The Joy in Things

Ulrich is reading the mystics to discover the “other
condition,” that state of ecstasy where reason and emotions fuse to experience transcendent reality. Agathe comes close to that condition with no effort.

During this time and from the moment she had stayed behind
alone, Agathe had been living in a state of utter release from all ties to the world, in a sweetly wistful suspension of will; a condition that was like a great height, where only the wide blue sky is to be seen. Once a day she treated herself to a short stroll in town; at home, she read, attended to her affairs, and experienced this mild, trivial business of living with grateful enjoyment. Nothing troubled her state: no clinging to the past, no straining for the future; if her eye lit upon some nearby object, it was like coaxing a baby lamb to her: either it came gently closer or it took no notice of her at all—but no time did her mind deliberately take hold of it with that motion of inner grasping which gives to every act of cold understanding a certain violence as well as a futility, for it drives away the joy that is in things. (II, 924-925)

She looks at herself in the mirror, the way a lover might
look at her.

On the morning after her brother had left, Agathe was
already considering her appearance with great care: it had begun by accident with her face, when her gaze had landed on it and not come back out of the mirror. She was held fast, much as one who sometimes has absolutely no desire
to walk keeps walking a hundred steps, and then another hundred, all the way toward something one catches sight of and yet does not. In this way she was held captive, without vanity, by this landscape of her self, which confronted
her behind the shimmer of glass. She looked at her hair, still like bright velvet; she opened the collar of her reflection’s dress and slipped the dress off it s shoulders; then she undressed the image altogether and studied it down
to the rosy nails, to where the body tapers off into fingers and toes and hardly belongs to itself anymore. (II, 926)

This image if front of her is still Hagauer’s wife.

It now seemed odd to her that she was actually Frau Hagauer, and the difference between the clear and close relationship that implied and the vagueness with which the fact reached deep into her being was so great that she seemed to herself to be standing there without a body while the body in the mirror belonged to Frau Hagauer, who was the one who would have to learn to cope with its having committed itself to a situation beneath its dignity. Even in this there was some of that elusive pleasure in living that sometimes startles, and it made Agathe, once she had hastily dressed again, go straight to her bedroom to look for a capsule that must be in her luggage. This small airtight capsule, which had been in her possession almost as long as she had been married to Hagauer, and which she always kept within reach, contained a tiny quantity of a drab powder she had been assured was a deadly poison. (II, 928)

But “I’m sort of dead, in a way” was something Agathe felt
often, and especially in moments like this, when she had just been conscious of her young body’s shapeliness and good health, its taut beauty, equally unfathomable in the mystery of what held it together and what made its elements
decompose in death, she tended to fall from her condition of happy confidence into one of anxiety, amazement, and silence: it was like stepping from a noisy, crowded room and suddenly standing under the shimmering stars.

…Still, the thought of giving up life was anything but a
game for Agathe. It seemed profoundly believable to her that all this frustrating turmoil must be followed by a state of blissful repose, which she could not help imagining in physical terms. She felt it this way because she had no need of the suspenseful illusion that the world could be improved, and
she was always ready to surrender her share in it completely, as long as it could be done in a pleasant fashion.
(ii, 929)

…But in the midst of her laughter of the tumult of some
sensual adventure that continued nonetheless, there lived a disenchantment that made every fiber of her body tired and nostalgic for something else, something best
described as nothingness.

This nothingness had a definite, if indefinable, content.
For a long time she had been in the habit of repeating to herself, on all sorts of occasions, words of Novalis: “What then can I do for my soul, that lives within me like an unsolved riddle, even while it grants the visible man the utmost license, because there is no way it can control him?” But the flickering
light of this utterance always went out again, like a flash of lightning that only left her in darkness, for she did not believe in a soul, as it was something too presumptuous and in any case much to definite for own person. On the other hand, she could not believe in the earthly here and now either. To understand this rightly, one need only realize that this turning away from an earthly order when there is no faith in a supernatural order is profoundly natural response, because in every head, alongside the process of logical thought, with its austere and simple orderliness reflecting the conditions of our external world, there is an affective world, whose logic, insofar as it can be spoken of at all, corresponds to feelings, passions, moods. The laws governing these two bear roughly the same relation to each other as those of a lumberyard, where chunks of wood are hewn into rectangular shapes and stacked ready for transport, bear to the dark tangled laws of the forest, with its mysterious workings and rustlings. And since the objects of our thought are in no way quite independent of its conditions, theses two modes of thinking not only mingle in each person but can, to a certain extent, even present him with two worlds, at least immediately before and after that “first mysterious and indescribable moment: of which a famous religious thinker has said that it occurs in every sensory perception before vision and feeling separate and fall into the places in which one is accustomed to find them: one of them an object
in space and the other a mental process enclosed with the observer.

And so, whatever the relationship may be between objects and
feeling in the civilized person’s mature view of the world, everyone surely knows those ecstatic moments in which a split has not yet occurred, as though water and land had not yet been divided and the waves of feeling still shared the same horizon as the hills and valleys that form the shape of things. (II, 930-931)

And in this way her spirit was so filled with itself that
even the liveliest idea had something of the soundless floating quality of a memory about it, everything that came her way spread out into a limitless present. (II,932)

Now she was filled with a fierce longing to recover that
mood, but such moments of highest intensity cannot be willed by force. It was only when her furious efforts proved useless that she realized, with the clarity which a pale day takes on after sunset, that the only thing she could hope for, and what in fact she was waiting for, with an impatience merely masked by her solitude, was the strange propect that her brother had once half-humorously called the Millennium. (II,934)


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