Stefan Zweig liked to play an interesting game

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, during his many years of delightful and luxurious travel, liked to play an interesting game — one very similar to a practice that Seneca had:

As soon as Zweig arrived in a new city — no matter how distant — he would pretend that he’d just moved there and desperately needed a job. He would go from store to store, checking to see if they were hiring. He’d read the help wanted ads in the newspaper. He would often go all the way through the hiring process until he got an offer. Offer in hand, he would then walk out and enjoy his trip, feeling the pride and comfort of knowing he could handle starting from scratch if he had to.

Seneca’s version of this was to practice poverty once per month. He’d wear his worst clothes and eat the cheapest food. He’d sleep on the ground. The point was to get up close and personal with the thing most of us secretly and subconsciously fear: losing everything. Being poor. Having nothing.


  1. A Wild Goose says:

    These thinkers have probably influenced the dissidents that are arguing we should downsize, or even, “pre-collapse,” our current lifestyles to prepare for what is coming.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    I’ve had a low opinion of stoicism since reading Epictetus. Maybe I should give the others a shot.

  3. Russell says:

    His book The World Of Yesterday is an amazing look at the interwar period.

  4. Chedolf says:

    Zweig’s atomic-strength neuroticism and self-absorption led me to check his Wiki bio’s early life section to confirm a suspicion, and I was not disappointed.

    Imagine being a wealthy tourist who wanders from country to country treating natives that way, and then expressing pride after you extract the desired affirmation.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Learning that Zweig died by suicide colors my view of him. But still, I have no problem with him “treating natives that way.” Anyone’s life can come crashing down without much warning. By trying to prepare for the possibility, he shows much more awareness than the typical privileged/sheltered person.

    He treated poverty as a potential enemy planning a sneak attack – which is exactly what poverty is, by the way. He infiltrated its territory to gather intel. What’s wrong with that?

    Anyway, far better than Epictetus.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    Zweig was a fine writer,and an interesting person, but it’s really no wonder that he committed suicide. That “Citizen of the World” crap never works out, everybody needs a home. Zweig even rejected the idea of a Jewish state, of any kind, it seems. It’s remarkable how hatred of nationalism can so easily turn into hatred of self, for obvious reasons.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    It’s impossible to be a citizen of the world because the world is not a nation. It’s nothing more than the surface of the third planet from the Sun.

  8. Greg Clark says:

    More imaginative than my practice of going to a grocery store to get a feel for what people eat and how they live.

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