Main The World Goes On

The World Goes On

In The World Goes On, a narrator first speaks directly, then tells eleven unforgettable stories, and then bids farewell ("for here I would leave this earth and these stars, because I would take nothing with me"). As László Krasznahoraki himself explains: "Each text is about drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought or a narrative..." A Hungarian interpreter obsessed with waterfalls, at the edge of the abyss in his own mind, wanders the chaotic streets of Shanghai. A traveler, reeling from the sights and sounds of Varanasi, encounters a giant of a man on the banks of the Ganges ranting on the nature of a single drop of water. A child laborer in a Portuguese marble quarry wanders off from work one day into a surreal realm utterly alien from his daily...
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The Last Wolf and Herman

The Melancholy of Resistance


Seiobo There Below

War & War



I. SPEAKS Wandering-Standing

(Ottilie Mulzet)

On Velocity

(George Szirtes)

He Wants to Forget

(John Batki)

How Lovely


At the Latest, in Turin


The World Goes On


Universal Theseus


One Hundred People All Told


Not on the Heraclitean Path


II. NARRATES Nine Dragon Crossing


One Time on 381


György Fehér’s Henrik Molnár




A Drop of Water


Downhill on a Forest Road


The Bill


That Gagarin


Obstacle Theory


Journey in a Place Without Blessings


The Swan of Istanbul


III. BIDS FAREWELL I Don’t Need Anything from Here







I have to leave this place, because this is not where anyone can be, or where it would be worthwhile to remain, because this is the place—with its intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly weight—from where I must escape, to take my suitcase, before everything else the suitcase, two suitcases will be precisely enough, to stuff everything into two suitcases, then click the lock shut so I can dash to the shoemakers, and resoling—I have resoled, and resoled again, boots are needed, a good pair of boots—in any event one good pair of boots and two suitcases are enough, and with these things we can set off already, inasmuch as we can determine—because this is the first step—exactly where we are right now; well, so a kind of ability is required, practical knowledge is required so we can decide where we are exactly—not just some kind of sense of direction, or some mysterious thing residing in the depths of the heart—so that in relation to this knowledge, we can then choose the right direction; we need a sense, as if we were grasping some particular sort of orientation device in our hands, a device to hel; p us state: at this point in time, we are here and here in this point in space, located, as it happens, at an intersection that is particularly intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly, an intersection from which one must leave, because this is not where a person can be, or can remain, a person—in this swampy, disconcertingly dark point in space—can’t do anything else besides say: leave, and leave right now, leave at once without even thinking about it, and don’t look back, just follow the route determined in advance, with one’s gaze fixed firmly ahead, one’s gaze fixed, of course, on the right direction, the choice of which doesn’t seem so agonizingly difficult, unless, of course, it becomes clear that this practical knowledge, this particular sense—as it manages to identify the coordinates of the points extending through sadness and mortality—suddenly states: under “ordinary circumstances” what normally happens is that we say that from here, we have to go in this or that direction, in other words, we say this direction is the right direction, or the complete opposite direction is the correct direction: but there are certain instances, so-called “unordinary circumstances,” when this sense, this practical knowledge, justifiably highly valued, announces that the direction we have chosen is good, it tells us: go right ahead, that’ll be it, this way, fine—and that same sense also simultaneously tells us that the opposite direction is good too, well, and that’s when the state known as wandering-standing sets in, because here is this person, with two heavy suitcases in his hands and a pair of excellently resoled boots, and he can go to the right, and he wouldn’t be making a mistake, and he can go to the left, and in that he certainly wouldn’t be making any kind of mistake either, so that both of these directions, diametrically opposed to each other, are judged as perfectly fine by this practical sense within us, and there is every good reason for this, because that practical knowledge, indicating two diametrically opposed directions, operates by now within a framework adjudicated by desire, namely that “go to the right” is just as good as “go to the left,” because both of these directions, in terms of our desires, point to the most distant place, the place farthest away from here; the point to be reached in any given direction, then, is no longer decided by practical knowledge, sense, or ability, but by desire, and desire alone—the yearning of a person not only to be transported to the greatest distance from his present position, but to the place of greatest promise, where he may be tranquil, for surely that is the main thing, tranquility, this is what this person seeks in the desired distance, some tranquility from the unspeakably oppressive, painful, insane disquiet that seizes him whenever he happens to think of his current situation, when he happens to think of his starting point, that infinitely foreign land where he is now, and from where he must leave, because everything here is intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly, but from where, in the very first moment, he can hardly bear to move from the shock when he realizes—and he really is consternated—as he realizes that his hands and feet are essentially bound fast, namely it’s because of his faultless practical sense that his hands and feet are bound fast, because that practical sense points in two opposite directions simultaneously, telling him: just leave already, that’s the right way, but how can anyone leave in two opposite directions at once, that is the question, and so the question remains, he stands as if he were anchored here like a ramshackle boat, he stands hunched beneath the weight of the heavy suitcases, he stands, he doesn’t move, and like that, standing, he motionlessly starts off into the untamed world, in a direction—it doesn’t matter which, it could be any direction—and he doesn’t budge even an inch, already he has gone very far, and his wanderings in the untamed world have begun, because while in reality he is motionless, his hunched form, almost like a statue, engraves itself into an inability to be left behind here; he appears on every route: he is seen in the north by day, he is known in America and he is known in Asia, he’s recognized in Europe and he’s recognized in Africa, he traverses the mountains, and he traverses the river valleys, he goes and he goes and he doesn’t leave off wandering