Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?



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157
On a morning like that, however, there are other, worse enemies than society, composed of those whose day begins with their morning routine. This was and still is dangerous, however careful we are not to make noise. At that moment, the landlady comes down the stairs and Papa Lüdemann raises the blinds. Two floors above, Haarmann sets to work with his axe.61
They are marginal phenomena, background noise, as Kubin says. They accompany the farewell bid to the silent and solemn night. Before, we were safe, as if snuggled in a deep bosom; now the light of day announces its arrival with its pitiless shafts. Underground there is more life, more subtle and delicate, than under the light of day. All those seeds, pupae, rootlets, mycelia, slugs, and nematodes only become visible if a shovel brings them to light, which quickly destroys them. However, the root that nourishes the foliage, the myth that nourishes history, the poet that nourishes the thinker, the dream that nourishes our works and our days, lives on.
“The night is deep, and deeper than day can comprehend.”62 “More light”;63 this also has a hermetic version: darkness. Whoever the woman with whom we sleep may be, her bosom awakens our desire to return to the Mother. It is her altar, not Aphrodite’s, at which we offer the sacrifice. Aphrodite only provides the form, as the gods in general provide the form. Some take her too seriously; others underestimate her. She is the object of every dispute worthy of the name.
158
A dwelling, especially a dormitory, must always preserve an aspect of the nest or the cave; it has to be a refuge. The German word Bau [mine, den, cave, hideout, habitation] has a subterranean character; it evokes galleries and chambers, like those dug by animals, above all the stronghold of the master fox, Malepartus. Even as a child I especially liked nests that were also covered on top, like those of the shrew, the woodpecker and the weaver bird. It must be pointed out, however, that I never liked glass buildings, such as the ones that I contemplated, with more revulsion than admiration, in New York. Naturally, I make an exception for laboratories and observatories, but glass facades are not favorable for limited symbioses, such as are represented in offices and schools. In a glass hospital we can be repaired, but not healed.
I have always felt a predilection for black curtains; the light, however, filters through them with increasingly greater intensity. With pale colors, it clearly demarcates the carpets, books and furniture, and absorbs their reality.
I was seated on the armchair; the little blue box lay on the table. Its contents had hardly diminished; I must have consumed a gram. It is true that, in the opinion of the experts, this was an excessive dose for beginners. If I wanted to maintain my high, I had to raise myself up all at once, again, with a much higher dose. I thought about it: the door was locked; the cleaning lady arrived late on Sundays. For such undertakings it should be possible to conceal oneself in the most inaccessible material, to occupy chambers hewn out of the solid rock, towards which an endless stairwell descends.
A higher dose entails a higher risk. It is said that in dangerous situations, we split into two persons, one of whom observes the other. In war or in a fire this can get us out of a tight spot. It shows us this or that way out; we think of it as instinct. There is nothing to object to in that: instinct is a word like any other. Sometimes, this observer who can so quickly act as an accelerator, or as a brake, also assumes the form of the involuntary logical transgression. And that was also the case here.
That room never had running water; the landlady would come and conduct a rudimentary cleaning of the room, while the tenant left to go to the bathroom. She made the bed and refilled the water pitcher. The basin containing the used water was emptied in the bucket, along with the ashtray and, in accordance with a time honored tradition, the urinal.
If I had to make the poison disappear somewhere, it was there. The brake ordered me to get up and empty the little blue box in the bucket. The instructions were very detailed, of an almost Levitical subtlety. I had to rinse out the box and its lid to dissolve even the smallest trace that could have stuck to a fingertip. “Un soupçon”, as they say when pouring wine.
159
The captain had intervened; he is always onboard, but only rarely does he make an appearance on deck. It sometimes happens, however, that we immediately perceive the change. It was once believed that in individual situations of emergency it was not necessary to mobilize great powers; one counted on mediators, effective protectors, and guardian saints. It is not absurd that these cults were so very numerous, involving veritable armies of intercessors, for each individual felt the need for a particular helper, one that was specially devoted to him. To this day, rhetorical flourishes like “my guardian angel” are still commonly used.
The place of the individual in the cosmos, even among millions of human beings, is unrepeatable, like the network of the lines on one’s palm. From this point of view, at least, the astrologers know more than anyone else.
In every situation there is a way out for every individual, as long as he knows the signs. To drive an automobile you have to be able to distinguish between red lights and green lights, and to make an emergency phone call you need to know the numbers on the telephone dial. Considered acoustically, each individual possesses an alarm signal that overcomes all resistance, but he must know the word. “Sesame”, and the cavern opens.
