Moosbrugger’s Solution

Ulrich’s quest for how to live a good life is stalled. Moosbrugger, the madman, has found a solution of sorts of how to overcome the alienation of the self from the world.

 If Moosbrugger had had a big sword, he’d have drawn it and chopped the head off his chair. He would have chopped the head off the table and the window, the slop bucket, the door. Then he would have set his own head on everything, because in this cell there was only one head, his own, and that was as it should be. He could imagine his head sitting on top of things, with its broad skull, its hair like a fur cap pulled down over his forehead: he liked that.

If only the room were bigger and the food better!

He was quite glad not to see people. People were hard to take. They often had a way of spitting, or of hunching up a shoulder, that made a man feel down in the mouth and ready to drive a fist through their back, like punching a hole in the wall, Moosbrugger did not believe in God, only in what he could figure out for himself. His contemptuous terms for the eternal truths were: the cop, the bench, the preacher. He knew he could count on no one but himself to take care of things, and such a man sometimes feels that others are there only to get in his way. He saw what he had seen so often: the inkstands, the green baize, the pencils, the Emperor’s portrait on the wall, the way they all sat there around him: a booby trap camouflaged, not with grass and green leaves, just with the feeling: That’s how it is. (I,427)

Sometimes he felt annoyed, of course, with the prison regulations. Or he was hurting somewhere. But then he could ask to see the prison doctor or the warden, and things fell into place again, like water closing over a dead rat that had fallen in. Not that he thought of it quite in these terms, but he kept having the sense almost constantly these days, even if he did not have the words for it, that he was like a great shining sheet of water, not to be disturbed by anything.

The words he did have were: hm-hm, uh-uh.

The table was Moosbrugger.

The chair was Moosbrugger.

The barred window and the bolted door were himself.

There was nothing at all crazy or out of the ordinary in what he meant. It was just that the rubber bands were gone. Behind every thing or creature, when it tries to get really close to another, is a rubber band, pulling. Otherwise, things might finally go right through one another. Every movement is reined in by a rubber band that won’t let a person do quite what he wants. Now, suddenly, all those rubber bands were gone. Or was it just the feeling of being held in check, as if by rubber bands?

Maybe one just can’t cut it so fine? “For instance, women keep their stocking up with elastic. There it is!” Moosbrugger thought.  “They wear garter on their legs like amulets. Under their skirts. Just like the rings they paint around fruit trees to stop the worms from crawling up.” (I,427-428)

 His thoughts are liberating. At these times he sees everyone around him “dancing to his tune.”

At such times Moosbrugger danced for them. He danced with dignity and invisibly, he who never danced with anyone in real life, moved by a music that increasingly turned into self-communion and sleep, the womb of the Mother of God, and finally the peace of God himself, a wondrously incredible state of deathlike release; he danced for days, unseen by anyone, until it was all outside, all out of him, clinging to things around him like a cobweb stiffened and made useless by the frost. (I,430)


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