281 During the years “before the Wall” I regularly traveled by airplane to Berlin to visit my brothers who lived the eastern zone; we stayed in a small hotel, in the vicinity of the Anhalt Station. Then I also met Ernst Niekisch112 and other friends.
I can still vividly recall an afternoon at the house of Gottfried Benn, with whom I maintained an epistolary relation for some time. I would have preferred to see him on the Mediterranean coast, where it is possible to breathe as if you were just released from prison, and where he also liked to stay. However, he wrote me, I think I was in Montecatini at the time, the following note: “I would have gladly accompanied you on your trip to the South, but I must observe so many dietetic rules (duodenal ulcer), and I would have to bring so many medicines (rheumatism), and I would have to pack so many jars of ointment in my suitcase (eczema), that I lost my desire to go. Until I was in my seventies I could make my body do whatever I felt like doing; it obeyed and did everything I wanted. Suddenly, the great tendency to decline, and annoying words like ‘allergic’ and ‘neuro-vegetative’, were no longer of any use to me, they ceased to help me.”
A dermatologist who was obliged to pack jars of ointment when he went on vacation: this did not look good. Unfortunately, it did not take long for one of those letters marked in black to arrive, which were showing up in my mailbox more and more frequently and piling up in my house.
Gottfried Benn is one of the many sons of Protestant pastors through whom the evangelical church has enriched literature. Things would have “gone better” for him in Paris or in Rome than in Berlin, but it is not possible for us to choose our native country.
At the time, when I was visiting him on the Bozener Strasse, he had recovered somewhat and seemed to feel better. His apartment, located on the ground floor, seemed to hearken back to the Wilhelmine epoch and had, along with its tenants, survived the firestorms of the Second World War. Benn owed his survival, not least of all, to the army. He had served as a doctor in both wars. The uniform was almost better camouflage in the civil war than on the front. Benn was able to make use of it, since the resentful persecutors had specialized in targeting him, and certainly did so with a zeal that displeased Himmler himself. In the absurd correspondence that was initiated, and which has in part been brought to light by the indefatigable Joseph Wulf, the question was once asked whether the name, “Benn”, did not conceal a Semitic surname.
The hallway of his “Berlin apartment” did not have any windows. His greeting in the shadows was a pleasant one. European courtesy, almost transformed into a second nature, as in the Far East. Sign of the Zodiac: Taurus. I was unable to recognize the special features of this sign in his face and, at first sight, I would have instead thought the sign was more suited to his wife. She was at his side, I saw, in the shadows, her face full and placid and her hair thick and brown, with streaks of grey. She was a woman of few words, but her presence seemed to add a new dimension to the conversation. Although they are not common, such interlocutors do exist, and to say that they know the art of listening would fall far short of the truth. Their silence is rather propitious for language, it gives it body, it becomes a resonance box. Then she went to the kitchen, and I could take a look around the apartment.
It must have been a cloudy day—the medical office seemed somewhat dreary. But there were probably some bright lamps, since dermatological consultations require a scrupulous inspection. A couch upholstered with dark leather or a waxy fabric, as is used for medical examinations, was covered with newspapers, which were also scattered around on the floor, as well; it appeared that his reading time had been prolonged until after noon. Next to the couch, a stand held a glass cylinder, from which was suspended a rubber tube. An apparatus for transfusions—an instrument, as Benn said, transformed into a museum piece.
As it turned out, he did not have a lot of patients—or did he say that he had almost none?—which did not seem to bother him. Perhaps people only disturbed his meditations. Between consultations he wrote letters or drafts of poems on his prescription pad.
He mentioned the newspapers: “It seems that we once again share a vile enemy. Bah! They can even write that I sodomize flies. I am totally indifferent.”
Then I was able to cast another glance at his wife’s office—the difference was like night and day. I got the impression that here a delicate order reigned: little metal, dark wood, perhaps ebony, with mother-of-pearl inlay; it looked like patient and precise work. To have a tooth pulled here would have to be almost a pleasure.
When the door opened and then closed, I experienced a kind of déjà vu. Then, from the depths of my memory, appeared the little atelier of Marie Laurencin. There, too, the work was almost completely dissolved in a sensation of wellbeing—at that time in green and red, as now in silver and dark brown. Even better than obtaining income without working is working without fatigue, work as a game.
