In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Professor Robert C. Darnton ’60 described what he viewed as a remarkable and widespread belief in China today: According to a list that has been circulated widely on the internet in China and published in book form, Harvard’s libraries contain 20 inspirational sayings and fearsome injunctions written on their walls. The list includes exhortations to study hard, promising rewards including great wealth, happy matrimony, and all-purpose “success,” including, “Please enjoy the unavoidable suffering."
But, as they used to sing on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others.
Has Horace Greeley’s famous injunction to young Americans in the 19th century—“Go West, young man”— been revised in the opposite direction in the 21st century? In January, a New York Times op-ed declared: “Go East, Young Man,” and many at Harvard seem to be responding.
Clearly, the figure of the starving writer occupies an important place in our culture. This figure represents the intense, painful pursuit of a passion over material concerns. Writing doesn’t pay; his hunger is proof of his authenticity.
“Don’t worry,” Sofia remembered her soon to be high-paid friend saying. “You’re following your passion!