Myth of Unity

We end Vol. 1 with Ulrich’s project for applying scientific precision to healing the rift between “literature and reality, metaphor and truth” (I, 647) stalled.

Single-mindedness is the law of all waking thought and action, as much present in a compelling logical conclusion as in the mind of the blackmailer who enforces his will on his victim step by step, and it arises from the exigencies of life where only the single-minded control of circumstances can avert disaster. Metaphor, by contrast, is like the image that fuses several meanings in a dream; it is the gliding logic of the soul, corresponding to the way things relate to each other in the intuitions of art and religion. But even what there is in life of common likes and dislikes, accord and rejections, admiration, subordination, leadership, imitation, and their opposites, the many ways man relates to himself and to nature, which are not yet and perhaps never will be purely objective, cannot be understood in other than metaphoric or figurative terms. No doubt what is called the higher humanism is only the effort to fuse together these two great halves of life, metaphor and truth, once they have been carefully distinguished from each other. (I,647)

Ulrich turns to myth, looking for a transcendental, mystical solution.

He reunites with his sister at his father’s funeral. His very first impressions of her suggests she is a missing part of himself.

The loose lounging suit of soft wool he put on was patterned in black and gray squares, almost a Pierrot costume, gathered at the waist, wrists, and ankles; he liked its comfort, which felt pleasant after that sleepless night and the long train journey, as he came down the stairs. But when he entered the room where his sister was waiting, he was amazed at his costume, for by some mysterious directive of chance he found his appearance echoed in that of a tall, blond Pierrot in a pattern of delicate gray and rust stripes and lozenges, who at first glance looked quite like himself.

“I had no idea we were twins!” Agathe said, her face lighting up with a smile. (II,734)

As she spoke, he studied her face again. It did not seem very like his own, but perhaps he was mistaken, maybe it was like the same face done in pastels and in a woodcut, the difference in the medium obscuring the congruence of line and plane.

She is a woman without qualities.

There was something in this face he found disturbing. After a while, he realized that he simply could not read its expression, what was missing was whatever it is that enables one to draw the usual inferences about the person. It was an expressive face, but nothing in it was emphasized, nothing combined in the way that normally suggests traits of character. (II,735)

But he recognizes a mind ready for struggle.

When she got excited her face did not pucker up but smoothed out even more under the stress going on behind it, like a glove within which the hand clenches into a fist. (II,744)

 “The human being comes in twos.  As man and as woman….We’re all organisms, after all,” he thought, relaxing, “who have to strain all their energies and appetites in an unkind world to prevail against each other. But together with his enemies and victims each one of us is also a particle and an offspring of this world, not at all as detached from the others and as independent as he imagines.” (II,747)

Can the memories of two people talking of a past familiar to both not only supplement each other but coalesce even before they are uttered? Something of the kind was happening at this moment. A shared state of mind surprised and confused both brother and sister, like hands that come out of coats in places one would never expect and suddenly grasp each other. (II,762)

Their closeness arouses in them questions of good and evil.

She caught up with Ulrich, which left her out of breath, and suddenly questions such as this workaday road had probably never heard before rang out, and the wind was torn to ribbons by words whose sounds no other wind had ever carried in these rural hills.

“You surely remember…,” she exclaimed, and named several well-known instances from literature: “You didn’t tell me whether you could forgive a thief, but do you mean you’d regard these murderers as good people?”

“Of course!” Ulrich shouted back. “No—wait. Perhaps they’re just potentially good people, valuable people. They still are, even afterward, as criminals. But they don’t stay good!”

“Then why do you still like them after their crime? Surely not because of their earlier potentiality but because you still find them attractive?”

“But that’s always the way it is,” Ulrich said. “It’s the person who gives character to the deed; it doesn’t happen the other way round. We separate good and evil, but in our hearts we know they’re whole!”

Agathe’s wind-whipped cheeks flushed an even brighter red because the passion of her questions, which words both revealed and hid, had forced her to resort to books for examples. (II,797)

Agathe has abandoned a “good” husband. Ulrich and Agathe both are sick of “good” people.

“There’s an absurd paradox inherent in those good people,” Ulrich said. “They turn a condition into an imperative, a state of grace into a norm, a state of being into a purpose! In a whole lifetime this household of good people never serves up anything but leftovers, while keeping up a rumor that these are the scraps from a great feast day that was celebrated once. It’s true that from time to time a few virtues come back into fashion, but as soon as that happens they lose their freshness again.” (II,812)

The author warns his readers that to continue the novel at this point is to take risks.

But whoever has not already picked up the clues to what was going on between this brother and sister should lay this account aside, for it depicts an adventure of which he will never be able to approve: a journey to the edge of the possible, which led past—and perhaps not always past—then dangers of the impossible and unnatural, even of the repugnant: a “borderline case,” as Ulrich later called it, of limited and special validity, reminiscent of the freedom with which mathematics sometimes resorts to the absurd in order to arrive at the truth. He and Agathe happened upon a path that had much in common with the business of those possessed by God, but they walked it without piety, without believing in God or the soul, nor even in the beyond or in reincarnation. They had come upon it as people of this world, and pursued it as such—this was what was remarkable about it. (II,826)



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