Then we sat down to eat, and we did honor to the viands. Lobsters with mayonnaise, old burgundy—back then he must not have had any problems with his duodenum. It is a relief to find oneself in the lodge of thought with a spirit who knows how to break through individual, institutional and regional frontiers and who also had a little bit of an Aristophenian sense of humor.
A little shrimp on the Titanic; there was commotion in the corridors. The water was spilling everywhere, dragging along with it newspapers, straw, all kinds of personal belongings, and even corpses. The rats began to squeak at the door. The waiters had disappeared, but there were still provisions in the pantry—imported cigarettes, Hennessey. This picture is part of the style of the century; I have become accustomed to it since the First World War. On such occasions, we are struck by distinct impressions, good observations are made. Physical safety is scarce, while the presence of the spirit grows. It is indigestible matter for Leviathan; he will vomit it up.
The Ptolemaic and the Mauretanian: a text in which we are measured by that same yardstick;113 Benn added some observations. The Mediterranean; the towers of Antibes: “a fanatic cause”; I had sent him a photograph from there. History: “The reptile does not move away so silently.” I discovered something that I had not previously known: his presence, as a doctor, at the shooting of Edith Cavell (October 12, 1915).114
“On Soldiers’ Suicides and Their Causes”: this was the name of the special unit that he commanded during the Second World War; this information was also new, but very illuminating, to me, and his affinity with suicide was self-evident.
Then we talked about our travels, once again about the Mediterranean. His wife: “If you are going to exchange anecdotes about the friends you made on your trips, I am going to step out for a little while”—it was obviously her signal to make her exit and disappear into the kitchen. Benn went to his library to look for his report on the tragic end of Miss Cavell; he brought A Visit to Godenholm back with him, which had recently been published.
He sat down again at my side: “Do you know? This is the most refined book you have ever written.” Then he began to leaf through the small volume and began to read a passage about the goal to which we must make our approach, but which is not possible to attain. For an instant, the phenomenon is identified with being, the wave with the sea.
“The instant eternally returns in which the One is raised over the parts and is cloaked in brilliant light. This mystery was ineffable, but, nonetheless, all mysteries refer to it and are about it, only about it. The courses of history and their ramifications, which seem to be so interwoven, lead to this truth. All of human life, every day, with each step, also approaches this goal. The theme of all the arts was nothing but this One, from this height every thought was judged according to its rank. Here was the victory that crowned every being and removed from each the thorn of his defeats. The grain of dust, the worm, the murderer, all participate in it. This light knows neither death nor darkness.”
He put the book down between us on the couch and blurted out: “What the devil is it? What can it be? It is the penis! It can only be the penis!”
282 It must have been a monologue, because just at that moment Ilse Benn arrived with the coffee—or it could have been cognac or a foaming glass of wine. In any event, we spent another hour together, during which harmony reigned. Then I returned to the hotel and meditated on our encounter.
Something in me had been affected more deeply than by the conversation about books, men and events, even more than the splendor and misery of the poet, who throws a piece of himself to the hounds, whose howling is mixed with the triumphant blaring of the horns of the hunters. This fate follows the author and his work in the twilight, a faint streak of light, the tail of the comet.
Presence offers more than communication and reflection—unity in the timeless, not just in time. The eyelids of the poet open over wide open eyes, with the soft power of the wings of the dove or the owl. This was the look of the dreamer, susceptible to the display of vehement passions and the awakening of affects, and also capable of suffering. The capacity for suffering is necessary. Suffering overlays the word. Silence is hidden behind the word. If I remember correctly, Benn once compared words to the cells of eyelashes, which approach being by touch.115 But it is first necessary to approach the word, groping for it in the dark by sense of touch. Every word acquires solidity only when it is touched again, when it is rediscovered. A small reserve of words is enough for the poet, moderation is in fact advantageous for him. Overabundance can sweep us away both in the cup as well as in the sea.
Two verses will be enough to remain faithful to a poet. I brought his poems with me and I once again read the stanzas that had inspired me in my youth:
O that we might be our ancestors’ ancestors.
A clump of slime in a warm swamp.
