Qualities in Search of a Man

Ulrich discovers that while he may lack qualities, qualities act through him.

Ulrich was a passionate man, but not in the sense of passions as commonly understood. There must indeed have been something that drove him again and again into this state, and it was perhaps passion, but when he was actually excited or behaving in an excited manner, his attitude was both passionate and detached at the same time. He had run the gamut of experience, more or less, and felt that he might still now at any time plunge into something that need not mean anything to him personally so long as it stimulated his urge to action. So without much exaggeration he was able to say of his life that everything in it had fulfilled itself as if it belonged together more than it belonged to him. B had always followed A, whether in battle or in love. Therefore he had to suppose that the personal qualities he had achieved in this way had more to do with one another than with him; that every one of them, in fact, looked at closely, was no more intimately bound up with him than with anyone else who also happened to possess them. (I,156-157)

Ulrich experiences what happens to him as a specific case of a general law.

Put simply, one can take what one does or what happens to one either personally or impersonally. One can feel a blow as an insult as well as a pain, in which case it becomes unbearably intensified; but one can also take it in a sporting sense, as a setback by which one should not let oneself be either intimidated or enraged, and then, often enough, one never even notices it. But in the second case, all that has happened is that the blow has been put in a general context, that of combat, so that it is seen to depend on the purpose it is meant to serve. And it is just this–than an experience derives its meaning, even its content, only from its position in a chain of logically consistent events–which is apparent when a man sees his experience not only as a personal event but as a challenge to his spiritual powers. (I,157-158)

He is not alone in feeling this way.

People were like cornstalks in a field, probably more violently tossed back and forth by God, hail, fire, pestilence, and war than they are today, but as a whole, as a city, a region, a field, and as to what personal movement was left to the individual stalk–all this was clearly defined and could be answered for. But today responsibility’s center of gravity is not in people but in circumstances. Have we not noticed that experiences have made themselves independent of people? They have gone on the stage, into books, into the reports of research institutes and explorers, into ideological or religious communities, which foster certain kinds of experience at the expense of others as if they are conducting a kind of social experiment, and insofar as experiences are not actually being developed, they are simply left dangling in the air. Who can say nowadays that his anger is really his own anger when so many people talk about it and claim to know more about than he does? (I,158)


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