Show me how you live and I will show you how you are!

Ulrich is a mathematician and has drifted from place to place and engaged in various short-lived activities.

After this moment had lasted for some time, Ulrich remembered that a man’s native country is supposed to have the mysterious power of making the mind take root and thrive in its true soil, and so he settled there with the feeling of a hiker who sits down on a bench for eternity, but with the thought that he will be getting up again immediately. (I,14)

Ulrich bought a château in a state of disrepair, which entails him to remodel. He has complete freedom to choose any style that expresses himself. What freedom. What burden.

He had got himself into the pleasant position of having to restore his run-down little property from scratch. He was free to follow any principle, from the stylistically pure to total recklessness, free to choose any style from the Assyrians to cubism. What should he choose? Modern man is born in a hospital and dies in a hospital, so he should make his home like a clinic. So claimed a leading architect of the moment; and another reformer of interior decoration advocated movable partitions in homes instead of fixed walls so that people would learn to trust their housemates instead of shutting themselves off from one another. Time was making a fresh start just then (it does so all the time), and a new time needs a new style. Luckily for Ulrich, the little château already had three styles superimposed on one another, setting limits on what he could do to meet all these new demands. Yet he felt quite shaken by the responsibility of having the opportunity to renovate a house, what with the threat hovering over his head of “Show me how you live and I will tell you who you are!”–which he had read repeatedly in art magazines. (I,14-15)

He was in that familiar state–not that the occasion mattered too seriously to him–of incoherent ideas spreading outward without a center, so characteristic of the present, and whose strange arithmetic adds up to a random proliferation of numbers without forming a unit. Finally he dreamed up only impracticable rooms, revolving rooms, kaleidoscopic interiors, adjustable scenery for the soul, and his ideas grew steadily more devoid of content….For a man’s possibilities, plans, and feelings must first be hedged in by prejudices, traditions, obstacles, and barriers of all sorts, like a lunatic in his straitjacket, and only then can whatever he is capable of doing have perhaps some value, substance, and staying power. Now the man without qualities, who had come back to his own country, took the second step toward letting himself be shaped by the outward circumstances of life: at this point in his deliberations he simply left the furnishing of his house to the genius of suppliers, secure in the knowledge that he could safely leave the traditions, prejudices and limitations to them. (I, 15-16)

He had returned from the moon and had promptly installed himself on the moon again. (I,16)


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