An English-language resource for people interested in Jakob Wassermann.

As a first point of reference, the excellent German website has a wealth of information. It is well worth a visit, even if your German is as poor as mine.

Details about Wassermann's life and work are hard to obtain in English: I hope this helps, in part, to correct that.

Comments, suggestions, and corrections are more than welcome. Contact.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Jakob Wassermann, Caspar Hauser

First published in Germany in 1908, Caspar Hauser, oder Die Tr├Ągheit des Herzens appeared in an English edition in 1928, translated by Caroline Newton. The English version was given an alternative subtitle: ‘Enigma of a Century’. The original subtitle, as Wassermann explains in his introduction to the English edition, means, ‘literally, the Slothfulness of the Heart.’ For the forthcoming re-issue of the English translation (due to appear some time in 2012) the subtitle has been changed to ‘Inertia of the Heart’ in line with Wassermann’s intention. The accuracy of the rendering might seem unimportant, but as Wassermann writes, the subtitle provides a clue to understanding the aim of the novel:
‘This, too, [the subtitle] emphasized the contrast: Caspar Hauser versus the world. One can thus see that the actual incidents had ceased to be of primary importance; they could be brushed aside in order to make place for what solely charmed me in the material: the tragedy of the child, the general tragedy of the child, or, differently stated, the repeated recurrence of an innocent soul, unspotted by the world, and how the world stupidly and uncomprehendingly ignores such a soul.’

The ‘actual incidents’ are, broadly, as follows:

On May 26th 1828 (‘on Whitmonday about five o’clock in the afternoon’) a young man, about seventeen-years-old, suddenly appears in Nuremburg, ‘standing on the Unschlitt Square not far from the New Gate.’ Barely able to walk and having ‘looked about for a while in a disturbed fashion’ he falls ‘into the arms of shoemaker Weikmann who happened along at that moment.’ Pointing to a letter he is holding, ‘a letter bearing the address of Cavalry-Captain Wessenig,’ the young man is ‘dragged with some difficulty to the Captain’s house.’

There it transpires the young man can speak only a few phrases (‘he constantly stammered the same half-idiotic words’). He writes his name – Caspar Hauser - on a piece of paper in ‘big childish letters.’ In response to questioning he shows almost total incomprehension. He cannot explain who he is or where he has come from. The letter he carries with him is unsigned and gives only vague hints: that someone has cared for him since taking custody of him as an infant; that he has been taught to read and write, and has been instructed in the Christian religion; that he has never set foot outside his custodian’s house; that he would now like to become a cavalryman ‘as his father was’; that should Captain Wessenig choose not to take him in, he should instead be hanged.

At a loss to know what to do with him, the authorities in Nuremberg first imprison him in the Vestner Tower of the Castle, before placing him in the care of a local schoolteacher, Friedrich Daumer. While staying with Daumer, Caspar remembers more details from his past. He has spent his life locked in an underground cell, he reveals, in permanent darkness, with no human contact and only bread and water for sustenance. From time to time, he recalls, his drinking water had a bitter taste; after drinking it he would fall asleep then wake up with his hair and nails cut and with fresh straw on his bed.

His first contact with another human being had occurred shortly before his release. The man – who kept his face hidden – taught him to write his name, taught him the few words he was able to speak and taught him to walk, before taking him to Nuremberg and setting him free.
The mystery of why he was imprisoned, where, and by whom - and why he was freed - remains unanswered.

Almost immediately Caspar becomes the centre of attention – first locally, then nationally, then finally across Europe. Theories and rumours abound, the most controversial of which is that Caspar is the son of Charles, Grand Duke of Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais. This allegation wins both powerful supporters (most notably, Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, President of the Bavarian Upper Appellate Court) and powerful opponents. The latter dismiss Caspar as a charlatan and opportunist; to them, he is little more than a con-man out to get what he can from a credulous public.