A testimony to how much our suffering has increased since Rousseau. In his daydreams one catches a glimpse of distant, but ultimately human, archipelagos. The classics do not love dissolution; their “chief happiness” is of another kind.116 Benn’s glance has penetrated deeper into decomposition than Baudelaire’s; that, too, is a passage that must be traversed.
When I was in the deserted lobby of the hotel, and I recited these two verses out loud, I discovered with surprise that up to that moment I had been reading them incorrectly. It seemed that until then the blind spot of my eye had rested on the word Moor (“swamp”). I had taken it for Meer (“sea”) and I had sought the rhyme in schon zu sehr (“too much”).
A clump of slime in a warm sea.
Now the error had been corrected; but I only reluctantly abandoned it.
283 I conclude these reminiscences of Berlin while the snow falls outside and the birds are perched in the linden trees of Stauffenberg before they take flight again; at this very moment, a finch and his mate are pecking at the sunflower seeds right next to me on the windowsill.
Today is February 11, 1970; it is Ash Wednesday—this evening we will go, as we do every year on this date, to dine on snails at The Eagle tavern in Altheim. Yesterday, in the Riedlingen Square, they “burned the witch”. In this corner of Upper Swabia many archaic practices are preserved almost in their pure state.
The manuscript is approaching its end. I have spent much more time on it than I had originally intended. Before I once again take up the thread of my theme, I was reading my mail, as I do every morning. Usually, this is an appetizer that will last the whole day; I mention it in this context due to a commentary on Godenholm contained in one of the letters. Perhaps it was suggested by that same passage that had also intrigued Benn, although in a different way. Vintila Horia wrote to me from Madrid (February 7, 1970):
“Dominique de Roux m’a fait avoir Visite à Godenholm. Je l’ai déjà lu trois fois et à chaque lecture j’y trouve des nouvelles beautés. Le titre lui-même veut dire peut-être la maison des Dieux ou le toit des Dieux, si je ne me trompe, et il s’agit là de la dernière initiation, celle de la mort, exquissée ou pressentie de la première page….”117 By chance this letter arrived precisely today, ad hoc, but other similar signs confirm that interest in this book is beginning to grow. André Almuro, who, following the example of the French romantics, leaves his Parisian home in the winter for a house in the countryside of the Black Forest, asked me about it now and then for details for his opera, A Visit to Godenholm. 284 A book has to reach the heart. Then it finds its goal, beyond countries and seas. This fact was corroborated some years ago by a visit from Guido, a young Dutchman who reminded me of that oriental discussed by De Quincey. For De Quincey, the reason for the meeting was the aroma of opium—this time, it was of a Mexican variety.
De Quincey’s oriental was a disquieting personality; he became a frequent guest in De Quincey’s nightmares.118 Guido would also appear in the theater of dreams, but always as a friendly guest. The capacity for metamorphosis in oneiric personalities is not given to just anybody; it is determined by one’s participation in the psychic cosmos—regardless of the nature of that participation.
Books have their fates—I saw this now and then, for what caused Guido, from his hut on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, to come to Godenholm to seek me out? What could the reading of a hermetic text written in a foreign language have meant to him? In any case, he had instinctively grasped that an experience that was familiar to him had been described in the book.
Someone must have mailed him the book or brought it to him—perhaps Wolfgang Cordan, who traveled a great deal in Mexico, and who died young. Or maybe he received it through his connections with the circle of Wolfgang Frommel, another one of those key figures, concerning whom little is said, but who are so well known.
In the Second World War, a circle of people was formed in Amsterdam that is hard to define—musical, political, philosophical, Socratic, Georgian, one of the ganglionic nodes to which Frommel refers as his “imperial palace”. One anecdote after another concerning this house on the canal seeped through to Paris—things that I would have preferred not to know in such detail; I heard talk of Trott and also of Erhard Göpel, when he returned from one of his visits to Beckmann. Guido was sixteen years old at the time; he worked for them as a bicycle messenger and can consider himself lucky not to have been liquidated.
He arrived here, too, on a bicycle, with which he crossed all of Europe, when he was not walking or hitchhiking. Once he even drove a broken down old car that he somehow got across the border without any license or registration.
“Guido, do you at least have insurance?”
