It has been one of my commonest experiences, and one of the most interesting to me, to note that nearly all of my keenest experiences intellectually, my most gorgeous rapprochements and swiftest developments mentally, have been by, to, and through men, not women, although there have been several exceptions to this. Nearly every turning point in my career has been signalized by my meeting some man of great force, to whom I owe some of the most ecstatic intellectual hours of my life, hours in which life seemed to bloom forth into new aspects, glowed as with the radiance of a gorgeous tropic day.
Theodore Dreiser – Twelve Men (1919)
It isn’t easy to know what to make of this. I can go along with - my keenest experiences intellectually have been by, to, and through men, not women, and in my case there have also been several exceptions to this. So far so good, it is merely a statement of personal experience.
However I have certainly never had any ecstatic intellectual hours of my life, hours in which life seemed to bloom forth into new aspects, glowed as with the radiance of a gorgeous tropic day. In my case it was much more subdued, much more incremental.
The obvious conclusion is that this is merely Dreiser’s hype. Obvious but not particularly interesting so maybe he was writing of a world further removed from ours than we might suppose. Yes that’s much more interesting. Not quite radiant but more interesting.
Maybe Dreiser’s world was one where personal contact, personal influence and inspiration were more important than they are today, a world where it was easier to be inspired by others. A world where intellectual exploration was reaching some kind of peak from which it has since declined under the stultifying pressures of money, celebrity culture and political virtue signalling.
In any event, Dreiser’s must have been a world of great contrasts but not the remote and politically contrived contrasts we see today. In his world the contrasts were to be found only a few streets away and they were stark indeed. Fatally sharp contrasts between competent and incompetent, lucky and unlucky, winners and losers, skilled and unskilled, wanted and unwanted. It must have engendered a vast and pervasive clarity we no longer have.
Maybe we have lost that level of clarity as we prospered in a world we never planned and perhaps never would have planned had we seen and understood what the future was likely to bring.