On October 17th 1829 Caspar is attacked by an unknown man: he suffers a head-wound. The attack is disputed by his critics, the head-wound dismissed as self-inflicted. Caspar’s character from then on is increasingly called into question. More and more people accuse him of being a liar. As he is passed from one ‘protector' to another, his life becomes more unsettled and miserable.

On December 14th 1833, having agreed to meet a stranger who claims to know his true identity, he is stabbed in the chest. Again, the incident is dismissed by his critics: the figure of the stranger is another invention, they suggest; the stab wound is again self-inflicted – Caspar accidentally pushing the knife too far into his own flesh.

Three days later Caspar dies of his injury.

The mystery of his death – like the mystery of his life - therefore remains unsolved.

In the following years debate rages. Evidence is presented by both sides, with both claiming the last word. Eventually his critics gain the upper hand. Caspar Hauser is widely considered to be a fraud. (Even today, prevailing opinion is one of scepticism – as a glance at the Wikipedia page will reveal).
For Wassermann, however, prevailing opinion is wrong. Caspar Hauser, oder Die Tr├Ągheit des Herzens is an attempt to redeem the image of Hauser as an innocent foundling maligned and persecuted by an uncomprehending world. As Wassermann has written elsewhere:
‘The idea of Caspar Hauser was to show that people of every degree of spiritual and intellectual development, of every type, from the grossest to the most refined – the ambitious climber and the philosophic thinker, the servile toady and the apostle of humanity, the paid police spy and the teacher with his heart in his work, the woman aflame with sensual passion and the noble representative of earthly justice – are one and all absolutely callous and absolutely helpless when confronted with the phenomenon of innocence; that they simply cannot conceive that anything of the sort should exist on this earth; that they foist upon such a phenomenon their own intentions, unclean or purposely obscured, making it the instrument of their intrigues and their principles, and appealing to it for the confirmation of this or that law, as the explanation of this or that event; that they never see the phenomenon itself, that unique, ephemeral, glorious image of divinity, but rather soil its pure, delicate, dreamy nature, lay officious and sacrilegious hands upon him, and in the end murder him.' (My Life as German and Jew, pp. 114-115)

The novel is thus a piece of propaganda designed to reclaim Caspar’s innocence.

Somewhat disingenuously, Wassermann asserts his fidelity to real events:
‘The literary narration has in no way deviated from the actual facts as they occurred.’

Today, such a claim would not be taken seriously; and even when Wassermann made it – in 1928 (in his introduction to the English edition) – it must have struck readers as bold, to say the least.

Likewise his assertion, in the same introduction, that ‘it was, of course, not my task to meddle’ in the ‘quarrel’ over Caspar’s true parentage. Wassermann clearly is meddling; he takes sides; he must have known what sort of stir his novel would create. His surprise and dismay at the way the novel was received, can also, therefore, be viewed as less than honest:
‘I cannot deny that I looked forward to the publication of the book with unusual hopes, the hopes cherished by one who feels that at last he has testified to the truth within him. I imagined I had given the Germans an essentially German book, a book that had grown out of the soul of the people... But these expectations were disappointed. To begin with, a disgusting squabble arose in the newspapers about the historic person of Caspar Hauser. A shower of malicious abuse and arrogant rebuke fell upon me, together with the accusation that I had rehashed and dished up the old fiction of the foundling’s princely descent only for the amusement of a sensation-loving public. I was informed that Professor Mittelstadt, in his famous essay, and the school-teacher Mayer, in his documentary presentation of the case, and anyone else you please in this pamphlet, had long ago convinced everybody that Caspar Hauser was a half-witted impostor who had duped German and European public opinion; that to revive his old wives’ tale, now happily buried for half a century, and to make it an object of further discussion and dispute, spoke of naive presumption and ignorance; and that in my hunger for literary material I had better turn to less controversial fields, to themes of a less disturbing and vexatious nature.