“Yes, in the vertical position.”
There is something about Guido’s personality that attracts the attention of the police, but when they have exchanged a few words with him they send him on his way. He is a quiet, affable guest. When I entered his room in the morning, the bed was untouched. He slept on the floor, in his sleeping bag, which he also used in the forest and even on days when it rained. He spent the morning in the garden; he liked to spend time in the arbor, with only the I Chingand his yarrow stalks, which he cast and arranged next to the book.
I know many people for whom The Book of Changes harbors a great significance; it is linked, for most of them, as is the case with Ernst Wilhelm Eschmann, with their passion for the Far East. In Guido’s case this connection reached the deepest layer of his being. When it reaches this bottom layer, the spirit becomes capable of performing the task of the augur and, then, regardless of which oracle is interrogated, it will answer. He is transformed into a key, one among others, more or less subtly cut. Matter becomes a fatherland without borders. Then it is possible, as in ecstatic intoxication, to throw away the key.
Now and then, my correspondence includes a letter from Guido—from Holland, Germany, the United States, Mexico. I have received long telephone calls from California, which annoyed me because they were very expensive. Guido was working in California as a carpenter—that one phone call might cost him a week’s pay. For a while he wrote to me from France, where he was taking care of children at a farm; he was good with children.
“Right now, I am taking care of a three year old German-American child; he came here with a severe case of television intoxication. After a few days, he has already been cured of his mad desire to throw stones at everything alive; at this very moment the patient is lying tranquilly on the grass, contemplating the flowers.”
Despite the fact that he did not write them in his native language, the letters I receive from him are of an aphoristic pregnancy. “For the New Year I have of course written you a letter, but, as so often happens with most of my scribbling it has disappeared into the wastepaper basket. Therefore, today I shall start again from scratch. In Wilflingen, last summer, you said: ‘Europe is historically dead’. The history of the world is the birth pains of the feminine principle. Until then humanity is still walking on all fours. Wolfskehl: ‘Blood is semen, the spirit is venom’. The murder of the flowers-children in New York seems to me to be a bad omen. ‘Psychedelic’ sounds like a pharmaceutical product. We owe this word to the Pope of the American religion, Alice-D. It seems that they have taken giant leaps there in the last few years. I was never an adept, but I have been seized by the mania for reading. From Tepoztlan I received news that you are considering a trip to Mexico. In The Perfection of Technology,119which I unfortunately only possess in English translation, I found the sentence: ‘Life is reduced to a choice between evils.’120 The old negro, black as coal—he was, in fact, a coal stoker—whom I met in the bush in Haiti, asked me the fundamental question of our time: ‘Wat je fooh?’ He had to repeat it about half a dozen times, until I understood his pidgin English. In Germany they gave us a truck (LKW) with a new kind of engine: a vehicle of love (Liebes-Kraft-Wagen).”121 And it went on like that, page after page. The text flows in associations. This is how we talk when we have had a little too much to drink. Guido also had a good hand for wood, he made tables and carved sandals, which are so highly appreciated by snobs. Since his business has prospered, he no longer derives any pleasure from it. I think that he was living in an orphanage before he joined the secret organization in Amsterdam. To avoid coming to grief in such places, one must have a “good stomach”, as they say in Swabia.
285 It is quite possible that this way of living will spread. Society is becoming increasingly more orphaned, not only due to the loss of the father, but also of progenitors. The State, the “dragon with a thousand scales”, is transformed into a gigantic pedagogue and schools sprout up from the asphalt that are increasingly less and less distinguishable from factories. Exploitation spreads and intensifies; as was the case in the past with muscular force, today brainpower is monopolized.
Does this therefore mean that evolution is reaching its conclusion and that the process will end in a fixed order? Nietzsche answered this question in the negative; Huxley and Orwell gave an affirmative, although pessimistic, response. Huxley’s views towards the end of his life once again surpassed the splendor and misery of the last man—beyond the ideal of the “too many”, as Nietzsche called them.
Nonetheless, not only will the Babylonian construction of pedagogical automatism and automatic pedagogy increase, but so too will the voiceless dissatisfaction of those affected by these trends. You cannot open up a newspaper without coming across its signs.