for even a single night, he rests only now and then for one hour, but even then he sleeps like an animal, like a soldier, he doesn’t ask anything, and he doesn’t stare after anyone for a long time; people inquire of him: so what are you doing, you crazy person, where are you going with that obsessed look in your eyes? sit down and have a rest, close your eyes and stay here for the night; but this person doesn’t sit down and he doesn’t rest, he doesn’t close his eyes, he doesn’t stay there for the night, because he doesn’t stay for long, because he says—if he says anything at all—he must be on his way, and it’s obviously a waste of time to ask him where to, he will never betray to anyone where he is headed on this forced march, because he himself doesn’t even know what he possibly knew at one point earlier, when, still standing with these two heavy suitcases in his hands, he set off for the untamed world; he set off, but his journey, as a matter of fact, wasn’t a journey, along the way it couldn’t even have been a journey, he seemed instead like a kind of pitiful phantom of whom no one was afraid, no one tried to frighten children with him, his name wasn’t murmured in the temples so that he would steer clear of the cities, so if he turned up here or there everyone just brushed him off: oh, it’s him again, because he turned up again and again in America and in Asia, he turned up again and again in Europe and Africa, and people began to get the impression that he really was just circling around, circling all around the globe like the second hand of a watch, and if in the beginning there was something noteworthy about his presence here or there, as there might even be in the aspect of a pitiful phantom, when he turned up for the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time, they just waved him off, and really, nobody was interested, so that there were fewer and fewer occasions when people tried to ask him something or offer him a place to stay, fewer and fewer occasions when food was placed in front of him, just as with the passage of time no one was really happy to have him in the house, because who knows—they noted amongst themselves—what’s really going on here, although it was obvious that they had just lost interest already, they had definitively lost interest, because he, unlike the hand of a watch, didn’t indicate anything, he didn’t signify anything, and what bothered the world most—if anything at all could be said to bother this world—it was first and foremost that this person was worthless, he just went and he had no value in the world at all, so that the time came when he moved about in this world and in point of fact nobody noticed him, he disappeared, on a material level he practically evaporated, as far as the world was concerned he became nothing; namely: they forgot about him, which of course doesn’t mean he was absent from reality, because he remained there as well, as he went indefatigably between America and Asia, Africa and Europe, it’s just that the connection between him and the world was broken, and he became, in this manner, forgotten, invisible, and with this he remained once and for all completely solitary, and from that point on he began to notice, at the individual stations of his wandering, that there were other figures, exact replicas of himself: from time to time he found himself face-to-face with such figures exactly replicating him, as if he were looking into a mirror; at first he was startled and quickly left that city or that region, but then from time to time he already would forget the glance of these strange figures and begin to examine them, he began to seek the differences between his own physiognomy and theirs, and as time went on and fate brought him together ever more with these exact replicas, it became ever more clear that their suitcases were the same, the hunched back was the same, everything, how they held themselves beneath the weight, how they dragged themselves onward along this or that road, everything was the same, namely it wasn’t just a likeness, but an exact replica, and the boots were the same too, with the exact same expert resoling, he noticed that too as he entered once into some larger hall to drink some water, the resoling on their boots was just as good as his, and the blood in his veins ran cold, he saw that the entire hall was completely filled with people who were exactly the same as him, he quickly drank up and hurriedly left that city and that land, and from then on he didn’t even set foot in any place where he hypothesized, or felt, that he might encounter such wanderers; from that point on accordingly he began to avoid them, so he remained definitively alone, and his wanderings lost their own fanatic contingency; but he went on indefatigably, and then an entire new phase of his wanderings commenced, because he was convinced that it was only through his decision to confine himself to a labyrinth that he could avoid, inasmuch as possible, all of these exact replicas, so that it was only from this point on that those dreams began, that is to say that he slept in completely accidental places, and at completely accidental hours, briefly and lightly, and during some of these infrequent periods of brief and light sleep, he began to dream as never before: namely he dreamt the exact same dream, in hairsbreadth detail, over and over again, he dreamt that his wanderings had come to an end—and he now sees before him some kind of huge clock, or wheel, or some kind of rotating workshop, after waking he is never able to identify it with certainty, and in any event he is in front of something like this, or some sort of grouping of these things—he steps into the clock, or the wheel, or the workshop, he stands in the middle, and in that unspeakable fatigue in which he has spent his entire life, he crumples onto the ground as if he’d been shot, he topples over like a tower collapsing into itself, falling onto his side, he lies down so that he can finally sleep like an animal exhausted onto death, and the dream continually repeats itself, whenever he turns his head down in some corner, or gets some kind of bunk to lie down on, he sees that dream, with hairsbreadth accuracy, again and again—he, though, should have seen something completely different, if he had raised his glance, if he had just once—in the course of his wanderings seemingly lasting hundreds and hundreds of years—just raised his head, eternally hanging down, just once, he should have seen that he was still standing there, with two suitcases in his hands, the expertly resoled boots on his feet, and there he is rooted to that shoe-sized piece of earth upon which he stands, so that there is no hope whatsoever anymore that he can possibly move from there, for he must stand there until the end of time, his hands and feet bound in two simultaneously correct directions, he must stand there until the very end of time, because that place is his home, that place is exactly where he was born, and that is where he will have to die one day, there at home, where everything is cold and sad.


