- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

In his new book “Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture,” Jon Savage, the Cambridge-educated pop-culture junkie, turns back the clock on the invention of youthcult — that is, the adoration of the young, the beautiful, the tragic — from such postwar icons as Elvis and James Dean and finds a template in such late 19th-century literature as Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Here’s a preface to the preface.

Lord Byron — Virtually every young celebrity with ambiguous sexual magnetism and a hint of danger, from Rudolph Valentino to Mick Jagger, earns the adjective “Byronic,” so named for the mercurial British romantic poet.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau — Those who blame this 18th-century Swiss thinker for laying the philosophical foundations of collectivism may also blame him, in part, for inventing the concept of adolescence — a period of human development, according to Rousseau, so tempestuous as to merit the term “second birth.”

Henri Murger — According to Mr. Savage, this Frenchman’s (1822-1861) novel “Scenes de la vie Boheme” (from which Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and the play “Rent” were, to differing degrees, adapted) “promoted the idea of an urban zone where prevailing moralities were relaxed, where dissident and artistic young individuals could pursue their visions and delay adulthood.” In the modern world, we call this zone “college.”

Goethe — The 18th-century German poet-novelist was a leading light of the “Sturm und Drang” movement in literature, a German phrase (roughly, “storms and stress”) that psychologist G. Stanley Hall borrowed to describe adolescence. Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” gave us a portrait of a passionate young artist centuries before Joyce.

Thomas Chatterton — This British poet (1752-1770) was beloved by such romantics as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as much for his death (arsenic poisoning at the magical age of 17) as for his work.


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