Arnheim Glimpses His Soul

Arnheim, like everyone, is not on close terms with his soul, but has glimpsed it. Diotima has churned up in him feelings associated with his world-class collection of medieval religious art that he keeps in his Berlin apartment.

This collection was highly esteemed and brought many art historians to Arnheim, with whom he conversed  knowledgeably; but often he sat alone and lonely in his gallery, with a quite different feeling, a kind of horrified amazement, as though he were looking at a half-demolished world. He felt how morality had once glowed with  an ineffable fire, but now even a mind like his own could do no more than stare into the burned-out clinkers. This dark vision of what all religions and myths express in the tale of commandments given originally to men by the gods, this intuition of a pristine state of the soul, a strange fringe of uneasiness around the otherwise complacent expanse of his thoughts. Arnheim also had an assistant gardener, a simple but deep man, as Arnheim put it, with whom he often talked about the life of the flowers because one can learn more from such a man than from the experts. Until one day Arnheim discovered that this gardener’s helper was stealing from him. It seems that he made off with everything he could lay his hands on, in a kind of desperation. The evening Arnheim was informed of this, he sent for the man and reproached him all night long for having allowed his passionate acquisitiveness to lead him astray. It was said that he was extremely upset himself and at times came close to weeping in a dark adjoining room. For he envied this man, for reasons he could not explain to himself. The next morning, he had the police take him away.

This story was confirmed by close friends of Arnheim’s. Now, standing alone with Diotima in this room, he felt rather as he had felt then, sensing something like the soundless flames of the world leaping all around them along its four walls. (I,199-200)

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