'As it happens I am as convinced to-day as I was then that Caspar Hauser really was the young prince whom Daumer and Feuerbach believed him to be – and others after them, whose protests were killed by a conspiracy of silence or calumny. I have seen and heard more than enough documentary evidence and trustworthy testimony of this; some day more will come to light out of archives which are dishonestly suppressed. The meaning of the intrigues was unmistakable; there are still, in high positions, people who know, and some of them confided in me; nor did they cherish any doubt on the point which the armchair-psychologists so lightly denied. To-day as then I am convinced that the name, the life and death of Caspar Hauser constitute an unpunished crime, the evil of which continues to spread as such evil always does.’ (My Life as German and Jew, pp. 109-111

Wassermann’s hypocrisy here – his professed shock that anyone should have doubted his motives in writing the book – is deliberate. It serves both a defensive and a provocative function. On the one hand, he wants to protect himself from accusations of sensationalism: his motives may not be entirely pure (he courts controversy), but this does not mean they are not genuine (his interest in the story of Caspar Hauser and his belief in Hauser’s innocence are, undoubtedly, sincere). On the other hand, he wants to paint himself as an innocent – much like the person he is defending – because it strengthens his argument (and weakens his opponents'): the more he is attacked and vilified for his 'disinterested' intentions, the more sympathetic he – and by extension Caspar – appears. As a rhetorical strategy, this works by contrast: either you believe me, and believe Caspar, Wassermann is saying, or you are on the side of his detractors, that is, the uncomprehending, callous, helpless, insensitive people whose ‘slothfulness of heart’ condemned an innocent man.

Wassermann can perhaps be forgiven this strategy, if we consider what he was up against. When the novel was first published, and later when he was writing the introduction to the English edition, he was voicing a deeply unpopular opinion and was raking up something many Germans wanted to forget. To be reminded of this scandal – by a Jew, moreover – doubtless antagonised many of his readers. Despite his claims to the contrary, I would argue, Wassermann was prepared for a fight: he invited it, partly because he wanted to provoke the reading public (and, obviously, sell books), but partly because it was a fight he thought he could win.

As he hints, his interest in Caspar Hauser was a longstanding one. He had researched his subject thoroughly, conducted interviews with numerous people; there was even a personal element:
‘The figure of Caspar Hauser had been familiar since my childhood. My paternal grandfather, who had been a rope-maker and then a merchant in Zirndorf, had seen him in the Vestnerturm at Nuremberg, and spoke of him as a very mysterious person. Others too, the simplest and most sober people, always spoke of his case as a mystery that was best not discussed aloud. I knew the places where Hauser had spent his queer, troubled life, and where he had died: the castle tower and the Tucher house in Nuremburg, the little street where the teacher Mayer had lived in Ansbach, the Court garden with the octagon which bears that beautiful inscription; all the things that had remained as they were, and even what was left of the landscape, were magically appropriate to his destiny.’ (My Life as German and Jew, p.106)

The real question, then, seems to be: does the novel succeed as propaganda?

The narrative we are presented with is certainly plausible. Wassermann’s central assertion – that no one entrusted with the care of Caspar Hauser knew how to treat him, and that this inevitably and tragically led to growing mutual incomprehension – is a persuasive one. Again and again, Caspar is treated as a problem to be solved: the question of how to turn him into a ‘useful’ member of society occupies both his friends and enemies (it is not hard to imagine that this is how he was treated, precisely because it is so hard to imagine him being treated any other way). Different people try to mould him in different ways, but ultimately they all want to make him obedient and pliable. If Caspar lies, Wassermann intimates, it is because he learns to do so from the people around him. He understands, over time, that people rarely say what they mean in the pursuit of their desires, and so, in order to get what he wants, he imitates them.

Then there are simpler – and perhaps just as effective – arguments.

Daumer, when he first hears someone question Caspar’s motives, replies:
‘ “What human being with sense or ability would consent to live on bread and water for the pleasure of deceiving others, and to reject with disgust everything that is pleasing to the palate?... and for what advantage?” ’

Even Caspar’s enemies, Wassermann suggests, are unable to answer this question. They all accuse him of duplicity and deception, but it is hard to see what Caspar actually gains from his ordeal. From his first appearance in Nuremburg to the time of his death he remains a virtual prisoner (an irony not lost on the author); he is followed constantly by the police, supposedly for his own protection; he does not become wealthy; he is rarely allowed to travel; he attains no real power or influence; he does not sleep with any women; he remains largely indifferent to the rumours of his royal parentage (his detractors seem far more obsessed by this – another irony exploited by the author); he wants only to see his mother and seems uninterested in her wealth or status.

And this is not merely poetic license. The events themselves – even as presented by those who see Caspar Hauser as an impostor - reveal just how little advantage he gained. Which begs the question: if he was an impostor why did he bother to prolong the deceit? Or, at any rate, prolong it in the way that he did? Why not try for more? Why – if he was such an accomplished liar – did he not benefit more substantially?

The usual answer is that he was a ‘half-witted’ impostor, which surely is self-contradictory: if he was genuinely half-witted, then his deception would have been easier to discover. The fact that nothing was discovered - in spite of the concerted efforts of many individuals over a number of years to wring the truth from him - either means that he was fully in possession of his wits (and therefore – inexplicably – incapable of benefiting from his deception) or that he had nothing to hide.

Ultimately, in the absence of compelling evidence, this dilemma will remain unresolved. The events of Caspar Hauser’s life and death will always be open to question, it seems. Perhaps all we can decide is which account seems more plausible: the dominant version, in which an unscrupulous young man desperate for attention and material gain maintains - for years - a lie that yields an unpleasant amount of the former while remarkably little of the latter; or Wassermann’s version, in which the victim of an unimaginable act of cruelty is then released into the world only to be re-imprisoned by a society that refuses to comprehend his plight?

From Jakob Wassermann, Caspar Hauser, (Horace Liveright, Inc., 1928, trans. Caroline Newton)

467 pages

Monday, 21 November 2011

Jakob Wassermann, Wedlock

Laudin und die Seinen was first published in Germany in 1925. It appeared in English the following year, re-titled Wedlock, translated by Ludwig Lewisohn.

Set in the years 1923-1924 in an unnamed city (possibly in Germany, possibly in Austria – one of the only geographical references is to Kottingbrunn), it describes a period of crisis in the life of its protagonist Dr Friedrich Laudin. Now forty-eight, Laudin is a partner in a successful law firm. Following a landmark case in 1910, he has become ‘one of the leading lawyers of his country, especially in matters of domestic difficulties.’ Renowned for his ‘incomparable tact... judicial acumen and profound learning’, he appears, on the surface, to be leading a calm, steady, irreproachable life. His marriage to Pia – twelve years his junior – seems a happy if uneventful one. His relations with his three children likewise seem untroubled. However, for some time Laudin has been experiencing a growing discontent. His near-constant entanglement in other people’s ‘wretchedness and dissatisfaction’ appears at last to have affected his own domestic happiness, prompting him to question not only his marriage to Pia but the institution of marriage itself.

Laudin’s discontent at first takes the form of a wish to become another person: ‘ “I’d be perfectly satisfied if only I weren’t myself”’ he admits at one point.

Over time his desire to escape his present existence becomes more intense: ‘Why not throw aside this old and weary and threadbare creature that one was and become and be another? Vanish from one’s own self, as it were, and be reborn out of that vanishing.’

His profession, once a source of satisfaction, now frustrates him: ‘ “A man tied to a profession is in a groove which he is not free to leave, bound for a goal in the determination of which he had no voice... We seem to will, but that is appearance not reality. Free obligation and sordid compulsion have become identical. And few of us attain a spiritual height where will and duty merge into that higher compulsion which is the impulse of the master, not the obedience of the slave.” ’

Clearly, he is waiting for a catalyst, for something to provoke the inevitable crisis.

