Friday, November 30

Love's Sweet Mystery

We moderns are a sad race of people (and that includes me as well). we believe we know everything, when the truth is we know absolutely nothing, zilch, nada. We believe we know what love is, when it is merely another self-aggrandizing emotion for us. We love in order to ‘possess’, to increase our worth in our own eyes, it can have no other culmination for us than this, is nothing in itself, by itself, except perhaps as a source of misery. How different it was even a few centuries ago, in the days of Sauda and Mir, when one loved so as to set free, when the supreme ideal of love was not possession but sacrifice, not misery but celebration, when one did not seek only to grasp in love, nor to give either, but also to give up. Moreover, when one could love a fleeting image one had caught indistinctly in the waning light of dusk as wind swept aside the veil on her face and stay faithful to it forever in one's memory and be happy. I do not expect you to understand this, for i myself do not, am not capable of it, so to say, even though it is i who am writing it. 
(In conversation)

Tuesday, November 27

Words ... Like So Many Nickles And Dimes

I have become too idle, i cried, too fond of peace, too inclined towards heaven, too inert! – Alabanda gazes into the world like a noble pilot, Alabanda is diligent and searches for booty in the waves; and your hands sleep in your lap? and you would like to make do with words, and conjure the world with magic formulas? But your words are like snowflakes, useless, and only make the air murkier, and your magic spells are for the pious, but the unbelievers do not hear you. – Yes! to be gentle at the proper time, that is beautiful, but to be gentle at an untimely moment, that is ugly, for it is cowardly! – But Harmodius! I will be like your myrtle, your myrtle in which the sword was hidden. I will not have been idle in vain, and my sleep shall become like oil when the flame ignites it. I will not look on at a decisive moment, will not go about asking for news while Alabanda takes the laurel.
(Hyperion. Holderlin.)

Tuesday, November 20

The Blink of An Eye

‘America,’ he said, ‘will lose the war. And Italy will win it.’
‘America is the strongest and the most prosperous nation on Earth,’ Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. ‘And the American fighting man is second to none.’
‘Exactly,’ agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. ‘Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that’s exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly.’
Nately guffawed with surprise, then blushed apologetically for his impoliteness. ‘I am sorry i laughed at you,’ he said sincerely, and he continued in a tone of respectful condescension. ‘But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don’t call that doing very well, do you?’
‘But of course i do,’ exclaimed the old man cheerfully. ‘The Germans are being driven out, and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that’s what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, i am quite certain that Italy will survive this war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed.’
Nately could scarcely believe his years. He had never heard sucjh shocking blasphemies before, and he wondered with instinctive logic why G-men did not appear to lock the traitorous old man up. ‘America is not going to be destroyed!’ he shouted passionately.
‘Never?’ prodded the old man softly.
‘Well...’ Nately faltered.
The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. ‘Rome was destroyed. Greece was destroyed. Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.’
Natley squirmed uncomfortably. ‘Well, forever is a long time, i guess.’
‘A million years?’ persisted the old man with keen, sadistic zest. ‘A half-million? The frog is almost five hundred million years old. Could you say with much certainty that America, with its fighting man that is second to none, and with its standard of living that is highest in the world, will last as long as ... the frog?’ 
(Catch-22. Joseph Heller.)

Monday, November 5

Untergenhen!

Hyperion! – here she seized my hand with fervor, and her voice rose with grandeur – Hyperion! I think you were born for higher things. Do not misjudge yourself! Lack of raw material held you back. Things did not move quickly enough. That struck you down. Like the young fencers, you lunged too rapidly, even before your aim was sure and your hand deft, and because you, as if by nature, were struck more than you struck, you grew timid and doubted yourself and everything; for you are as sensitive as you are impetuous. But thereby nothing is lost. Had your disposition and your activity ripened so early, your spirit would not be what it is; you would not be the thinking man, would not be the suffering, tumultuous man. Believe me, you would never have known the equilibrium of beautiful mankind so purely had you not lost it completely. Your heart has finally found peace. I will believe it. I understand it. But do you truly think that you are now at the end? Will you shut yourself into the heaven of your love and let the world that needs you wither and grow cold below you? Like the ray of light, you must descend; like the all-refreshing rain, you must go down into the land of mortality, you must illuminate like Apollo, shake and animate like Jupiter, or else you are not worthy of your heaven. I implore you, go into Athens, one more time, and look at the men, too, who walk about there among the ruins, the coarse Albanians and the other good, childlike Greeks, who console themselves with a merry dance and a holy fairy tale about the disgraceful power that weighs over them – can you say: I am ashamed of this material? I think that it could still be shaped. Can you turn your heart away from those in need? They are not wicked, they have done you no harm.

Sunday, November 4

Who Won? "Not us."

The next day we went out early, saw the ruins of the Parthenon, the site of the ancient Theatre of Bacchus, the Temple of Theseus, the sixteen columns that still remain standing of the divine Olympieion; but i was most moved by the ancient gate through which one once came out of the ancient city into the new, where surely a thousand beautiful people once greeted one another in a single day. Now one comes neither into the ancient nor into the new city through this gate, and it stands there mute and desolate like a dried-up fountain from whose pipes clear, fresh water once sprang with friendly splashes.
O! i said, while we walked about, it is a marvellous game that destiny plays here, toppling the temples and giving the shattered stones to the children to throw about, making mutilated gods into benches before peasant huts and tombs into places of rest for grazing bulls, and such prodigality is more regal than the wantonness of Cleopatra when she drank the melted pearl. But it is shame nonetheless for all the greatness and beauty!
Ibid. 

Thursday, November 1

Not Really Romance

Be silent, she cried with a choked voice, and concealed her tears in her handkerchief, O be silent, and do not joke about your destiny, about your heart! for i understand it, and better than you do.
Dear – dear Hyperion! You are indeed hard to help.
Do you know then, she went on with a raised voice, do you know then for what you are starving, the only thing that you lack, what you seek as Alpheus his Arethusa, what you mourn in all your mourning? It did not depart years ago, one cannot say so precisely when it was there, when it went away, but it was, it is – it is in you! It is a better time, that is what you seek, a more beautiful world. In your friends you embraced only that world, with them you were that world.
In Adamas it rose for you; it also departed with him. In Alabanda its light appeared to you for the second time, but more blazingly and intensely, and that is why it was like midnight for your soul when he was gone to you.
Now do you also see why the smallest doubt about Alabanda had to become despair in you? Why you renounced him, only because he was not a god?
You wanted no man, believe me, you wanted a world. The loss of all golden centuries, as you felt them, compressed into one happy moment, the spirit of all spirits of a better time, the strength of all strengths of heroes – one man should replace these for you? – Do you see now how poor, how rich you are? why you must be so proud and also so downcast? Why joy and sorrow alternate so terribly for you?
Because you have all and nothing, because the phantom of the golden days that shall come belongs to you and yet it is not there, because you are a citizen in the regions of justice and beauty, a god among gods in the beautiful dreams that creep up on you in the day, and when you awaken, you stand on modern Greek soil.
Two times, you say? O in one day you are hurled seventy times from heaven to earth. Shall i say it to you? I fear for you, you scarcely endure the fate of these times. You will still attempt various things, will –
O god! and your last refuge will be a grave.
Ibid.

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...