But the problem with our story, as also with many people nowadays and, indeed, not the least with those who tell stories, is this: it is much older than its years, its datedness is not to be measured in days, nor the burden of age weighing upon it to be counted by orbits around the sun; in a word, it does not actually owe its pastness to time--an assertion that is itself intended as a passing reference, an allusion, to the problematic and uniquely double nature of that mysterious element.
Analyzed and put into words, his feelings might have been expressed as follows: there was something religious, gripping, and sadly beautiful, which was to say, spiritual about death and at the same time something that was the direct opposite, something very material, physical, which one could not really describe as beautiful, or gripping, or religious, or even sad.
One must apply truth and energy in naming things. It elevates and intensifies life.
On the whole, however, it seemed to him that although honor had its advantages, so, too, did disgrace, and that indeed the advantages of the latter were almost boundless. He tried putting himself in Herr Albin's shoes and imagining how it must be when one is finally free of all the pressures honor brings and one can endlessly enjoy the unbounded advantages of disgrace--and the young man was terrified by a sense of dissolute sweetness that set his heart pounding even faster for a while.
Music awakens time, awakens us to our finest enjoyment of time.
Fear, conventionality, aversion born of modesty, the quivering longing for purity--all these repressed love, held it chained in darkness, at best giving in only partially to its wild demands, but certainly never permitting them a conscious, active existence in all their variety and vigor. Except that chastity only apparently triumphed, its victory was a Pyrrhic victory, because the demands of love could not be fettered, or coerced; suppressed love was not dead, it continued to live on in the dark, secret depths, straining for fulfillment--and broke the bands of chastity and reappeared, though in transmuted, unrecognizable form.
Any symptom of illness was a masked form of love in action, and illness was merely transformed love.
What fun it is to be annoyed at people and yet have no choice but to love them.
Settembrini bowed. "You wish to say," he explained, "that early and repeated contacts with death give rise to a basic mind-set against the cruelties and crudities of life as it is thoughtlessly lived out in the world. Or, let us say, it makes one aware and sensitive to its cynicism."
Permit me, permit me, my good engineer, to tell you something, to lay it upon your heart. The only healthy and noble and indeed, let me expressly point out, the only religious way in which to regard death is to perceive and feel it as a constituent part of life, as life's holy prerequisite, and not to separate it intellectually, to set it up in opposition to life, or, worse, to play it off against life in some disgusting fashion--for that is indeed the antithesis of a healthy, noble, reasonable and religious fire. The ancients decorated their sarcophagi with symbols of life and procreation, some of them even obscene. for the ancients, in fact, the sacred and the obscene were very often one and the same. These people knew how to honor death. Death is to be honored as the cradle of life, the womb of renewal. Once separated from life, it becomes grotesque, a wraith--or even worse. For as an independent spiritual power, death is a very depraved force, whose wicked attractions are very strong and without doubt can cause the most abominable confusion of the human mind.
Ah yes, irony! Beware of the irony that flourishes here, my good engineer. Beware of it in general as an intellectual stance. When it is not employed as an honest device of classical rhetoric, the purpose of which no healthy mind can doubt for a moment, it becomes a source of depravity, a barrier to civilization, a squalid flirtation with inertia, nihilism, and vice.
Analysis is good as a tool of enlightenment and civilization--to the extent that it shakes stupid preconceptions, quashes natural biases, and undermines authority. Good, in other words, to the extent that it liberates, refines, and humanizes--it makes slaves ripe for freedom. It is bad, very bad, to the extent that it prevents action, damages life at its roots, and is incapable of shaping it. Analysis can be very unappetizing, as unappetizing as death, to which it may very well be linked--a relative of the grave and its foul anatomy.
In any case, being in love inflicted on him all the pain and all the joys that the condition brings with it the whole world over. It is a piercing pain that has something degrading about it, as does all pain, and is such a shock to the nervous system that it takes one's breath away and can make a grown man weep bitter tears. But to do justice to the joys, they were countless, and although they rose out of trivial events, they were no less compelling than the sufferings.
The constituent element of his love, therefore, was not the amiable, tender melancholy found in our little song. It was, instead, a rather reckless and unpolished variation of this folly, a fusion of frost and heat, like a man in a fever or an October day in these lofty regions.
What was life, really? It was warmth, the warmth produced by instability attempting to preserve form, a fever of matter that accompanies the ceaseless dissolution and renewal of protein molecules, themselves transient in their complex and intricate construction. It was the existence of what, in actuality, had no inherent ability to exist, but only balances with sweet, painful precariousness on one point of existence in the midst of this feverish, interwoven process of decay and repair. It was not matter, it was not spirit. It was something in between the two, a phenomenon borne by matter, like the rainbow above a waterfall, like a flame. but although it was not material, it was sensual to the point of lust and revulsion, it was matter shamelessly sensitive to stimuli within and without--existence in lewd form. It was a secret, sensate stirring in the chaste chill of space. It was furtive, lascivious, sordid--nourishment sucked in and excreted, an exhalation of carbon dioxide and other foul impurities of a mysterious origin and nature. Out of overcompensation for its own instability, yet governed by its own inherent laws of formation, a bloated concoction of water, protein, salt, and fats--what we call flesh--ran riot, unfolded, and took shape, achieving form, ideality, beauty, and yet all the while was the quintessence of sensuality and desire. This form and this beauty were not derived from some neutral material both consumed by spirit and innocently embodying it, as is the case with the form and beauty of the visual arts. Rather, they were derived from and perfected by substances awakened to lust via means unknown, by decomposing and composing organic matter itself, by reeking flesh.