I want to leave the Earth behind, so I dash past the bridge over the stream by the meadow, past the reindeer-feeding trough in the dark of the forest, turning at Monowitz at the corner of Schuhkammer and Kleiderkammer, into the street, in my desire to move faster than the Earth in whatever direction this thought has taken me, for everything has converged to such a point of departure, leaving everything behind, leaving behind the Earth, and I set off, rushing instinctively, doing the right thing by rushing, because it isn’t East or South or North I am heading or in some other direction in relation to these, but West, which is right, if only because the Earth spins from left to right, that is to say from a Western to an Eastern direction, that is right, that’s how things are, that’s how it felt right, was right, from the first half-fraction of the instant in which I started, since everything moves most definitely from West to East: the building, the morning kitchen, the table with its cup, the cup with its steaming emerald-colored tea and the scent spiraling upward, and all the blades of grass in the meadow that are pearled with morning dew, and the empty reindeer-feeder in the dark of the forest, all of these—each and every one—moves according to its nature from West to East, that’s to say toward me, I who wanted to move faster than the Earth, and rushed through the door over the meadow and the dark of the forest, and had to move precisely in a Western direction, while everything else, the whole of creation, the whole lot, each billionth of a billionth component of this overwhelmingly vast world, was continuously spinning at unimaginable speed from West to East; or rather I, who wanted to move faster, therefore fixed my own speed in the opposite, wholly unexpected, direction, one beyond the realm of physics, that’s to say having chosen to do so with evidently instinctive freedom, I had therefore to run counter to it, counter to this terrifying world and everything in it that comprises the street corner, the meadow and forest, or rather, no, as I painfully realized in the second half of the instant, no alas, of course not in that direction, opposing its movement being precisely the worst choice, my instincts had led me to turn in precisely the wrong direction at the corner, over the field, and past the dark of the forest, when I should have chosen to move in the same direction, from West to East as Earth did in its, O! Entirety, and so, in the blink of an eye, I immediately turned around on my axis wondering how my instincts could have led me to move so firmly in the direction opposite the Earth’s movement since, if I did this now, its speed would be the same as mine, its and mine the same, they would have a positive relation to each other, combining with each other to greater effect, would, in effect, be doing the same thing, the Earth turning from West to East, I moving from West to East, the majestic immovability of the starting point presumably an absolute value, although it would be practically impossible to see how the smaller part belonged to the Greater Whole, and how the Greater Movement would allow space for this little counter-movement, the one independent of the other, the two linked only in one way, in that the Greater Movement, permitting this small counter-direction to function within it, and what a short circuit that would be, I concluded, as I was already turning, but then why was I thinking this, instinctively thinking, moreover, since if we are talking about one single relationship, then that could be no other than that of one thing comprehending the other, so that one contained the other, so that one was part of the other, its subservient part, its subsidiary, its little brother or its little sister, carried by the Greater, whichever way it moved, and the Earth was quite certainly, and indeed correctly, moving in the one direction it could move, that is from West to East, and I was a part of it, inside it, I who had desired to be faster than the Earth to whose movement mine was demonstrably related in the most strictly logical way, since the velocity—that is to say of the Earth—contained my velocity, my sprinting, the fact being, one way or the other, that whatever else the Earth did, its velocity certainly comprised mine, after all, whatever Grand Perspective was employed it didn’t matter whether I ran counter to its direction of movement—that is to say registering as a minus quantity—or in the same direction, that is constituting a plus, it was just that, to me personally, it was a matter of supreme importance since what I precisely wanted was to move faster than the Earth, in other words it was the plus, the positive value, I needed, that’s to say what mattered was to have the Little Independent Micro-totality moving as part of the Great Free Macro-totality—the fact is I was simply running within the Great Inwardness of the Laws of Physics, but this time in absolutely the right direction, that is to say from West to East, according with the movement of the Earth, since it is precisely in this fashion, in precisely this manner, of course, I’d have to run in order to be faster than the Earth, running with it so to speak, from a western direction to an eastern direction, and—suddenly the thought hit me like a bolt of lightning—I was already faster, since my velocity now comprehended that of the Earth, that is to say it included it without my having to do much more than move a muscle, and this way, by running over the Earth’s surface from West to East, I had made the task so much simpler, I could breathe ever more easily, since the air was fresh out here, I was enjoying the night or the dawn of freedom, or something between the two, I was locked into that interval between night and dawn, feeling perfectly calm, because thinking that I now chose the correct direction, I was moving faster than the Earth, since the Earth is thought, as I thought right at the beginning, and now I wanted to move faster than thought, to leave it behind, and that had suddenly become my aim, so that was what I did when I turned at Monowitz on the corner of Schuhkammer and Kleiderkammer, across the meadow with its pearly grass, past the bridge over the stream, beyond the dark of the forest, passing the empty reindeer-feeding trough, so it was right that I should have set out in the wrong direction at first, on instinct, and then corrected myself and on a dime turned and moved in the right direction, from West to East, a small micro-totality within the Greater Macro-totality, in which case I had only to add my speed to its speed, which I did, running as fast as I could, my feet pounding on under the enormous sky that was changing from night to dawn, and there was nothing in my head but the sense that everything was as it should be, that I was simply contributing my share of velocity to the Earth’s, my velocity to its velocity, when suddenly a new thought struck me that, fine, this was all very well, but how did my speed relate to that of the Earth, how much faster was I, and was that an interesting question in the first place? that is to say I broached the question of how much faster was I than the Earth? and no, it’s not interesting, I said to myself, my feet pounding all the while, since all that was interesting was that I should move faster than thought, that is to say, I should outrun the Earth, but then the little brother within me started making calculations in my head, arguing that there, on the one hand, there was the Earth’s velocity, that majestically challenging, vast, eternal per secundum, and there, on the other, were my best efforts at running at whatever per secundum the occasion offered, and then, it seemed to me, any relative value would do for me to run ahead of the Earth, that I needn’t run particularly fast since it would make very little difference if I did slow down a bit, so I immediately slowed, and it was clear as clear could be that there were innumerable ways of being faster than Earth, it being enough for me to continue in a West to East direction, and enough simply just to run, putting aside the magnetic drag of the various latitudes that would cumulatively increase, and there was an infinite number of velocities to choose from, infinite values were therefore available for my own running-speed and what is more, I thought, further decreasing my velocity all the while, the fact is it would be enough if . . . if I moved at all, just put one foot in front of the other, the essential thing being to move in a West to East direction, enough simply not to stay still, since there were billions on billions of possible velocities, in which case I was free, entirely free—or so I observed as my steps instinctively slowed—perfectly free to choose just how fast I moved since any movement in the right direction would result in moving faster than the Earth and therefore faster than thought, since the Earth is itself thought, and that was the way I was thinking, even before I started the whole process a little while ago, that was the way I was thinking when I dashed past the bridge over the stream by the meadow, past the reindeer-feeding trough in the dark of the forest, and turned at Monowitz at the corner of Schuhkammer and Kleiderkammer. Providing I made no mistakes, I told myself, providing I kept going in the right direction, providing I simply moved, just carried on walking through the fresh dawn air, I would achieve what I had set out to do, and be faster than the Earth—it was just the darkness of the forest that would recede into the distance, just the meadow, the street tcorner, just the scent of that emerald-colored mist vanishing into time forever, into infinity, beyond recall.


