Saturday, 26 April 2014

One Smile was Enough, It was an Earthquake

‘Guilt, if there is such a thing, isn’t bound to time or place and can’t just lapse from one day to the next. Guilt requires expiation; that makes sense. But a time limit is a half-measure, it’s weak, or at least prosaic.’ And he clung to this idea for support, repeating to himself that what had happened had to happen. But at the very moment when he was certain of this, he rejected it again. ‘There must be some time limit, a time limit is the only sensible approach; and whether it’s prosaic into the bargain or not is neither here nor there, what’s sensible is usually prosaic. I’m forty-five now. If I had found the letters twenty-five years later, I would have been seventy. Then Wüllersdorf would have said, “Innstetten, don’t be a fool.” And if Wüllersdorf hadn’t said it, Buddenbrook would have, and if he hadn’t said it I would have said it myself. That much is clear. If you take something to extremes, then you go too far and end up looking ridiculous. No doubt about it. But where does it start? Where is the dividing line? After ten years a duel is still necessary, and they call it honour, and after eleven years, or perhaps after only ten and a half, they call it folly. The dividing line, the dividing line. Where is it? Has it come? Has it already been crossed? When I think of that last look, the resignation, with a smile in spite of his agony, what that look was saying was, “Innstetten, always the stickler for principles… You could have spared me this, and yourself too.” And maybe he was right. My soul seems to be saying something like that. Yes, if I’d been filled with mortal hate, if I’d had a burning lust for revenge… Revenge isn’t admirable, but it’s human, and has a natural human right. As it was, it was all for the sake of an idea, a concept, it was an artificial affair, half play-acting. And now I have to carry on with the act, and send Effi away, and be the ruin of her, and myself too… I should have burnt the letters and the world should never have found out about them. And then when she came back, without any inkling, I should have said, ‘Your place is there,’ and should have inwardly divorced myself from her. Not in the eyes of the world. There are so many lives that aren’t real lives, so many marriages that aren’t real marriages… happiness would have gone, but I wouldn’t have had to live with that eye with its questioning look and its silent, gentle reproof.’  (Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Are You Listening Innstetten?

German culture as it used to be. - When the Germans began to be interesting to the other nations of Europe - it happened not all that long ago - it was on account of a culture which they now no longer possess, which they have, indeed, with a blind zeal shaken off as though it had been an illness: and yet they have had nothing better to put in its place than the political and nationalist lunacy.  To be sure, they have thereby succeeded in becoming much more interesting to the other nations than they formerly were on account of their culture: and so let them be contented!  In the meantime, it cannot be denied that this German culture deluded the Europeans, that it was unworthy of the interest, emulation and imitation it inspired.  Let us today take a look at Schiller, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Schelling, read their correspondence and familiarise ourselves with their large circle of adherents: what do they have in common, what is it in them that seems to us, as we are today, now so insupportable, now so pitiable and moving?  First, their thirst for appearing morally excited at all cost; then, their desire for brilliant, boneless generalities, together with the intention of seeing everything (characters, passions, ages, customs) in as beautiful a light as possible - ‘beautiful’, unfortunately, in the sense of a vague and bad taste which nonetheless boasted of a Greek ancestry.  It is a soft, good-natured, silver-glistering idealism which wants above all to affect noble gestures and a noble voice, a thing as presumptuous as it is harmless, infused with a heartfelt repugnance for ‘cold’ or ’dry’ reality, for the anatomy, for wholehearted passion, for every kind of philosophical temperance and scepticism, but especially for natural science except when it is amenable to being employed as religious symbolism.  Goethe observed these goings-on in his own way: standing aside, gently remonstrating, keeping silent, ever more determined to follow his own, better path.  Somewhat later on, Schopenhauer also observed them - to him much of the real world and the devilry of the world had again become visible, and what he had to say of it was as rough and uncouth as it was enthusiastic: for this devilry had its beauty! - And what was it that misled foreigners that they did not observe German culture in the way in which Goethe and Schopenhauer did, or simply disregard it?  It was the dull lustre, the enigmatic Milky-Way shimmer, that lit up this culture: when they saw it, foreigners said: ‘that is very, very distant from us, there our seeing, hearing, understanding, enjoyment, evaluation cease; nonetheless they could be stars!  Could it be that the Germans have quietly discovered some corner of the heavens and settled down there?  We must try to get closer to the Germans.’  And they did get closer: but hardly had they done so when these same Germans began to exert themselves to get rid of this Milky-Way shimmer; they knew too well that they had not been in the heavens - but in a cloud!
                                          (Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality)