Complex Irrationalism

Gerda is torn between being submissive with Ulrich or her own woman with the insipid Hans. She and Hans have a virtue of not allowing lust to tarnish their mystical relationship. And no wonder:

Hans was a colorless young man, bony without being tall or strong, who tended to wipe his hands on his hair or his clothes and peer, whenever possible, into a small round tin-framed pocket mirror, was exactly how Gerda pictured the early Roman Christians, forgathering in their underground catacombs in defiance of their persecutors. It was not an exact correspondence of details that she meant, after all, but the basic general feeling of terror shared with the early Christian martyrs, as she saw them. Actually, she found the well-scrubbed and scented pagans more attractive, but taking sides with the Christians was a sacrifice one owed to one’s character. For Gerda the lofty demands of conscience had thereby acquired a moldy, slightly revolting smell, which went perfectly with the mystical outlook Hans had opened up to her. (I,602)

Something else attracts Gerda to Hans and his followers. It is the promise of a mystical release, not unlike that experienced by the intensely religious in the old days.

If nowadays anyone told a story of God speaking to him personally, seizing him painfully by the hair to lift him up to Himself, or slipping into his breast in some nuninous, intensely sweet way, no one would take any of these details embodying the experience literally, least of all God’s professional functionaries, who, as children of a scientific age, feel an understandable horror of being compromised by hysterical and maniacal adherents. Consequently we must either regard such experiences, of frequent and well-recorded occurrence in the Middle Ages and in classical antiquity, as delusions and pathological phenomena, or face the possibility that there is something to them, something independent of the mythical terms in which it has hitherto been expressed: a pure kernel of experience, in other words, that would have to pass strict empirical test of credibility, where long before anyone could deal with the next question,what conclusions to draw from this with regard to our relationship to the Beyond. And while faith based on theological reasoning is today universally engaged in a bitter struggle with doubt and resistance from the prevailing brand of rationalism, it does seem that the naked fundamental experience itself, that primal seizure of mystic insight, stripped of religious concepts, perhaps no longer to be regarded as a religious experience at all, has undergone an immense expansion and now forms the soul of that complex irrationalism that haunts our era like a night bird lost in the dawn. (I,602-603)


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