We are in the midst of a cynical self-reckoning as the not-too-illustrious children of a not-too-illustrious epoch that will consider itself truly fulfilled only when every individual writhing in it—after languishing in one of the deepest shadows of human history—will finally attain the sad and temporarily self-evident goal: oblivion. This age wants to forget it has gambled away everything on its own, without outside help, and that it can’t blame alien powers, or fate, or some remote baleful influence; we did this ourselves: we have made away with gods and with ideals. We want to forget, for we cannot even muster the dignity to accept our bitter defeat: for infernal smoke and infernal alcohol have gnawed away whatever character we had, in fact smoke and cheap spirits are all that remains of the erstwhile metaphysical traveler’s yearning for angelic realms—the noxious smoke left by longing, and the nauseating spirits left over from the maddening potion of fanatical obsession.

No, history has not ended, and nothing has ended; we can no longer delude ourselves by thinking that anything has ended with us. We merely continue something, maintaining it somehow; something continues, something survives.

We still produce works of art, but no longer even talk about how, it is that far from uplifting. We take as our premise all that until now denoted the nature of la condition humaine, and dutifully, in fact without a clue, obeying strict discipline, but in fact foundering in a slough of despond, we sink back once more into the muddy waters of the imaginable totality of human existence. We no longer even make the mistake of the wild young ones, by claiming that our judgment is the last judgment or declaring that this is where the road ends. We cannot claim that, since nothing makes sense anymore, for us works of art no longer contain narrative or time, nor can we claim that others might ever be able to find a way toward making sense of things. We declare that it has proved useless to disregard our disillusionment and set out toward some nobler goal, toward some higher power, our attempts keep failing ignominiously. In vain would we talk about nature, nature doesn’t want this; it is no use to talk about the divine, the divine doesn’t want this, and anyway, no matter how much we want to, we are unable to talk about anything other than ourselves, because we are only capable of talking about history, about the human condition, about that never-changing quality whose essence carries such titillating relevance only for us; otherwise, from the viewpoint of that “divine otherwise,” this essence of ours is, actually, possibly of no consequence whatsoever, for ever and aye.


How lovely it would be, a world that we could end by organizing a series of lectures—anywhere in this departing world—and give it the general subtitle, “Lecture Series on Area Theory,” where one after another, as in a circus arena, lecturers from all parts of the world would talk about “area theory”: a physicist, followed by an art historian, a poet, a geographer, a biologist, a musicologist, an architect, a philosopher, an anarchist, a mathematician, an astronomer, and so on, and where in front of a permanent, never varying audience, that physicist, that art historian, that poet, that geographer, that biologist, that musicologist, that architect, that philosopher, that anarchist, that mathematician, that astronomer, and so on, would relate his thoughts about area from his own respective point of view, keeping in mind the overall title for the lecture series, “There Is No Area,” pointing out the peculiar relation between this title and the subject, so that the artist or the scientist would speak about this, approaching it from his respective perspective of poetry, music, mathematics, architecture, fine art, geography, biology, the language of poetics and physics, philosophy, anarchy, telling us what he thinks, and what he recommends we should think about area—and all this under the aegis of a summary statement denying that this subject, area, exists at all. The contradiction, however, is only apparent; this lecture series could just as well bear (bitterly) the title “All Is Area” as objectively as its actual title “There Is No Area.” For the lecturers would speak about the significance—for them and for us—of a being from whose point of view, when looking at the universe, area does exist; they would lecture about the importance of the question, namely: can the undeniably limited nature of the human viewpoint possibly lead us to the weighty, if unprovable assertion—and according to another viewpoint besides the human it is conceivable—that there is no area, that this is how matters stand, yet, nevertheless, for us, regardless of where we look, we see ruined and intact nothing but area, area upon area everywhere; given that we have reached a point where, trapped in the bewitchingly confined space of the human viewpoint, as we near the incidental termination of an excruciating spiritual journey, we must arrive at the conclusion: beyond this bewitching confinement we in fact insist on nothing else, nothing else, not even on existence of any kind, we no longer insist even on existence, only on the promise that for once in some area, amidst the most profound beauty and decay, we may glimpse something, anything that refers to us.


Well over a hundred years ago, in 1889, on a day like today in Turin, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the gate of the house at number 6, Via Carlo Alberto, perhaps to go for a walk, possibly to pick up his mail at the post office. Not far away, or by then all too far away from him, a hackney cab driver is having a difficult time with his—as they say—intractable horse. When after some goading the horse still refuses to budge, the driver—Giuseppe? Carlo? Ettore?—loses patience and starts to beat the animal with his whip. Nietzsche arrives at the crowd that has presumably gathered, and with this the cruel performance of the cab driver, doubtless frothing at the mouth with rage by now, ends; for the gentleman of gigantic stature with the bushy mustache—to the barely disguised amusement of the bystanders—unexpectedly leaps in front of the driver and sobbing, flings his arms around the horse’s neck. Eventually Nietzsche’s landlord takes him home, where for two days he lies motionless and mute on a sofa, until he utters the obligatory last words (“Mutter, ich bin dumm”), after which he lives on, a harmless madman, for ten more years, in the care of his mother and sister. We do not know what happened to the horse.

