One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Thursday, August 8, 2013

From "The Man Without Qualities"


. . . He sat down again at his earlier place and leafed through the books that lay there, while Agathe got up to make room for him. Then he opened one of them, with the words: "This is how the saints describe it," and read aloud:
     " 'During those days I was exceeding restless. Now I sat awhile, now I wandered back and forth through the house. It was like a torment, and yet it can be called more a sweetness than a torment, for there was no vexation in it, only a strange, quite supernatural contentment. I had transcended all my faculties and reached the obscure power. There I heard without sound, there I saw without light. And my heart became bottomless, my spirit formless, and my nature immaterial.' "
     It seemed to them both that this description resembled the restlessness with which they themselves had been driven through house and garden, and Agathe in particular was surprised that the saints also called their hearts bottomless and their spirits formless. But Ulrich seemed to be caught up again in his irony.
     He explained: "The saints say: Once I was imprisoned, then I was drawn out of myself and immersed in God without knowledge. The emperors out hunting, as we read about them in our storybooks, describe it differently: They tell how a stag appeared to them with a cross between its antlers, causing the murderous spear to drop from their hands; and then they built a chapel on the spot so they could get on with their hunting. The rich, clever ladies in whose circles I move will answer immediately, if you should ask them about it, that the last artist who painted such experiences was van Gogh. Or  perhaps instead of a painter they might mention Rilke's poetry, but in general they prefer van Gogh, who is a superb investment and who cut his ear off because his painting didn't do enough when measured against the rapture of things. But the great majority of our people will say, on the contrary, that cutting your ear off is not a German way of expressing deep feelings; a German way is that unmistakable vacuousness of the elevated gaze one experiences on a mountaintop. For them the essence of human sublimity lies in solitude, pretty little flowers, and murmuring little brooks; and yet even in that bovine exaltation, with its undigested delight in nature, there lurks the misunderstood last echo of a mysterious other life. So when all is said and done, there must be something of the sort, or it must have existed at some time!"
     "Then you shouldn't make fun of it," Agathe objected, grim with curiosity and radiant with impatience.
     "I only make fun of it because I love it," Ulrich said curtly. 
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