I’ve got a new essay up at the New York Times‘s Opinionator site. (It’ll also appear in tomorrow’s Sunday Review.) The title the editors used is “It’s Still the ‘Age of Anxiety.’ Or Is It?” and, as that suggests, the piece questions the frequent application to our era (post-WWII to now, roughly) of the epithet “The Age of Anxiety.”
You hear that phrase used a lot these days. (Come to think of it, one place you hear it a lot is the New York Times, so it’s an appropriate forum.) It was coined by W.H. Auden in a 1947 book — a “baroque eclogue,” in his description — of that title, and was quickly and widely adopted as a kind of bumper sticker for Western modernity. In 1948, the year Auden’s The Age of Anxiety won a Pulitzer, Leonard Bernstein wrote a symphony based on Auden’s book. Two years later, Jerome Robbins choreographed an “Age of Anxiety” ballet. The year after that, Alan Watts used the phrase as a chapter title in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity. Since then “the age of anxiety” has been more or less inescapable. Writers and journalists use it to encapsulate the presumptive consciousness of an entire era, the consciousness of all the perils we are forced to contend with: terrorism, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, etc. etc.
But is it true? Are we really more jittery than those who came before us?
These are the questions the piece addresses. It’s the first entry in a new series on Anxiety the Times will be running over the coming months, and I hope you enjoy it. As ever, feel free to let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org