This story of highly doubtful authenticity—nonetheless granted credibility via the natural arbitrariness expected in such cases—serving as a model of the drama of the intellect casts an especially keen light upon the endgame of the spirit. The demonic star of living philosophy, the dazzling opponent of so-called “universal human truths,” the inimitable champion, the nearly breathless naysayer to pity, forgiveness, goodness, and compassion—hugging the neck of a beaten horse? To resort to an unforgivably vulgar but inevitable turn of phrase: why not hug the cab driver’s neck?

With all respect to Doctor Mobius, for whom this was a simple case of the onset of paralysis progressiva caused by syphilis, what we late heirs witness here is the flash of recognizing a tragic error: after a lengthy and tormenting struggle, Nietzsche’s very being said nay to a chain of thought in his own philosophy that was to be particularly infernal in its consequences. According to Thomas Mann the error was that “this gentle prophet of a life of untrammeled passion considered life and morality to be antagonists. The truth is,” Mann adds, “that they belong together. Ethics is the mainstay of life and the moral man is a true citizen of life’s realm.” Mann’s claim—the absoluteness of this noble declaration—is so beautiful, that it is tempting to take some time and sail away with it, yet we resist, our ship is steered by Nietzsche in Turin, and this calls for not only different waters but a different set of nerves, one might even say, to seize a handy turn of phrase, nerves made of steel cable. And we shall need them indeed, since to our shock and dismay, we will arrive at the same harbor where Thomas Mann’s dictum leads; we shall need these nerves of steel because even though the harbor is the same, our feelings there will be quite different from what Mann promises.

Nietzsche’s drama in Turin suggests that living in accordance with the spirit of moral law is no rank of honor, for I cannot choose its opposite. I may live my life in defiance of it, but this does not mean I am free of its mysterious and truly unnamable power that binds me to it with indissoluble ties. For if that is what I do, live in defiance of it, I can certainly find my way within a societal existence evolved by humankind and therefore not unsurprisingly pitiful, a life in which—as Nietzsche stated—“living and being unjust are one and the same,” but I cannot find my way out of the insoluble dilemma that time and again situates me in the midst of a longing to discover the meaning of my existence. For just as I am part of this human world, I am also part of what, for some unknown reason, I keep calling a greater whole, a greater whole that has—to use an expression with a tip of the hat to the categorical Kant—planted within me this and precisely this imperative: along with the melancholy empowerment of freedom is the freedom to break the law.

By now we are gliding among the buoys that mark the harbor, navigating somewhat blindly, for the lighthouse keepers are asleep and cannot guide our maneuvers—and so we drop our anchor into a murk that instantly swallows up our question about whether this greater whole reflects the higher meaning of the law. And so here we wait, knowing nothing, and we merely look on while, from a thousand directions, our fellow humans are slowly nearing us; we send no messages, only look on, and maintain a silence full of compassion. We believe that this compassion inside us is appropriate as such, and that it would be appropriate, too, in those who are approaching, even if it is not so today, it will be so tomorrow . . . or in ten . . . or in thirty years.

At the latest, in Turin.


It had been fairly securely bound but then it got loose, and all we know about this is that the same thing unleashed it that had secured it before, and that is all, it would be the height of folly to state, to represent, to categorically designate the power, that is to say specifically this unleashing of power, that immeasurably vast, baffling system that is truly immeasurable, truly baffling, in other words: the for us forever incomprehensible workings of the ineluctable modality of chance, in which we have sought and found laws, yet in fact over the heroic centuries of the past we have never got to know it, just as we can be certain that we shall not get to know it in times to come, for all we have ever been able, are able, and will ever be able to know are the consequences of ineluctable chance, those terrifying moments when the whip cracks, it cracks and comes down on our backs just as the whip cracks over this fortuitous universe we call the world, and unleashes what had been securely bound, that is when—namely now—it is once again unleashed upon the world, the thing that we humans forever and repeatedly insist on calling the new, the unprecedented, even though it surely cannot be called new or unprecedented, after all it has been here ever since the creation of the world, or to put it more accurately, it arrived simultaneously with us, or still more accurately, by way of us, and always like this, so that we were and are only able to recognize its arrival after the fact, retrospectively; it is already here by the time we realize that it has arrived again, always finding us unprepared, even though we ought to be aware that it is coming, that it is secured only temporarily, we ought to hear its chains scraping, loosening, the hiss of knots coming undone in the until then tight cordage, deep down inside us we ought to KNOW that it is about to break loose, and that is how it should have been this time too, we should have known that this is how it would be, that it was bound to come, but we only awoke to the realization, if we awoke at all, that it was here already, and that we were in trouble, we ascertained that we were helpless, by which we only meant that we always were so, for we are forever helpless—when it is here—helpless and defenseless, and to think about this precisely during the first hours after the attack proved so uncomfortable that instead we began to worry about finding out what had happened, how it had happened, who they were and why they did it, to worry about the collapse of the Twin Towers and the caving in of the Pentagon, how this had happened, how they collapsed and caved in, and who the perpetrators were, and how they did it, whereas what we first of all should have been, and by now certainly must be, worrying about and realizing at long last: what has actually happened cannot be comprehended, which by the way is no wonder, since the arrival of the one, of what had till now been fairly well contained but had now somehow broken loose, without exception always signals that we have entered a new era, it signals the end of the old, and the beginning of the new, and nobody had “consulted us” about this, no, we hadn’t even noticed when all this had been happening, the words “turning point” and “dawn of a new era” were hardly out of our mouths when precisely this critical, time-bound nature of a turning point and a dawn was rendered ludicrous as we realized that all of a sudden we were living in a new world, had entered a radically new era, and we understood none of it, because everything we had was obsolete, including our conditioned reflexes, our attempts to understand the nature of a process, how “all of this” had “consequently” proceeded from there to here, everything was as obsolete as our conviction to rely on experience, on sober rationality, to lean on them as we investigated causes and evidence that this had truly happened to us, the nonexistent or for us inaccessible causes and evidence, now that we found ourselves indeed in a brand-new era, in other words here we stand, every last one of us as of old, blinking and peering around in the same old way, our aggressiveness betraying old uncertainties, a fatuous aggressiveness at a time when we haven’t even begun to be afraid yet, still insisting on the lie, that no, no way was this a radical change in our world, no way was this the end of one world epoch and the beginning of a new, every last one of us obsolete, myself possibly one of the most obsolete of all, now feeling a long-absent sense of community with others, very obsolete, indeed speechless in the deepest possible sense of the word, because on September 11 I flashed on the fact, like a twinge of physical pain, that, good god, my language, the one I could use to speak out now, was so old, so godforsaken ancient, the way I strung it out, quibbling, twisting and turning, pushing and pulling it to move ahead, pestering it, advancing by stringing one ancient word after another, how useless, how helpless and crude this language is, this language of mine, and how splendid it had been formerly, how dazzling and supple and apt and deeply moving, but by now it has utterly lost all of its meaning, power, spaciousness, and precision, all gone, and then for days I pondered this, would I ever be able, would I ever be capable of suddenly learning some other language without which it would be completely hopeless; I knew at once, watching the flaming, tumbling Towers, and then envisioning them again and again, and I knew that without a brand-new language it was impossible to understand this brand-new era in which, along with everyone else, I suddenly found myself; I brooded and pondered, tormented myself for days on end, after which I had to admit that no, I had no chance of suddenly learning a new language, I was, along with the others, too much a prisoner of the old, and there was no recourse, I concluded, but to abandon all hope of ever understanding what was going on down here, so I sat in profound gloom, staring out the window, as again and again those giant Twin Towers kept falling and falling and falling, I sat there staring, and using these old words I began to describe what I saw, together with the others, in this new world, I began to write down what I felt, that I was unable to comprehend, and the old sun began to set in the old world, darkness began to fall in the old way in my old room as I sat by the window, when suddenly some horrendous fear began to slowly creep over me, I don’t know where it came from, I merely felt it growing, this fear that for a while did not reveal what it was, only that it existed and was growing, and I just sat there utterly helpless, watching this fear growing in me, and I waited, maybe after a while I would guess the nature of this fear, but that wasn’t what happened, not at all, this fear, while continually growing, did not reveal anything about itself, it refused to reveal its contents, so that understandably it began to make me anxious about what to do next, I could not keep on sitting here forever with this fear that concealed its contents, but I still sat there, numb, by the window, as outside those two Towers kept falling and falling and falling, when suddenly my ears registered a grating noise, as if cumbersome chains were clattering in the distance, and my ears registered a slight scraping sound, as if securely knotted ropes were slowly slipping loose—all I could hear was this grating clatter and this scary scraping, and once more I thought of my ancient language, and of the utter silence into which I had tumbled, I sat there staring at the outside and as complete darkness filled the room only one thing was completely certain: it had broken loose, it was closing in, it was already here.


Now, at last: for Samuel Beckett




I do not know who you are, gentlemen.

I couldn’t quite make out the name of your organization.

And frankly, I must confess I am not entirely clear about what kind of lecture you expect me to give here.

After all, you must be aware that I am not a lecturer.

I have given much thought to the matter, I racked my brains trying to find out what this was all about, just as I am trying right now, in front of you, but it’s best if I admit that I haven’t succeeded: I just don’t know what you expect of me, and I have a lingering bad feeling that perhaps you yourselves aren’t quite clear about it.

It had also occurred to me that possibly you are mistaking me for someone else. You had intended to invite a certain person, but he wasn’t available, and only because of that did you select me, because I am the one who most reminds you of that person.

You are not saying anything.

Fine, it’s all the same to me.

Mr. President, gentlemen—I shall speak about melancholy.

And I will begin by going way back.


During one of the later decades of the twentieth century, deep in the deepest hellhole of that decade, on a bitter freezing night in late November, a ghostly tractor-trailer advanced on the main street toward the market square of a small town in the lowlands of southeast Hungary. At a glance it appeared to be about thirty meters long, and its height . . . its height, compared to its length and width, seemed to be far too great, and these gigantic dimensions naturally went with an enormous weight, all of it resting on two sets of eight double wheels. The sides were made of blue corrugated tin upon which an unskilled hand had daubed enigmatic figures in yellow paint, and although this entire ramshackle contraption should have been comparable to a freight train car, it did not resemble or recall any such thing in the least, not just because of its gargantuan dimensions and weight and wheels, nor because those crudely daubed figures and their alarming undecipherability instantly removed from this vehicle any resemblance to a train car, but chiefly because it had no doors, nothing that might suggest a door, as if the original plan had been to commission a subterranean workshop to build such and such a transport vehicle made out of blue corrugated tin with two sets of eight twin wheels but without any doors, there was no need for any doors, not even in the rear, that’s right, no doors, not a single one, thank you, because if you undertake to do this, gentlemen, it will be your masterpiece as tinsmiths, that’s what the commission must have sounded like, this will be your makeshift masterpiece, that must have been the sum of the sketchy instructions given to the subterranean workmen, you are building this conveyance not just for anyone to open and close, it will suffice if I, who ordered the work, open and close it when I want to, and if I do so then it will be from the inside, with a single gesture, by me.

It must have been somewhat like that, because at a glance, your first impression was most definitely that any amount of speculation about underground workshops, mysterious tinsmiths, and a customer whose identity was a complete enigma would be fully justified, since in addition to all that, one had to think of the inconceivable slowness of dragging it with a rickety tractor-trailer straining against the icy wind and the excruciatingly prolonged nocturnal journey this extraordinary contraption must have completed before it braked to a halt at the marketplace.

Not wishing to abuse your patience I won’t go into further detail; suffice it to say it was an altogether ghostly apparition that, having fought its way against the wind, and, arriving at the square, ground to a stop with a wheeze, nor do I need to say that its ghostly air was first and foremost due to what lay hidden within, the cargo for whose transit it had been intended and built, and this ghostly air was also due to those who had accompanied the terrifying passenger in the vehicle, clattering along with it all the way from the East and over the Carpathian Mountains, meaning the crew, and finally it was also due to the significant and ominous entourage—roughly three hundred hulking forms drawn from the villages and farms of the region by this nightmarish vehicle as sleepwalkers are drawn by the Moon, and who, having arrived on pre-dawn trains, and guided by posters, had already trudged down the main street of the small town, to stand there at daybreak, all three hundred of them, apparently mesmerized.

The local townfolk had of course been informed not only by the posters but also the rumors that had arrived well ahead of this troupe, so that when in the morning they saw for themselves the strange freight on the market square all they said was, ah, then it was true after all and not just hearsay, so it wasn’t mere baseless gossip, yes indeed here was the entire traveling circus with the whale and its whole retinue in fact indisputably arrived.

Esteemed Director-General, esteemed audience, they, the locals had found out just about all that could be learned about this troupe from all the stray talk going around—there was no need to reread the words on the posters—that here was the largest whale in the world inside that gigantic circus truck parked in the middle of the market square. They already knew about the frightfully obese Director and the permanently lit cigar smoking between his fingers that he raised from time to time in a cautioning gesture, and they knew about the immovable, impassive Factotum, as gossip had referred to the other member of the two-man staff, the one that looked like a wrestler, and that these two, plus the allegedly largest whale in the world, had already caused plenty of mischief along the way before arriving here.

So these local citizens knew quite a lot, and if I said they suffered torments of anxiety on account of this, no one would wonder, for, after all, the inhabitants of this town lived in a world where everyone, in a rising tide of hatred caused by their fear of human nature, was convinced that humanity would destroy itself. So that they were aware of a great many things, trivial details as well as essentials—namely, what lay hidden behind that wall of corrugated tin, they agreed that behind it lay a dreadful, enormous whale—but that this whale might be concealing something, that in fact the whale itself might be a substitute for something else, in other words this enormous carcass was simultaneously both messenger and message . . . well . . . the townspeople were entirely unaware of this.

Now began an excruciating, prolonged wait lasting into the afternoon hours, when the gigantic locked container was at long last opened up for the half-frozen audience. A slow, shuffling procession commenced, headed for the interior of the gigantic container, through an entrance suddenly created when from the inside the Factotum lowered the rear tin wall, and it all ended soon enough, because after circumambulating the interior, the spellbound flock of spectators was already once again assembled outside on the square. Yet none moved from there, not one of them set out on the main street back toward the train station, they remained there waiting, standing around and gawking at the open entrance to the whale, for a single glance had sufficed earlier: as soon as these three hundred drifters had cast a single glance at the whale’s carcass resting on a low wooden platform, they were already on their way out, shuffling along, and then as a matter of course settling in the vicinity, in the vicinity of the whale, without budging an inch.

Esteemed Mr. President-General Director—pardon me if I use the incorrect form of address—and esteemed audience: in contrast to the local citizens, these three hundred, by way of this cursory inspection, and then their absolute refusal to budge, implied that the whale inside was merely covering up something, and that they had not come for the whale itself, but for what lay behind it.

There is a book explicitly declaring that from this moment on everything went wrong in the most infernal manner possible in this town, that is to say literally all hell broke loose, and the book intimates that it knows what this hell could be like, it knows what took place subsequently, what in fact this whale had been concealing on that market square back in the deepest hellhole of the nineteen sixties or seventies.

If you will pardon my arbitrary, presumptuous use of the first person plural, then allow me to put it this way: unable to find any ultimate meaning we feel crushed enough already to be fed up with a literature that pretends there is such a thing and keeps hinting at some ultimate meaning. We refuse to put up with a literature that is essentially, in its very fiber, so radically mendacious, we are in such dire need of an ultimate meaning that quite simply we can no longer tolerate the lies, we can no longer put up with this literature, and in fact it is not outrage, but boredom and the squalid level of those lies that make us gag; well then, given the above, in fullest possible agreement with you gentlemen, I myself can now announce that to claim there is a book that knows, that promises to reveal and narrate to us and only us all that breaks loose in the wake of one of these gigantic whales, is either an insidious effrontery or the vilest drivel, in a word, lies, of course, for nobody knows what really is unleashed at these times, no one, and no book knows that, because that certain something lies completely covered up by the whale.

Mr. Chief Counselor, esteemed gentlemen!


If all of this took place in the late sixties, then I would have been a boy of about ten, and if during the early seventies, about fifteen; in any case I clearly recall I was on my way to school that morning, shuddering briefly, and waving the whole thing off, thinking, what a cheap humbug, a stinking carcass, and fifty forints to boot, no way would I blow that much of my Easter allowance, I kept thinking, as I passed that tin colossus on Kossuth Square, parked right by the sidewalk where I walked on my way to school.

That was how it began, in the morning, but after school—it must have gotten dark rather early that day—I became more and more intrigued on my way home, until at last I too sneaked back to Kossuth Square, as did so many others, who, with the huge sum of fifty forints in their pocket, had scurried from home, slipping out stealthily to evade parental eyes.