The catalyst proves to be the suicide of a friend’s son. Driven to despair by an actress with whom he has fallen in love, Nicolas Fraundorfer shoots himself in the head. His distraught father, Egyd Fraundorfer - Laudin’s best friend - asks Laudin to investigate. He shows Laudin a photograph of the actress – Louise Dercum – hoping for Laudin’s ‘incorruptible spiritual penetration’; hoping, in other words, for confirmation of his own negative appraisal. Laudin, however, sees something else entirely. He is captivated by the image. Where Fraundorfer sees only a ‘play-actress’, Laudin sees ‘ “a face of indescribable, of quite astonishing veracity and innocence.” ’

The scene is significant not only because it poses the question, whose evaluation is correct? – (a source of dramatic tension only resolved later in the novel) – but because it reveals the projections of both men. Fraundorfer wants to see nothing but Louise Dercum’s guilt and duplicity; Laudin, nothing but her innocence. Neither man has met her but already they have formed judgements. Fraundorfer keeps the photograph in his coat pocket, together with ‘a few bank-notes... a piece of chocolate to which breadcrumbs were sticking... [and] a few cigar stumps’ – proof that, for him, Louise is purely a physical, material being and hence unworthy of special treatment. Laudin, when he first handles the photograph, blows away ‘the dust, ashes and tobacco’ and only reluctantly, the text hints, does he hand it back to Fraundorfer, who stores it ‘away again in its former unclean receptacle.’ The word ‘unclean’ is all-important (not least because it anticipates what is eventually revealed). Fraundorfer wants proof of Louise’s degradation; Laudin – desperate for something to help him escape his daily experience of wretchedness – wishes to elevate her.

As if to confirm its importance, the scene is repeated later in the novel. Fraundorfer takes the photograph from a draw, where ‘it lay amid bills and letters and banknotes. ’

‘He threw it over to Laudin. “Take it,” he said, with ill-restrained rage, “it may serve you as an identification.”

Laudin regarded the picture. The expression of the face seemed as gentle and thoughtful as it had on the day when he had seen it first. He talked as though to himself. “It is easy and obvious to assume deceit or self-deception, but the very illusion of certain qualities is a delightful thing. How much there can be in a human countenance! And think of the masks that we have to put up with in daily life. Every evening when I leave my office I feel like washing my body with a powerful acid and laving my eyes and scrubbing my hands.”

“You have become Dyskolos,” Fraundorfer murmured. “Were you not once Eukolos?” ’

Laudin realises that what he sees in the photograph may indeed be a mask, that the gentleness and thoughtfulness may be illusory, yet he chooses to be fooled. He trusts in the delightfulness of the illusion – seeing in it paradoxical evidence of a noble character. When he meets Louise his fascination with her intensifies, so much so that he believes her protestations of innocence. Her relationship with Nicolas had never become physical, she maintains. The attraction had been entirely on his side. His decision to kill himself had shocked her.

Reporting his conclusions to Fraundorfer, Laudin is greeted with scornful mockery:

‘ “Our friend here is wholly ignorant of the true character of lying. He neither knows its power nor its significance! He is aware neither of its shameless self-sufficiency, nor of its eel-like slipperiness. All he knows is the common or garden variety of lies, which can be aimed at and hit at a distance of three paces. He does not know the lie which is implicated with the rooted evil at the core of space and time, the lie of the world demon, the lie for its own sake!” ’

As the narrative progresses it becomes clear that Fraundorfer is right and Laudin mistaken. Louise reveals herself to be as mercenary and deceitful as Fraundorfer suspects. Laudin’s former acumen has apparently deserted him: his professional conduct becomes erratic; he is persuaded to lend Louise and her coterie larger and larger sums of money; he avoids Fraundorfer; grows more distant from Pia and his children; leaves himself open to gossip and scandal. Yet he is not wholly blind to this. He knows he is being used. (‘ “I was deluded and sought to be so” ’ he later admits.) If he does nothing to stop it, it is partly because he wants to expose what he still maintains is the ‘truth’ beneath Louise’s mask, and partly because he wants to be humiliated.

