from The Invalidity of All Guarantees
I don’t get stuck in the mud. I’m resourceful. I’m much more the Jew than you, heredity be damned. I see the situation as it is, and gird my loins by stretching my legs, sitting down. For instance, here we are plonked under a rotten pear tree in a farmhouse that no longer functions as a means of production except literary work. Not a cow grazing, nor a cock crowing, nor a harvest to bring in. I know I should engage in some market gardening. Cauliflowers. Soon there’ll be a war. But the truth is I only like nature when I’m feeling like a gute German, or trying to get a poem right.
It’s time to move on to where there are people. Cities are a jungle of opportunities. At least they can be broached. Business as usual. And all this fresh air can’t be good for the children. Building up resistance requires a modicum of pollution and human contact. But above all, I can’t bear this silence. It’s like Helli’s when she wants her own way and is saying nothing very loudly. What wouldn’t I give for a Silent Scream.
Don’t start banging that bucket again, Bertolt, or my scream won’t be silent.
Let’s just listen to one another’s breathing. In, out. In, out.
It’s the first and last lesson.
I am being taught to breathe.
It’s not too late to be.
Now teach me how to bleed.
It’s not too late to learn
to draw in air freely.
Now teach me how to burn
my candle to the wick
as slowly as possibly.
I’ve got to learn it quick.
I’m exhaling the fire
flickering out in me.
I’m learning to expire.
The breath of life, the pneuma, is not to be taken lightly. The ancients thought a plethora of pneuma inflames the vital organs, and too little disturbs the spirits. When there was too much, a blood vessel was cut. Once you turned blue it was ligatured, to tie in the soul. This bloodletting left you pale and interesting, a pure spirit, well on the way to becoming disembodied. In your case I think it’s the other way round. You’re in danger of becoming a body without a soul.
It’s a long time since anyone concerned themselves about the state of my soul. But if you must know, my soul these days is unquiet. I need to get my breathing right. I’m missing what’s familiar, and what could be more familiar than…
In other words you’re missing your furniture, my bourgeois friend, and you'll need to get over that as it’s not going to follow you. Think of Job. ‘He shall no more return to his house. Neither shall his place know him anymore.’ Why not ‘Gird up your loins like a man’?
I fear I’m still lead by the nose of Conrad’s ‘Love of hope and the dread of uncertain days’. But the hope is disappearing into that yellow drawing by Paul Klee I left behind in Berlin. I don’t suppose I‘ll see it again, even though it’s in my mind’s eye, and blinding me. The Angelus Novus is jaundiced coloured like a poor man’s Golden Calf. Not a false God, but Baudelaire’s gilded idol gone to rust, the saviour self-destructing.
Eyes staring, mouth open, hair on end, wings
outstretched. Face turned to the past. A chain of events, a piling up of
wreckage on wreckage, hurled at his feet. The Neo-Angel would like to hold his
own, stay put, awaken the dead, and make whole what’s been crushed. But a hurricane
is blowing above and around him, catching his wings with such violence they can
no longer take flight. The Neo-Angel has his back to the future he is propelled
into, while the wreckage at his feet mounts like a tip of abandoned cars in a
scrap-yard, skywards. The storm is called Progress.
It’s Holderlin’s fateless gods dancing on the point of extinction, descending into a game of noughts and crosses, being scrambling into nothingness.
A decade later, excited by Roosevelt’s death, Goebbels wrote in his diary, ‘This was the Angel of History. We felt its wings flutter in the room. What we have waited for anxiously has arrived’. Two weeks later, in the Reich Chancellery bunker, he poisoned his six children and imitated his Fuhrer’s mode of exit from the stage with a gunshot to the brain.
In my waking dreams, I see Klee’s Neo-Angel as a starving woman with her hair falling out. I know her, though she’s not a specific woman, but a choir of women disappearing into one another. Those I love or loved. My elective affinities. Other men’s wives and lovers, that I consoled in my fashion. Jula, Hélène Léger, and Dora Sophie, my own wife before I got to know her, and before she got to know somebody else. Your Grete, I admit shyly, though she had no time for me. And not least my little sister Dora, whom I suppose I will never really know. And now she isn’t well. We are, Bertolt, beginning to lose those we love, everywhere. It’s not good for the soul.