Ulrich meditates on the nature of feelings after a chance
encounter with a supremely rationalist astronomer colleague, who asks the
“What do you think of Koniatowski’s paper?” she asks Ulrich.
Ulrich had nothing to say. “Kneppler will be furious,” she said, “but Koniatowski’s critique of Kneppler’s deduction from Danielli’s theorem is interesting, don’t’ you agree? Do you
think Kneppler’s deduction is possible?”
Ulrich shrugged his shoulders. (II,939)
In the ensuing exchange Fräulein Strastil is confounded by
Ulrich’s rejection of the truth universally acknowledged that it’s good to get
away from the city and lie about in an alpine meadow for a few days.
Fräulein Strastil doubted that he was feeling on sufficiently
Ulrich claimed that the only elementary level, besides eating
and love, was to make oneself comfortable, not to seek out an alpine meadow. The natural feeling that was supposed drive people to do such tings was actually a modern Rousseauism, a complicated sentimental attitude. (II,940)
This gets Ulrich thinking on the nature of feelings.
“Feeling is rare enough. To keep feeling at a certain temperature, to keep it from cooling down, probably means preserving the body warmth from which all intellectual development arises. And whenever a person is momentarily
lifted out of his tangle of rational intentions, which involve him with countless alien objects, whenever he is raised to a state wholly without purpose, such as listening to music, for instance, he is almost in the biological condition of the a flower on which the rain and the sunshine fall.” He was willing to admit that there is a more eternal eternity in the mind’s
pauses and quiescence than in its activity; but he had been thinking first “feeling” and then “experiencing”: a contradiction was implied here. For there were
experiences of action at is peak! Though one could probably assume that by the time each experience had reached it acme of radiant bitterness it was sheer feeling; which would bring up an even greater contradiction: that in its greatest purity the sate of feeling is quiescence, a dying away of all activity. Or was it not a contradiction, after all? Was there some curious connection by which the most intense activity was motionless at its core? (II942)
(This last thought recalls how, in Agathe’s heightened awareness,
“The pure light of this conscience outshone this dark point, which
nevertheless, like the core of a flame, formed its center.” (II,925))
This meditation on feelings has prepared him to attack his
central problem, Agathe’s challenge to ethics.
And suddenly, as he felt himself swing aboard the trolley,
he said to himself: “I shall have to make Agathe see that morality is the subordination of every momentary state in ouThis principle had come to him all at once in the form of a definition. But this highly polished concept had been
preceded and was followed by other which, though not so fully developed and articulated, rounded out its meaning. The innocuous business of feeling was here set in an austere conceptual framework , it was given a job to do, with a
strict hierarchy of values, vaguely foreshortened, in the offing: feelings must either be functional or refer to a still-undefined condition as immense as the open sea. Should it be called an idea or a longing?
The decent, uncomplicated thing to do would be to correct
the wrong done to Hagauer, to repent, in other words. But might there be another way to goodness?
“Putting it presumptuously,” he thought, “this means: Saul
did not make good each single consequence of his previous sins; he turned into Paul!” Against this curious logic, however, both feeling and judgment raised the customary objection that it would nevertheless be more decent—and no deterrent to more romantic future possibilities—to straighten out accounts with one’s brother-in-law first, and then to plan one’s new life…But here again Ulrich felt it was impossible to take one’s bearings from the normal conditions of goodness if one wanted to press on into the realm of unconditional goodness. The mission laid upon him, to take the first step into uncharted territory, would apparently suffer no abatement (Ii,945-946)
This mission runs the risk of bloodless sterility.
“What’s the point, in the face of all this vainglory, of looking for some result beyond, behind, beneath if all? Would that be a philosophy? An all-embracing conviction, a law? Or the finger of God? Or, instead of that, the assumption that morality has up to now lacked an ‘inductive stance,’ that it is much harder to be good than we had believed, and that it
will require an endless cooperative effort, like every other science? I think there is no morality, because it cannot be deduced from anything constant; all there are are rules for uselessly maintaining transitory conditions. I also assume that there can be no profound happiness without a profound morality; yet my thinking about it strikes me as an unnatural, bloodless state, and it is absolutely not what I want!” Indeed, he might well have asked himself much more simply, “What is this I have taken upon myself?” which is what he now did.
However, this question touched his sensibility more than his intellect; in fact, the question stopped his thinking and diminished bit by bit his always keen delight in strategic planning before he had even formulated it. It began as a dark tone close to his ear, accompanying him; then it sounded inside him, an octave lower than everything else; finally, Ulrich had merged with his question and felt as though he himself were a strangely deep sound in the bright, hard world, surrounded by a wide interval. So what was it had really
taken on himself, what had he promised? (II,948-949)
He thought hard. He knew that he had not merely been joking
when he used the expression ‘the Millennium,” even if it was only a figure of speech. If one took this promise seriously, it meant the desire to live, with the aid of mutual love, in a secular condition so transcendent that one could only feel and do whatever heightened and maintained that condition….In sum, what it more or less came to was that Ulrich believed in the “Fall of Man” and in “Original Sin.” That is, he was inclined to think that at some time in the past, man’s basic attitude had undergone a fundamental change that must have
been roughly comparable to the moment when a lover regains his sobriety; he may then see the whole truth, gut something greater has been torn to shreds, and the truth appears everywhere as a mere fragment left over and patch up again.
Perhaps it was even the apple of “knowledge” that had caused this spiritual change and expelled mankind from a primal state to which it might find its way back only after becoming wise through countless experience and through sin. But
Ulrich believed in such myths not in their traditional form, but only in the way he had discovered them; he believed in them like an arithmetician who, with the system of his feeling spread out before him, concludes, from the fact that none of them could be justified, that he would have to introduce a fantastic hypothesis whose nature could be arrived at only intuitively. That was no trifle! (II,949)