The spectacle is not the exclusive property of our era, for, since times long past, the spirit of the time has extolled the excellences of its specialties in the booths of the fairgrounds—either in the form of prestidigitators, or hucksters, or dentists. When someone has paid two or three times what the price of admission is worth and then once he is inside they demand not only his skin and his hair, but even his head, the stupefied believer is transformed into a shameless believer who, now, is brought up before the tribunals. The scene becomes more despicable. Finally:
“In smoke and mould the fleshless dead
And bones of beasts surround me yet!”122
When the desert grows, it is covered with bones, skeletons and rib cages; this, too, is a spectacle that is returning. The Lesser Transitions are no longer favorable omens. To study these processes, one must resort, if not to myth, then perhaps to paleontology.
286 To me, therefore, Godenholm is more than just a monologue. It has earned me the recognition of some marginal vagabonds, of unprogrammed types.
“Orphanages”: that is one of those euphemisms that arise wherever the roots of one’s native home have been lost. Everyone knows that a high percentage of criminals, prostitutes and psychopaths of every variety emerge from them. They are the shadows of a yearning that cannot be pacified. No matter how lifelike it may be, the wooden simulacrum of the mother goose never makes up for the lack of affection needed by the chicks.
Besides the I Ching, Guido always brought with him some medicinals for his comfort—a handful of peyote buttons, marijuana, and other similar substances. Once he also brought from La Maurie—as he called his infants’ farm—a flowerpot with pale sprouts of cannabis. He did not know that in our climate they would fail to thrive.
We conversed about this subject only from a theoretical point of view, above all because it seemed to me that his nature had been affected by his “trips”—not so much by their frequency as by their intensity. The best drugs that we use now do not lead to addiction. Of course, one can be sick for one’s entire life, but one can only die once. That is why we find that states of profound ecstatic intoxication are also subject to taboos in their countries of origin. They are either reserved for the shaman or else they are limited to initiations or festivals. Three approaches suffice for them: the initiation to adolescence, the period before marriage, and the deathbed. It is said that Huxley, shortly before leaving this world, even took mescaline. Better than opiates, anyway.
“Dying is not very easy”; these were the last words of my Onkel. This is true—and that is why we should learn how to do it. This is more important than all machine technologies, including the voyages to the Moon. This has always been known, ever since Eleusis, in the epoch of the Lombards, the Chatti, the Aryans, the Vikings. This is the meaning of the tests of courage that precede admission to the male secret societies. The youth is introduced to the host of the spirits and the dead, and returns transfigured.
For details, read the book by Van Gennep, Rites de passage, Mircea Eliade, Schurtz, and, “in small quantities”, everywhere.
287 Wherever the stakes are that high, there is no risk of addiction, and abuse would be comparable to what was in the past criminalized as sacrilegious profanation. I already said that “Mexico” must not be conceived in the geographical sense. It is distributed, in small pieces, everywhere, even if its own soil is extremely fertile. In our classification, the coca leaf does not belong to that geographical zone, despite the fact that it grows there; but the European ergot of rye, with “Hofmann’s elixir”, does belong there.
Hashish, concerning which a campaign against its inclusion on the list of so-called “narcotics” is currently underway, must be classified in the “intermediate degree”, in the East, and age-old experience teaches that it can very well lead to a destructive addiction, just like the euphoric derivatives of opium. It can also unleash aggression, and a whole series of crimes—as are retailed today in the news—are undoubtedly related to the effects of this drug.
This is not the place to compare costs and benefits, we must stick to our topic: approach. Once we have entered its domain, we leave diversity behind as a vain appearance. Phytochemistry is capable of designing a palace with a thousand glass rooms, which pharmacologists and pharmaco-gnostics help to furnish as if they were interior designers. They can furnish them with paintings and comfortable furniture, with baths and balconies. The scale of The World as Will and Representation, the variety of energetic and fantastic possibilities will be selected and classified; they can be separated, ordered and named as if on a keyboard with numerous keys. Here, there is still unexplored territory.
But, so what? Palaces of this kind are reconnoitered as if they were deserts; these states are not unknown to us. As long as we have not yet opened the door to the last chamber, we will not reign as masters of the house. Now it is necessary for the master to arrive, the guru, and that will be the end of comfort and science.