Celebrity is just Obscurity biding its time. — Carrie Fisher
Assuming we humans still possess a musical culture 300 years from now, I can’t imagine that the music of Beethoven will be forgotten. And if Beethoven is remembered, his Ninth Symphony, with its famous “Ode to Joy” will be admired again and again. The libretto to the “Ode to Joy” was written by Schiller, and his fame will be enshrined by this remarkable music—and perhaps by many of his other literary works, too.
Friedrich Schiller on his deathbed by Ferdinand Jagemann, 1805
But what can we make of
Schiller’s claim to fame? The Greek and Roman Stoics
would dismiss it as unvirtuous. Buddhists would
assert that fame is little more than an illusion of
the ego. And Carrie Fisher, Star Wars’
Princess Leia—and a popular author and screenplay
writer—believes that all celebrity will dissolve in
the passage of time.
Schiller’s boast provides an insight into the mind of the Romantic era, the time of Keats, Napoleon, Goya—a period when common citizens could rise from the masses to achieve greatness in politics, the arts, war, and grand love affairs by aligning themselves with an idealized notion of nature pitted against the perceived grip of industrialization and the dehumanization of the individual.
The Romantics championed the individual and theirs was one of the first social movements to include women (like Mary Shelley) in its ranks. The American and French Revolutions—with their attendant emphasis on citizen rights and freedoms can be seen as Romantic political projects. In its extreme form, certain Romantics, like Schiller, believed the power of their individual genius could achieve immortality.
Carrie Fisher: mature, witty, wise
But we live in such different times. An existential awareness permeates our notions of fame and fortune. How quickly we see our megastars forgotten, their images commodified (like Marilyn and Elvis) and their work “covered” by a million pretenders in the Karaoke bars across the land. This is the turf that Carrie Fisher knows so well. She once embraced fame only to see it slide from her fingers like a stream of sand. Fortunately she’s had the good sense to step back and recognize this illusion for what it is: a mirage.
Schiller provides a lesson for us all. Better to choose a genuine, purposeful life without striving for the variety of illusions that cost us our freedom, than to to enslave ourselves to a fantasy of immortality that only the very few will find if they can win Fortune’s favour.