160
I do not recall if they served me breakfast in my room on the Mittelstrasse. This lapse in my memory seems odd, insofar as I lived there for a whole year. I still recall apparently insignificant details, however, that, like the blue box, seem to be right in front of me on the table. It is evident that things associated with everyday life harbor influences that can only be weighed in memory.
That morning, anyway, I was not served coffee. Something that probably would not have been very normal in the times of my predecessors, among whom old Hindenburg was certainly also included, who had lived in these two buildings, after 1866, when he was a second lieutenant in the Third Guards Regiment.
I changed my clothes and rumpled the blankets and sheets on the bed to give the impression that it had been used. This is an old trick of night birds. Then I went out to take a bath; not in the fancy facilities on the Goseriede, but at a modest establishment that had opened in the neighborhood. I brought a thermometer with me into the stall, for I had to be careful; my skin had yet to recover its sensitivity. The hot water felt good after the cold that had pierced me to the marrow. It restored my thermal equilibrium.
Apart from that, I did not feel tired in the least. To the contrary; I felt more clear-headed than usual. I was walking toward the old part of the city to have breakfast. I certainly did not have an appetite, but I fancied some tea and I ordered two cups. At this time of the morning, one breathed an air of great tranquility in the café, which surfaced in the center of the city like an island. With its big glass windows and display cases it reminded me of an aquarium. That is the way I always saw it, even when I was five years old, from above, in my father’s laboratory, which had a view of the other side of the café. At that time an automobile still made a big impression.
The old men were absorbed in their newspapers. The editor, Stegemann, was sitting at a table with Schenzinger, a doctor and writer like Benn, along with the painter, Vierthaler. Some travelers came in from the train station to have a drink, and there were also some young people of independent means who were wilting with boredom and who stood out because of their sober elegance.
The city was still just a large village. Through the revolving doors came some of my comrades from high school, comrades from times of war and peace, and acquaintances of my father, such as the lawyer Edelstein, whom Löns, I think, has depicted in one of his novels.
We greeted each other or even exchanged a few words at the table. There are states of mind when we use whoever is sitting in front of us as a mirror, to discover if we are attracting attention. Sick people, especially people who are mentally ill, and addicts scrutinize themselves in this way. Thus, I, too, was afraid that they would read the signs of my excesses in my face; it was evident, however, that there was no reason for alarm.
Then Eggers arrived, an art dealer and also one of the eccentric characters of Hannover, with his broad-brimmed hat and his close-cut grey beard; an octogenarian, but still vigorous. His big display window was across the street, at the best location in town; Schwitters and other painters were very eager to have their works displayed there. But they did not enjoy any favor in his eyes: “In my house there is no room for rubbish.”
The old man did not pay any attention to Stegemann, who had just published Anna Blume under his “Silver Horses” imprint, but he sat at my table to complain a little about him and his clique. At that moment I had very different things on my mind. Then Zenker joined us, who possessed a policeman’s instinct for sniffing out mysteries. When someone came from the Eilenriede64 and found himself downtown, he said: “Have you taken a walk in the forest?” He must have had a peculiar sense of smell for such activities; it was, at the same time, presumptuousness, and a certain kind of meddling, by means of which he had the other person half in his power. He was also amusing, besides; twenty years later, however, he became disturbing. When someone returned from a vacation after three weeks, Zenker was capable of claiming: “To speak the truth, your uncle had a good bottle of Burgundy in the wine cellar.”
He had an extraordinarily sensitive nose for anything suspicious. He could tell at first glance whether a young girl “took money”. He sympathized with the streetwalkers, although this was only true as long as they stayed on their corners; he knew them by name. If, however, in the break between two customers, some newcomer tried to come into the shop to warm up with a cup of coffee, Zenker would wink at Fritz, a decrepit old factotum, who shuffled around from room to room in his greatcoat, with an asthmatic dignity, and kept an eye on the staff. Then Zenker said, “Fritz, a whore”, turning his gaze towards his victim. He did not exactly say this in a whisper; some of the customers heard it. Fritz then went to the table of the undesirable customer and left a note on her table: “You are requested to discreetly leave this establishment”. The other customers noted these proceedings with that sense of comfort that degradation arouses in those who are not affected. They were pleased with Zenker’s efficiency, just as, long ago, Martial was delighted with the staff who cleaned the luxury box seats of the Patricians at the circus.
