Artichoke as Metaphor for Life


Stefan Zweig embodied for Europe a conception of intellectual work as abstract and spiritual, as divorced from mundane, everyday reality, from politics, society and economics. The intellectual and artistic, in Zweig’s view, reflected the “core” of reality. As spiritual essences they could be drawn from life without picking up the ordinary and unrefined with it. Stefan Zweig employed the artichoke as metaphor for history.

Stefan Zweig and the Illusion of the Jewish European, by Leon Botstein Jewish Social Studies © 1982 Indiana University Press, p. 64 (accessed through JSTOR).

There must be some escape from inherent fears and doubts, and this paragraph at first appealed to me in that it confirmed my own escape from painful reality, it preached to my choir, in saying that if one is to flee the terror of the future and the regrets of the past one must bury oneself in the pages of books, one must furiously dig a grave of words, one must be drowned in a well of delightful wisdom—smothering fearful screams as a deranged mother smothers her own baby! Ah, but perhaps that’s taking it too far.

It’s reading and writing and thinking for me, daydreaming as I watch the wet leaves blown back in the rainy wind like bushels of lettuce before the onslaught of giant hairdryers, and it’s probably something different for you—whatever you find that helps you get at the pickled artichoke core of life, the salty succulent flesh of life, whatever brings peace—that’s the essence of being!

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