Into the Millenium

Agathe tells her brother that she wants to move in with him, at least until her divorce is finalized. He half jokingly proclaims the arrival of the Millennium.

“Do you realize,” Ulrich said by way of an answer, “that we shall be entering into the Millennium?”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve talked so much about the love that isn’t a stream flowing toward its goal but a state of being like the ocean. Now tell me honestly: When they told you in school that the angels in heaven did nothing but bask in the presence of the Lord and sing His praises, were you able to imagine this blissful state of doing nothing and thinking nothing?”

“I always thought it must be rather boring, which is certainly due to my imperfection,” was Agathe’s answer.

“But after everything we’ve agreed on,” Ulrich explained, “you must now imagine this ocean as a state of motionlessness and detachment, filled with everlasting, crystal-clear events. In ages past, people tried to imagine such a life on earth. That is the Millennium, formed in our own image and yet like no world we know. That’s how we’ll live now! We shall cast off all self-seeking, we shall collect neither goods, nor knowledge, nor lovers, nor friends, nor principles, nor even ourselves! Our spirit will open up, dissolving boundaries toward man and beast, spreading open in such a way that we can no longer remain ‘us’ but will maintain our identities only by merging with all the world!” (II,870-871)

In a conversation a little later with Diotema’s husband, Tuzzi, Ulrich turns from the oceanic feeling to the flowing of a stream over a barrier as a metaphor for soul.

“What the psychologists say, I think,” Ulrich continued, “is that what we call conscious actions is the result of the stimulus not just flowing in and out through a reflex arc but being forced into a detour. That makes the world we experience and the world in which we act, which seem to us one and the same, actually more like the water above and below a mill wheel, connected by a sort of dammed-up reservoir of consciousness, with the inflow and the outflow dependent on regulation of level, pressure, and so forth. Or in other words, if something goes wrong on one of the two levels—an estrangement from the world, say, or a disinclination to action—we could reasonably assume that a second, or higher, consciousness might be formed in this fashion….”

Ulrich had gradually become aware that he was expressing, in ignominious form and in curious company, ideas that might be not at all unsuited to explain the feelings that obscurely stirred his own heart. The surmise that in a state of enhanced receptivity an overflowing and receding of experiences might arise that would connect the senses boundlessly and gently as a sheet of water with all creation called to mind his long talks with Agathe, and his face involuntarily took on an expression that was partly obdurate, partly forlorn. (II,876-877)

He goes to see an un-well Diotema, where he comforts her with a kiss and a hold of the hand. He experiences the oceanic loss of self in a small space.

The powder-fine scent of her nearness clung to his face like a puff of cloud. And although this gallant kiss on the hand had been only in jest, it was like infidelity in leaving behind a certain bitter aftertaste of desire, of having leaned so closely over a person that one drank from her like an animal, and no longer saw one’s own image rising back up out of the water. (II,886)





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