His deception and self-deception are weapons turned against his former life. He wants to cause a scandal among his former peers – ‘the watchmen of the ordinary’ – and to lower himself in their eyes so that he can finally break free of them and the order they represent (initially this desire is unconscious, only gradually does he understand it). Louise – although a liar – is independent, a quality ‘that impressed him above all things.’ She represents a fundamental challenge to bourgeois society because she refuses to abide by its rules. Her independence – however questionable its cause – encourages Laudin’s rebellion:

‘Thus it had been. Laudin, imprisoned in his rigidity, unredeemed from himself, met at the crossroads of life, Louise Dercum, the eternally changeful, the daily changeable. Here was a miracle of fate. Nothing of settled character was here; everything was fluid and discontinuous and this seemed to Laudin, by contrast, tending toward salvation.’

What, to bourgeois society, seems like dissolution and damnation, seems to Laudin to be a path to salvation. Only by sinking under can he rise above. Personal pleasure, he realises, outweighs professional duty:

‘He had come to a conclusion something like this: that he had denied himself these noble relaxations from the ordinary slavery of life on principle; that he had been too cowardly, too confused, too downtrodden, to enjoy them; his education had petrified him, and the uninterrupted expenditure of strength without equivalent inspiration had disillusioned him. Thus the overburdening of his motor system had revenged itself by crippling his capacity for impressions and for inspiration.’

Yet his final illusions must still be stripped away. Fraundorfer at last confronts Louise with the truth – the truth Laudin still believes is essentially noble. Fraundorfer’s son, a virgin until he met Louise, not only slept with her but contracted syphilis. Unable to defend herself against this accusation (her usual wiles prove ineffective against the pitiless – because grieving - gaze of Fraundorfer), Louise stands exposed for what she really is:

‘Perhaps it was because horror and fear had gotten hold of her entirely, or perhaps it was because the mere bodily appearance of that huge judge and recorder drove her forth from all her accustomed means of defense; perhaps it was because the enormity of his threat, the unthinkableness of an attack upon her body, almost robbed her of her reason (dark pictures from her earliest past undoubtedly rose before her) – whatever the cause, she began to tremble like an aspen leaf; she let the glass fall on the carpet and bowed her head into her hands and began to cry with the whining crying of a school-girl.’

Her maliciousness and duplicity are thus revealed as childish irresponsibility, the reaction of the powerless to the threat of the world. Wassermann is not as pitiless as Fraundorfer: the phrase in parentheses hints at an abusive father, unwittingly re-embodied by Fraundorfer, the ‘huge judge and recorder’ (the father figure could also represent patriarchal society). We feel no great delight in seeing Louise exposed: she becomes in that moment as much an object of pity as of scorn. ‘ “[T]his is no criminal court which can examine or condemn a culprit” ’ observes one of the onlookers – and we perhaps read here Wassermann’s own reservation: rather than condemn Louise outright – by humiliating her further - he leaves the scene on an ambivalent note. Laudin, now fully aware of his own self-deception, leaves with Fraundorfer, who has done as much as he can for his son’s sake. Louise and her hangers-on remain behind, drunk, in disarray, temporarily stunned, but perhaps unchanged in any significant sense.