Her sex knows no pity or concern when staring at the horrors of passion, an elemental emotion with which the female is apparently much more familiar than the male, who is not at all at ease with it--and if she finds him in that state, she never fails to greet him with mockery and schadenfreude.
And for its part, what was life? Was it perhaps only an infectious disease of matter--just as the so-called spontaneous generation of matter was perhaps only an illness, a cancerous stimulation of the immaterial? The first step toward evil, toward lust and death, was doubtless taken when, as the result of a tickle by some unknown incursion, spirit increased in density for the first time, creating a pathologically rank growth of tissue that formed, half in pleasure, half in defense, as the prelude to matter, the transition from the immaterial to the material. This was creation's true Fall, its Original Sin. The second spontaneous generation, the birth of the organic from the inorganic, was only the sad progression of corporeality into consciousness, just as disease in an organism was the intoxicating enhancement and crude accentuation of its own corporeality. Life was only the next step along the reckless path of spirit turned disreputable, matter blushing in reflex, both sensitive and receptive to whatever had awakened it.
Be that as it may, he is no doubt an eloquent speaker, indeed loves to recite beautiful verses--but does that make the man a poet?
Oh, love is nothing if not foolish, something mad and forbidden, an adventure in evil. Otherwise it is merely a pleasant banality, good for singing calm little songs down on the plains.
"I love you," he babbled, "I have always loved you, for you are the 'intimate you' of my life, my dream, my destiny, my need, my eternal desire."
In the same way, the body, and love of the body, too, are indecent and disagreeable; the body's surface blushes and turns pale because it is afraid and ashamed of itself. But at the same time it is a great and divine glory, a miraculous image of organic life, a holy miracle of form and beauty, and love of it, of the human body, is likewise an extremely humanistic affair and an educating force greater than all the pedagogy in the world! Ah, ravishing organic beauty, not done in oils or stone, but made of living and corruptible matter, full of the feverish secret of life and decay!
Let me take in the exhalation of your pores and brush the down--oh, my human image made of water and protein, destined for the contours of the grave, let me perish, my lips against yours!
You and your country allow unconditional silence to reign, a silence so opaque that no one can judge its depths. You do not love the Word, or do not possess it, or sanctify it only in a sullen way--the articulate world does not and cannot learn where it stands with you. My friend, that is dangerous. Language is civilization itself. The Word, even the most contradictory word, binds us together. Wordlessness isolates.
In fact, our dying is more a concern to those who survive us than to ourselves; for as a wise man once cleverly put it, as long as we are, death is not, and when death is, we are not; and even if we are unfamiliar with that adage, it retains its psychological validity. There is no real relationship between us and death; it is something that does not apply to us at all, but at best to nature and the world at large--which is why all creatures can contemplate it with composure, indifference, irresponsibility, and egoistic innocence.
The courage of self-recognition and expression--that is literature, that is humanity.
But irrational love is a mark of genius, because death, you see, is the principle of genius, the res bina, the lapis philosophorum, and it is also the pedagogic principle. For the love of death leads to the love of life and humanity.
Isn't it grand, isn't it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate with love--from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust? The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is it without sanctity even at its most fleshly. Love is always simply itself, both as a subtle affirmation of life, and as the highest passion; love is our sympathy with organic life, the touchingly lustful embrace of what is destined to decay--cartias is assuredly found in the most admirable and most depraved passions. Irresolute? But in God's good name, leave the meaning of love unresolved! Unresolved--that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it.
Man is nothing more than the organ by which God consummates His marriage with awakened and intoxicated life. And if man fails to feel, it is an eruption of divine disgrace, and it is the defeat of God's manly vigor, a cosmic catastrophe, a horror that never leaves the mind--
...what we call mourning is perhaps not so much the pain of the impossibility of ever seeing the dead return to life, as the pain of not being able to wish it.
The duel, my friend, is not just any 'arrangement.' It is the final arrangement, a return to the primal state of nature, only slightly moderated by certain chivalrous, but purely superficial rules. The essence of the situation remains what it has been since the beginning, a physical struggle, and it is each man's duty, however far he may be from nature, to keep himself equal to this situation. Whoever is unable to stand up for an ideal with his person, his arm, his blood, is unworthy of that ideal, and no matter how intellectual one may become, what matters is that one remains a man.
Farewell Hans--whether you live or stay where you are! Your chances are not good. The wicked dance in which you are caught up will last many a little sinful year yet, and we would not wager much that you will come out whole. To be honest, we are not really bothered about leaving the question open. Adventures in the flesh and spirit, which enhanced and heightened your ordinariness, allowed you to survive in the spirit what you probably will not survive in the flesh. There were moments when, as you "played king," you saw the intimation of a dream of love rising up out of death and this carnal body. And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rotting fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all round--will love someday rise up out of this too?
There he stood, in utter embarrassment, suffering the penalty of having supposed that one may pluck even a single leaf from the laurel tree of art and not pay for it with one's life. 163