161
I could rest assured: if I looked odd or even just drowsy, Zenker would certainly have noted it and I would not have been spared his comments.
I was worried, however, that the waterfall could not have inundated my brain for a whole autumn night without leaving any traces. Undoubtedly, the alternative between movement and rigidity was still unresolved. There are vines and trees composed of ice on the edges of glaciers and in ice caves.
On that occasion, ecstatic intoxication had not granted me either images or dreams, but only that abstract narcissism of the spirit, the nocturnal review of its immense but anonymous power. It had to cost me a vast expenditure of energy; I only became aware of this the following night, when I fell into a very deep sleep.
162
The experiment did not tempt me to repeat it. If it was a waterfall, it lacked the rainbow that, even in Iceland, gleams over the cascades where the salmon swim upstream.
In the system of Linnaeus the coca bush is included in the genus Erythroxylum, with the Brown Plum and Catuaba. In its external appearance it resembles our blackthorn, while the fruit looks like a wild cherry. Among the alkaloids that we owe to Central and South America, cocaine is distinguished by its notable lack of color. If we subtract the sense of well being from the effects that coffee, tea and tobacco have on us, and if, on the other hand, we consider solely the increase of the stimulating force, to the point where it hobbles the spirit more than it liberates it, we come close to the peculiar combination of wakefulness and lethargy from which medicine has derived such great advantage.
For we must recall that here the West finds itself, by way of a detour, face to face with an augmentation of power by way of extraction. Where coca leaves are consumed in moderation, the harm cannot be more serious than that caused by tobacco. It becomes ruinous for the coquero, for the addict who chews approximately three times the normal dose. This is also more or less the case with the effects of nicotine; if we agree that this applies to a dose of twenty cigarettes pro die.
In both instances the improvement of one’s state of mind or the intensification of the yield from labor can compensate for moderate harm. Being around a smoker during his periods of abstinence is not pleasant. Anyway, one does not live just to get old; old age is an addendum, and often not even a pleasant one, to existence.
White people do not get much pleasure from chewing coca; Indian women do not chew it, or only do so in secret. The men begin at a very tender age; sometimes the father will give a child a small piece from the quid he is chewing, similar to the way we will let children have a sip from our glass of wine. Seagulls and pelicans feed their chicks from their own gullets. From a spiritual point of view, this constitutes a feature of instruction among men, a paternal initiation.
163
Initiation. The fact that plants dispense something more than food, something more even than pleasure and healing, forms part of the pre-logical experience. Their veneration is more anonymous than that directed toward animals; rather than representations of the gods they are their presuppositions. They can be found everywhere—even in the New Testament—not only in the references to bread and olive oil, but also to lilies, the mustard seed, and the fig tree. When we are walking in a forest, we are overflowing with expectation; everything changes when the ram, the eagle or the snake appears. Paradise is the original garden; photosynthesis is the direct absorption of light.
On the Altiplano of the New World the coca bush is also the object of worship. Its leaves are offered as a sacrifice and they are chewed during religious ceremonies. The lesser gods are represented with distended cheeks; they, too, enjoy the magical leaves. The fact that the gods are offered plants, the way Pallas Athena was offered olives, is a reversal of their true attributes. It would seem more appropriate for them to sprout from the lotus, like Brahma, or that they should sail among their flowers like Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance.
When we study these phenomena today, we are on the one hand interested in their chemistry and on the other hand in their psychological effects. The substances whose microscopic structures were not understood until recently and whose active principles had been attributed to the “virtues” of the plants, do not act merely on our cells, but incorporate themselves into our cells in new combinations. They form chains and rings of a complexity that the body is not capable of producing on its own. The same is true of perception. It is made fertile with images that, if the plants did not give them to us, no thought and no act of imagination would be able to create them.
From our perspective, chemistry is a mode of “transition”, and the psyche is an organ that is sensitive to “that which supervenes”.
164
Just as Western medicine has separated from the juice of opium the eidetic effect in order to isolate the hypnotic effect, so too has it likewise extracted from the coca leaf the flow of euphoria that appeared to the Indians to be a gift of the gods. The narcotic effect has been isolated, a kind of congealment. In this neutral cold there is no longer any pain or pleasure.