Laudin now undergoes a complete breakdown, and is only saved by the ministrations of his wife. Aware of everything Laudin has done, and fully prepared to grant him his freedom should he ask for it, Pia reveals the true nature and extent of her love for him. She proposes that Laudin abandon his career, move to the country and recuperate. In time, she maintains, he will find his true calling. Laudin, still reluctant to admit defeat, only gradually accepts what she is saying:

‘One must not earn money with half justice, with justice that miscarries, with justice that fails, with justice that is its own contrary. Though he could say to himself that he had, to the best of his ability, defended the ignorant and the defenseless against the arbitrariness and false assumptions of those powers of stone, yet he had himself become too profoundly the victim of those powers to continue to draw self-respect from so poor a consolation.’

Should he want a divorce, Pia intimates, she will not fight him. Should he ask her to go with him to the country, she will gladly follow. She will happily live with less, she tells him. The judgement of society means nothing to her: let other people sneer, it does not matter as long as Laudin is happy.

Thus Wassermann shows Pia’s rebellion to be as radical as Laudin’s: she is willing to sacrifice as much, if not more. Indeed, her transformation seems even more profound for having been effected in silence and obscurity. Laudin suddenly realises that his former wife has disappeared, and that the woman in front of him is a new person. The struggle he has undergone in public, she has undergone in private:

‘... it was something different and wholly new, a new form, a new eye, a new face, a new mind, which had grown up without his knowledge or his intervention and which now came to companion him, between one moment and the next on the decisive crossroads between his old life and his new.’

Laudin realises that what he has been seeking has been his all along. Rather than an obstacle to change, his marriage becomes the means of attaining it. Pia does not chain him to society: she will help him free himself.

From Jakob Wassermann, Wedlock (Boni & Liveright, 1926, tr. Ludwig Lewisohn)
344 pages


‘But the fates and confusions of men are not always so simple, nor their characters so easy to judge, that any man, even the most experienced and the most schooled in knowledge of the human heart, can, by the mere purity of his own character, avoid situations in which he finds himself at variance with his own convictions.’

‘People were generally of the opinion that man needs things. But this opinion seemed utterly foolish and perverse; in reality, the matter stood quite differently. It is things which shamelessly and impudently and importunately stand in need of man, and demand and misuse his strength and his time, as seems fitting to them.’

‘ “People who are always dealing with irreconcilable contradictions make me quite tired,” he growled. “They are usually pirouetting on the dash that separates their antinomies.” ’

‘... one cannot revoke what one has seriously uttered. The spoken word is irrevocable.’

‘All that she did, desired, demanded, her very life and breath, was the final result of regulations and conventions having no substantial nature of their own: of all those iron rules which had gathered rust in the course of the centuries, of all the agreements, bulls, enactments, prescriptions and charters which, from the very invention of the state on, had been decreed and petrified in order to change right into compulsion, security into terror and good custom into the spirit of the eternal penitentiary. It might be asserted without fear of contradiction, that through the slow and industrious digging and corroding of this representative and her followers, all noble spontaneity had been destroyed and was being destroyed more and more. To her and to her like, the whole of humanity, men, women and children, were but a single debtor. She conceived of herself as having a perpetual lien on law, morality, love, fidelity, good faith, on God himself. And in so far as she conceived of herself as having been disappointed in her claims upon happiness and satisfaction – in precisely that measure she believed all human society to be in her debt.’

‘The pain that a created thing suffers is something absolute. It is alone with that thing and with God.’

‘What is evil? It is the discouraged submission into which untruth weaves us with a subtle lightness of touch, thread by tiny thread; amiably playing with us and – God protect us from that – sustained by an apparently magical element.’

