Vital Confusion

Ulrich’s reflections have allowed him to break with the ordinary and open his eyes to the city as pure geometry and its inhabitants a life force.

Evening had come; buildings as if broken out of pure space, asphalt, steel rails, formed the cooling shell that was the city. The mother shell, full of childlike, joyful, angry human movement. Where every drop begins as a droplet sprayed or squirted; a tiny explosion caught by the walls, cooling, calming, and slowing down, hanging quietly, tenderly, on the slope of the mother shell, hardening at last into a little grain on its walls. (I,162)

Without knowing why, Ulrich suddenly felt sad, and thought: “I simply don’t love myself.” Within the frozen, petrified body of the city he felt his heart beating in its innermost depths. There was something in him that had never wanted to remain anywhere, had groped its way along the walls of the world, thinking: There are still millions of other walls; it was this slowly cooling, absurd drop “I” that refused to give up its fire, its tiny glowing core. (I,162)

But the life force, the spirit, is shaped and limited by external patterns.

To the mind, good and evil, above and below, are not skeptical, relative concepts, but terms  function, values that depend on the context they find themselves in. The centuries have taught it that vices can turn into virtues and virtues into vices, so the mind concludes that basically only ineptitude prevents the transformation of a criminal into a useful person within the space of a lifetime. It does not accept anything as permissible or impermissible, since everything may have some quality that may someday make it part of a great new context. It secretly detests everything with pretensions to permanence, all the great ideals and laws and their little fossilized imprint, the well-adjusted character. It regards nothing as fixed, no personality, no order of things; because our knowledge may change from day to day, it regards nothing as binding; everything has the value it has only until the next act of creation, as a face changes with the words we are speaking to it. (I,162-163)

The nature of spirit, of the life force is to search through the mass of human thought and artifacts in which we are deluged.

And so the mind or spirit is the great opportunist, itself impossible to pin down, take hold of, anywhere; one is tempted to believe that of all its influence nothing is left but decay. Every advance is a gain in particular and a seperation in general; it is an increase in power leading only to a progressive increase in impotence, but there is no way to quit. Ulrich thought of that body of facts and discoveries, growing almost by the hour, out of which the mind must peer today if it wished to scrutinize any given problem closely. This body grows away from its inner life. countless views, opinions, systems of ideas from every age and latitude, from all sorts of sick and sound, waking and dreaming brains run through it like thousands of small sensitive nerve strands, but the central nodal point tying them al together is missing. Man feels dangerously close to repeating the fate of those gigantic primeval species that perished because of their size; but cannot stop himself. (I,163)


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