Great Bursts of Energy

Neely Young

Infrequent bursts of creative energy have occurred around our world through the centuries. No one knows why, but every few hundred years or so God in his heaven decides that he will shake things up a bit. I have collected a list of some of these.

In the space of few centuries, most of the major religions of the world were founded, three in the 6th century B.C. Why did Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius (all 6th Century B.C.) and Jesus all achieve this creative cosmic energy in different parts of the world, all around the same period? (In the spirit of full disclosure, this author is a Methodist.)

Why should a rocky, barren peninsula like Greece suddenly rise forth as a beacon of vast enlightenment between 427 and 347 B.C.? Words of wisdom from Plato, Socrates and Aristotle still illuminate the whole of our cultural landscape. But after 347 B.C., everything stopped, and Greece became a backwater.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe slept in what is called the Dark Ages. Great rulers like Charlemagne could not read or write. All knowledge was kept under wraps. Yet why would the period from 1400 to 1600 A.D. become the Renaissance? Great leaders came to the forefront like Charles V, Henry VIII, Martin Luther, Frances I and Gutenberg, who started it all by inventing the printing press. In Northern Italy, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and others changed the face of art and culture forever, all within one or two generations. The Renaissance was called the rebirth of civilization; it swept over Europe like an artistic avalanche.

Music has a special place in history and enjoyed its own creative burst. Imperial Vienna in the early 1800s was a city suffering from every kind of censorship. Why should this city have suddenly burst forth with musical geniuses like Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and others at the moment it did? It’s a mystery.

A few Monks in Venice were having a glass of wine in the early years of the 9th century. They decided to throw a few stones together in praise and tribute to Jesus Christ. The great Basilica di San Marco was born from their efforts.

Because such cultural explosions happen suddenly, not slowly over many centuries, great cathedrals were soon being built all over Europe. Each country tried to outdo the other. England has Canterbury; the Chartres and Notre Dame Cathedrals are among many in France. Thousands of others were built, including Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Vienna’s St. Stephen’s, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and of course the famous Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. It was a glorious time, and a glorious age.

In a little backwater American British colony in the late 1700s, a group of men gathered to study the works of John Locke, who had written a great book that espoused liberty, equality and fraternity. These men started their own democratic revolution that still resonates in our country, as well as in the Middle East and other nations of the world. Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Paine all were political geniuses who founded our country and kicked the royal Brits out of the richest colony in the world. How this group of men happened to be in the right place at the right time can only be attributed to divine inspiration.

In the earliest part of our last (20th) century another burst of cosmic energy brought forth Modernism, which changed the way we look at the world. Several radical ideas came together around the same time. In 1900 Sigmund Freud wrote The Interpretations of Dreams. Igor Stravinsky directed the controversial “The Rite of Spring” in Paris in 1913. It was a wild, ear-piercing piece of music that changed tone and direction all over the scale.

Ulysses, some say the greatest book of the century, was written in 1922 by James Joyce. It was an erotically different kind of book that used long unwinding sentences, with few periods or conjunctions. About the same time, Pablo Picasso established Cubism when he painted “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a strange picture of several scantily clad ladies standing next to what looked like an ape, all staring out from the canvas. In economics, John Maynard Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace, a book concerning the end of WWI. It predicted the Great Depression of 1929 and propounded the economic method of managing the economy by deficit financing, which George Bush uses today.

Before Modernism, people would read a book and digest what the author was trying to tell them. It was the same in art and music. After the above set of cosmic events, people now interpret their own feelings into the works of art, and apply their own reactions as to the meaning of the work. This is a major difference that has produced all kind of nontraditional ideas.

In the post-Modernist era, “deconstruction” has taken hold. It is a process by which nutty authors claim that Herman Melville beat his wife, or, more recently, Abraham Lincoln was gay, all because of the way the writers interpret what was written or happened in history, not what actually happened.

What will happen in the 21st century? Some think that because of 9/11 and the Internet the world will sink into a kind of modern Dark Ages. It happened once before, and lasted 1,400 years. I am more optimistic than that. In all of the events listed above, no one recognized what was happening until many years later.

The term “Renaissance” was coined hundreds of years afterward. Computers and the Internet are making profound changes in our world today. If we are in the middle of a cosmic event now, and you recognize what is going on, please let me know. I want to add it to my list.

Neely Young is the editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend.

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