‘ “... the institution of marriage can no longer bear us up and no longer possesses the principle of life within itself. Anarchy would be better or chaos or universal nothingness. Away with it! We must begin anew, whatever this new thing be. Only let us do away with this lie, this evil caricature, this world-shame. This unblessed mixture of compulsion and revolt, of public morality and of vice, which in a more modest age was secret but which is now perfectly public. It makes people evil; it makes them stiff-necked and vulgar; it does so more and more each day.” ’

‘ “The central point of all our thinking and action is the I, is the self. We are drowning in self-assertion and self-consciousness. We are concerned over the extinction of the I or its separation into component parts or its deliquescence and reformation. If an individual is dissatisfied with the form of its existence, it will seek a new one, a more joyous one, one that is more conformable to its needs. I can no longer resist the conviction that the individual personality, in consequence of the modern overemphasis of it and especially since Christianity has ceased to function effectively, has lost its significance. We must prepare a new loam from which new creatures are to grow. I find that the individual is no longer important to society, in so far as we are dealing with society’s spiritual and moral state. The pair is important. I am thoroughly persuaded that for each man and each woman there exists but a single possible complementary personality. It surpasses all imagination what human society would gain in peace, in delight, in elasticity, in purity and cleanliness, through the constant multiplication of such truly constituted pairs. And it is for this reason that I want all barriers to choice to fall. Neither men nor women must be hindered in their choices. No moral odium, no burden of paternity, neither motherhood nor premiums on virtue, must prevent them from testing and experiencing all the forms and even the fancies of love that they either desire or imagine. If they possess any true instinct, that instinct will be sharpened; if any social willingness stirs in them, they will be led to the same goal. And be that goal what it may, it must not be what is now called marriage. Nor should we be concerned over a possible dissolution of morals and a so-called lapse into savagery. Nothing more evil is conceivable than that which now weighs on our hearts and darkens our spirits. No price is too high to pay for the mere attempt at transformation. In every human being, even in the most apparently lawless, there is a natural inclination toward some sort of equilibrium. It is this inclination which will, in the end, conquer all temporary and dangerous forms of eccentricity. It is a mere hysterical convulsion that ties our present world to laws and customs, which were once significant and necessary, but which to-day have left behind them only the empty forms. The abolition of capital punishment decreases the number of murders. Crimes create criminals; penalties create criminals. There is something wonderful in the spirit of man – an inextinguishable longing to trust the good that is in it, even if of that good there is but the tiniest seed.” ’

‘A man does not realize the number of his own conventional attachments until others begin to throw theirs aside.’

‘The state was obviously the biggest and most unscrupulous of all counterfeiting concerns. Behind the notes it issued there was a promise, and this promise was generally a lie.’

‘Man becomes inured to nothing as quickly as to the inadequate.’

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

'... perhaps the invisible stars are shaken by it...'

'Well, let us turn the pages, a summer afternoon, heat which parches one's lungs, the mazes of the stockyards; the sky a curious reddish yellow, the air sticky and thick enough to cut. Passages miles long, wooden tunnels, labyrinths of tunnels crossing the streets, the death-bridge for the animals which are to be slaughtered. A dull bellowing, oxen and calves in endless trains, a quiet fateful stamping. At a particular place the hammer falls upon them, in a minute hundreds die and fall into the pit. It is oppressive to be there, so close to countless creatures about to die; I see them stepping forward, shoving and shoved, the necks of the rear ones resting upon the flanks of those in front, from morning till night, day in, day out, year after year, with big brown eyes full of foreboding and wonder, their distressed lowing resounds through the air; perhaps the invisible stars are shaken by it; the pillars tremble with the heavy bodies; the sweetish smell of blood rises from the tremendous halls and warehouses, a constant cloud of blood hangs over the whole city; the people's clothes smell of blood, their beds, their churches, their rooms, their food, their wines, their kisses. It is all so tremendous, so unbearably immense, the individual scarcely has a name any longer, the separate thing nothing, nothing to differentiate it. Numbered streets, why not numbered people, perhaps numbered according to the dollars they earn with the blood of cattle, with the soul of the world?'

From Jakob Wassermann, The Maurizius Case (George, Allen & Unwin, 1930), p.326

' "We have become too many. There is no time to respect and honor all the animals we need to feed ourselves. We need factories of death; we need factory animals. Chicago showed us the way; it was from the Chicago stockyards that the Nazis learned how to process bodies." '

From J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals, (Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 52-53