Drugs also follow fashions; they maintain substantial correspondences with spiritual transformations that, perhaps, only leave minor traces in the history of style, but which nonetheless have an impact. In the years after the First World War, people “took cocaine”. They took “snow” in small quantities to stay awake or to improve their concentration like Bodo. In this respect, industry has since then developed more effective and less harmful remedies, such as the kinds that were used during the Second World War and then later on a mass scale. The harm that an Indian suffers over the course of ten years of constant chewing of coca leaves could be compared more or less to the harm inflicted by Saridon. Yellow pills: they are supposed to level out, above all, the ups and downs of one’s state of mind during the performance of subtle manual labor, and support concentration. A remedy that “attacks the kidneys”.
Even when its danger becomes acute, snow neutralizes. To the extent that the awareness of spiritual arrogance increases, impotence also grows. The ecstatic intoxication associated with snow not only produces bodily rigidity, but also congeals thought and its mobility. Naturally, this fortifies the consciousness of spiritual power, the haughty disdain for the troops. The general of the army still has all his reserves; Benedek, still euphoric, at Königgrätz: “Are we going to join the battle?”
As I have said, it is not the privilege of an intellectual prominence. It is rather a purely speculative feeling in which will and representation are recognized, without producing any visible difference. The individual ego is firmly established on the arms of the throne, Each person thus becomes a “Lucullus who eats at the house of Lucullus”. It is just that for Lucullus, this is his daily bread.
165
The Western Man who lands on the Moon encounters the confirmation of his own reality. He had known for a long time, thanks to his instruments, that he would not have to meet with any surprises, like the kind of surprises that exotic animals, abandoned cities or even native moon people might have offered. If there are previously unknown species on the Moon, he will not be capable of perceiving them.
Of a totally different nature was the landing of the conquistadores in the New World, that great adventure that gave rise to the modern era. Prescott has approached it as a historian; Stucken, in his trilogy, The White Gods, from the perspective of magic. His way of looking at the topic had been formed by his study of the ancient cultures of Egypt and Assyria, just as, along more general lines, one may observe that today the archeologists see more than the pure historians. Our times have witnessed, at least in this field, a certain qualitative leap.
While the voyage to the Moon was planned in advance from an optical and electronic perspective, the adaptation to the New World took time. This adaptation took the form essentially of a system of Christianization, technical adaptation and exploitation that was perfectly implemented right down to the smallest details. It was always more favorable for the natives when they faced Southern Europeans rather than Northern Europeans.
In the sense of the word, ambivalence, which we have already mentioned several times, the physiological effect and the magical-eidetic effect of the coca leaf underwent a schism. The natives, who enjoyed it as a sacred gift and as a divine food, that is, in a eucharistic way, were unaware of this distinction. It was established by the Christian conquistadores. At the Second Council of Lima the consumption of coca was prohibited and declared to be a sign of superstition and idolatry, just as eating horseflesh was anathematized under the reign of Charlemagne.
This prohibition threatened, in effect, to decrease the profits of the owners of plantations and mines that paid part of the Indians’ wages in coca leaves. Apart from the fact that it was inexpensive, the advantage of this arrangement consisted in the fact that it increased productivity while also suppressing hunger. Entire tribes and remote villages would be exterminated in this way. Such forms of wages still existed a hundred years ago in the opium refineries of Singapore (Viaje de la Fragata Novara alrededor del mundo).
In these cases, the conflict ended in the classic way: both the cultivation as well as the marketing of the coca bush was declared a State monopoly. The exchanges between the Old and the New Worlds have not concluded, however, and we might still have some surprises in store for us in the encounter between the two worlds that takes place far below the level of the economic structure.
The East
Opium
166
Weakness has zones of light and shadow; we become sensitive to good or evil. When we are weak, men and beasts, germs and illnesses, and also temptations, fall upon us. Weakness is the prerequisite of addiction, and a disease is often its trigger. When addiction is treated as an illness, treatments are not applied to the root of the disease itself but to its symptoms; this explains the high rate of recidivism. In the Salvation Army they know more about this than they do in the sanitariums. Many individuals never free themselves from addiction, as from crime, except with their deaths.
167
I asked myself why I felt weaker and more vulnerable after the defeat of the First World War than after the loss of the Second World War, even though the latter was an even greater catastrophe. It was probably the case that in the former, deeper layers were affected, especially by the reverberations of the Russian Revolution. Things of this kind are sensed not so much in events as in the form of atmospheric changes, as Alexander von Humboldt described them in his studies on the equinoctial earthquakes. The air becomes stifling before the foundations of the cities tremble and churches and palaces fall into ruin.
