I am not going to do this very often, but I think the site needs a little more stylized, fictive content on it.
"I had an unusual day today," Erlsegaard said. "At moments it was among the happiest I have ever known, though nothing that happened is uncommon in normal human experience. I felt a distance between myself and the mundanities of ordinary existence. I felt elevated. I felt distinguished. I felt our city was as important and beautiful as any in the world when one had the time to go about and look at it calmly. It is hard for me to understand why we can't become one of those cities by which outsiders are humbled and awed. Why our minds are not more often concentrated to those finest points at which human life is only ever worth living, as they seem to be, or have been, in those other places."
"All this occurred to you this morning walking through the back alleys of Fairmount?"
"Some of it only occurred to me just now." Erlsegaard rose to a sitting position, with his back against the bathtub and his knees up. "You remember that old lady who spoke at school about St Petersburg and the beauties and profundities one's mind absorbed as a child there, the sensibilities bespoke in the placement of the stones in the walls and the layout and activity of the streets? And of course how we in our lives are ever cut off from this subtle, essential--and yes, sometimes dark humanity, because its presence has been eradicated, sanitized if you will, from our experience?"
"I do. Though I haven't thought about it since around the time we started drinking that night. I remember thinking that even if she had a point, it doesn't seem to be doing her much good. The old bag. What were we supposed to do exactly, be ashamed? You and I, Erlsegaard? I know other people were duly ashamed and suicidal; but the masses and big business and all that, which is all all these people are ever really talking about, all they care about, will never be tormented by how puny and ignorant they are the way these old intellectuals want them to. It's only you who believe it, Erlsegaard. It's only you who thinks art and philosophy and cathedrals and great cities and beautiful girls don't belong to you as much as anybody else. That you don't deserve to show your face around them. Old Germans and Russians, they'll never give you credit for understanding anything. Oh, and those Austro-Hungarians, they're the worst. That's the only satisfaction they have in this country, finding suckers like us, who give them the benefit of the doubt they've got something to tell us. I wouldn't take them all that seriously."
"I am skeptical you know about anybody who believes the last golden age happened to take place wherever it was they happened to be when they were twenty-two. Who ever recognized a golden age, in philosophy anyway, to have risen up when he was in his fifties? And suddenly all that essential humanity these places had, dies the moment it comes among us, can have no meaninful influence whatsoever? I want to know, if Petersburg and Berlin were such fruitful soil for men's brains, how could they have become so unbearable and impossible to live in? Of course, that is probably the whole secret, the necessity of ideological and personal tension that is only good so far as it is a matter of life and death. The pattern does seem to repeat itself in all the most genius-crossed societies. Nonetheless I am sure I have had glimpses of all these tantalizing possibilities and truths here. I'm sure I have had one today. Why wouldn't our winter air and light direct the mind's eye to those possibilities just as much as the beating sun and desert winds do for the Mediterranean peoples?"
"Perhaps. But then again, it's taken you twenty-five--what are you now, twenty-six? Jesus, Erlsegaard, you're getting old!--twenty-six years of looking and how many dozens of people whom you want to be like telling you what to look for just to get to this point of thinking you see what they knew they were seeing as children. They were just smart children who happened to live in a world more casually literate and replete with the conviction that the greatest existential dramas and advancements of the day were emanating from it alone than ours is, all of which no doubt makes a heavy impression on children. And now they've ended up somewhere comparatively peaceful and uninterested in philosophy, so they wince at all our pursuits, only no one except a few earnest students and social outcasts are impressed. I think that even if we have no secrets of our own to discover, future high civilizations will be mining us for material like crazy. I do wish I knew what they will find of importance. All will not be lost, anyway. But for ourselves, we can start by learning not to become impotent at the slightest suggestion that Genius might be in the room."