feels very real to me.

In recent years my bitterness towards my time in academia has infected my feelings towards my former field of study.  I read a lot of American history these days, and little European history, mostly because it reminds me that my dream of being a scholar of nineteenth-century Germany ended in disaster.  I teach mostly American history at my school, and I'm just fine with that.  I've dreaded ever having to talk about my dissertation ever again, and find myself feeling actual loathing towards it.

Watching The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me that I still do truly love Central European history and literature.  (When I heard that the film had been inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, I knew I had to see it.)  I've written some book reviews on my field in recent years, and each time I felt my mind working in familiar and happy ways.  Despite those positive experiences, I haven't been able to stop transferring my bitter anger towards my old profession towards what I used to study.  I really and truly would like to continue some of my old research (I've got a long-completed journal article gathering dust), hopefully I can unburden my baggage and allow myself to enjoy something that once gave me such pleasure.  The film is in many ways about holding onto what's good in the past when life and fate conspire against us, I think I can gather some inspiration from that.

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