After the First World War, something new supervened, symptoms appeared that got worse or better but never completely subsided. Part of this picture was a sense of claustrophobia, or suffocation, that was manifested as either the reaction of the criminal, or as that of the cornered beast, or also that of the peasant who thinks he has been cheated by clever lawyers. For me, Stalingrad was a confirmation of this. In this way, the precipitate is deposited in a cloudy solution.
Then came the nocturnal verification of the Cherusci, passing through the Franks, the Saxons and the Swabians, up to the present, with details in the Peasant Wars, the Reformation, the Paulist church, Wilhelmism, with its pros and cons, like a game in which the movements of history are repeated. Fragments of conversations around the table: the disputes between Bergmann and Mackenzie about Frederick III’s cancer of the larynx. Wilhelm II would have liked to meet Loubet during his first Mediterranean cruise. But to tolerate the singing of the Marseillaise as part of the reception ceremony onboard a German warship “was against his principles”. He would, however, have tolerated a rendition of the military marching song, Sambre et Meuse. Barrès: if anyone could have kept Germany isolated, it would have been the emperor himself. Only gradually are people beginning to recognize that Barrès and Wilhelm were very much alike.
What motivated the peasants, the dukes, the kings and the queens? In the Teutoberger Forest we were on the side of Arminius; at Berezina, we were with Marshal Ney. This can be traced back to the deepest layer of the fabric of Celto-Germanic motifs, reinforced with Roman cross-stitching. Where does that intense feeling of déjà vu come from, when we descend into the Etruscan burial chambers, or the sense of déjà vu we experience when we walk along the walls of Celtic fortresses at night? The people are increasingly less visible under the fabric, that is becoming ever more dense, of parties, interests and technical representation.
I ask myself again if this feeling is necessarily connected with a passion so strong that it is principally expressed in the form of pain. At least it had to be stripped of the ephemeral. The understanding says: Why does the disappearance of the stork from our countryside grieve me more than the disappearance of the dinosaur, whose extinction suggests transitions of a completely different order? Why is the fate of the empire of Bismarck more unbearable to me than the fall of the Hohenstaufen, or the partition of the Carolingian empire, events that were much more calamitous? The understanding replies that the temporal proximity and our personal involvement in the events distorts their dimensions like an optical illusion, and advises: you will have to counteract this illusion by attaining a spiritual distance, for example, by way of a philosophical and artistic supersession of such things. Such a course of action, however, would not even be effective against a toothache. It is necessary to pay tribute to time. Furthermore, there are still some isolated individuals among us who suffer profoundly and incurably from the assassination of Conrad.
We shall make no headway by way of discussions in which some of the disputants have toothaches and the others have false teeth. They are endless polemics. Then along comes a third position that, to almost everyone’s surprise, creates a tabula rasa.
Personally, I was not in the best shape, either. That rifle shot in my chest left me in a state of weakness, which then affected a whole series of organs in succession; I even suffered some relapses in Sicily in 1929.
The sense of suffocation was no less visible in the economic domain; money had certainly not diminished, but had multiplied in a disturbing way. My father was the first to see it coming; he had a good nose for financial affairs. He became aware, before we did, insofar as he was more bound to the place and to the house, of the impossibility of continuing to live in the country. He was not prone to sentimental effusions, which were so contrary to his puritanical education; he did not accept too high a temperature. He rather tolerated a cynical attitude. One morning he came to breakfast in a good mood, as always, and brandished in his hand a wad of newly-issued fifty mark banknotes.
“Now is a good time to commit suicide. ‘He was not able to bear living after the misfortunes of the fatherland’, it will say afterwards in the obituaries.”
He nonetheless found a good emergency solution: in situations of that kind the most important thing is, as in a fire in a theater, to assess the situation before you lose your head. So, too, after the Napoleonic wars one had to live modestly, but things were more stable then, because the national wealth was still overwhelmingly based on the land. Above all, peoples’ jobs were less abstract. Inflation was possible, but could not cause large-scale damage. Now ruination strikes down precisely the small patrimonies that have been accumulating for three or four generations. Such small concentrations of capital are much more important, in the overall picture, than the great fortunes, which instead contribute to leveling and create resentment, even when, thanks to them, a university is founded.
For most people, the library, the music hall, the trip to Italy, the ski resort, the family doctor and tutor, were already privileges of the past. Families had always maintained one or another scion who was devoted to hardly lucrative professions. They were survivals of the Patriciate, which still persisted for a long time in favorable places like Basle, since the days of Erasmus.


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