I escaped back to Kossuth Square, and counted off my fifty forints into the palm of the Factotum, and even to be standing there near the Factotum produced a feeling that one had transgressed a certain boundary beyond which lay things perhaps splendid, perhaps ordinary, but in any case dreadful and dangerous. Of course I cannot recall now what I had expected to find back then; when stepping up on the planks I entered the interior of the conveyance, but I must have been certain that the spectacle would be perhaps splendid, perhaps ordinary, but in any case awesome and dangerous, and I must have had my own preconception of its clearly being completely one or the other; however what it actually turned out to be was utterly unexpected, not because the whale was too much like, or differed too much from, my expectations, no, not at all, but because I at once noticed how pathetic it was lying there on that low framework of hefty girders, vaguely looming in the light of a few dim lamps, and likewise, almost immediately, I understood that this mystery, the whale, resisted and would always resist any explanation whatsoever.

To get around the whale one had to get very close to it, especially near its head, where you had to turn in order to make your way out of there, and this proximity, the proximity of so much containment, nearly wiped me out by the time I reached the head and made the turn for the exit. My heart throbbed feverishly, something compressed my throat, and turning, I believe what I felt was compassion, shock, and shame, but then, after a few steps, already on the other side, I stopped for a moment amidst the general gawking and shuffling to just stare at the whale, trying to take it all in at a single glance, and when I succeeded, I no longer had anything in mind, I no longer wanted to, and anyway I would have been unable to put a name to what I was feeling, was it really compassion? what was it? and I disconnected my mind, my brain stopped functioning, only my emotions began to work in overdrive, the way a sudden wave of stifling heat, a swoon, a bottomless stupor can all at once overwhelm one. Back then of course I had been unable to stammer out a single word about this, not in there, nor outside, and after I tiptoed my way down the planks, I practically had to fight my way through the crowd of immobile people standing around in quilted jackets, boots, and lambskin caps, to make my escape from Kossuth Square. Incapable of uttering a word back then, now I am at last able to say what happened to me at the time and, I believe, to the others there as well, back in sixty- or seventy-something, because today I can unequivocally state that the whale, lying there on that platform of beams and girders in the feeble light, initiated me as it were, and perhaps the others as well, into a state of melancholy; as I stared at the whale and shambled around it in the putrid interior of that contraption, an infinite melancholy seized my soul . . .what shall I compare it to, it was like honey—you know, the kind where a spoonful is enough to kill anyone.

Some kind of deadly honey, that’s what this melancholy tasted like, but I would very much hope not to mislead any of you with this simile, because using it—this simile—I do not wish to imply that this melancholy is impossible to identify in and of itself, or that this melancholy, outside itself, carries some sort of referential content, some little anecdote, clandestine directions, or road map in a spoonful of honey, no, not at all, this melancholy did not require anything else in order to arise, it simply entered the soul, so that to liken it, as I did before, to the fatal sweetness of honey, to somehow connect it in retrospect with this spoonful of honey, only the fallen man within me can attempt to do this, the one who, beyond the fact of his disgrace, is well aware that everyone else here is likewise perfectly aware of the absurd necessity, and at the same time the unmaskable failure, of introducing a simile only to withdraw it.

Esteemed Secretary-General, esteemed assembly! like some deadly honey, in the sense qualified a moment ago, was this melancholy that swooped down upon me back then, on seeing the special attraction brought to our small town by the traveling circus that had arrived from the East, from somewhere in the Balkans, and by this I do not mean to claim it was here at this point that my especial sensitivity to melancholy originated, and that I have chosen this affair of the whale merely so that I can solemnly announce, lo and behold, that this by no means ordinary encounter marks the starting point of understanding for me, the understanding that the road toward “fundamental things,” as I used to call them, leads through melancholy, because no, on the contrary, by no means was this the solemn point zero, the fons et origo of understanding for me, for it had already coursed through me in earlier times, this sensitivity must have been with me at birth, or perhaps it was born one afternoon when it grew dark too soon, and dusk found me alone by the window in a small room, or who knows, possibly even earlier when I was still in my crib, left alone one of those afternoons when dusk arrives too early—in the end it makes no difference when I first awoke to it—and I started to savor the deadly sweetness of this honey once I had awakened to it and it began, and from there on at various times and places it swooped down on me, most notably of course back in sixty- or seventy-something on Kossuth Square, behind that blue corrugated tin.

So its beginning is shrouded in a thick veil of mist, it could have been even before the era of the crib, who knows how early the occasion may arise for the onset of a sensitivity like this; in any case from then on the completely normal curiosity that develops in a person quite early—perhaps as early as the time when, with undeterrable gaze and nodding head, in order to explore something one first sets out on the floor crawling on all fours like a turtle, quite possibly beginning back then in the development of this particular normal curiosity, that is, the direction it took, and even its speed, had already been fundamentally altered within me. My suitability or propensity for melancholy had decreed a totally different path for this entirely normal curiosity of mine, so that I almost have to say this sensitivity had devoured my entirely normal curiosity by always aiming it at the same point, always directing it toward the same place, toward the world’s essence, as I later called it, although in any case the curiosity, if it could still be called that, always came up against this same melancholy, instead of the world’s essence.

Of course all of this can be stated in simpler terms, for instance, say, you set out and aim your attention toward this essence of the world, where—as still later I believed—angels and demons dwell together, whereupon at the first gesture, the first stirrings of intention to reach this essence, melancholy instantly seizes the soul . . . yes, one may try to put this in simpler terms, but the thing that needs to be said does not thereby become any simpler.

I do not know what you will make of this lecturer cast in front of you indulging in a confession here, these things are always awkward, I realize, but esteemed gentlemen, esteemed General—and again I apologize if I address you incorrectly—please excuse me this one time if I make this confession contrary to your and my own ideas of good taste, yet I must divulge this vital information: all my life I have lived and continue to live under the cloud of this particular melancholy, with an uncontrollable impulse to look upon the very axis of the world, which, however, lies perfectly concealed behind this melancholy’s all-consuming fog. This has ruined my entire life, and ravages me to this day, since from the very outset it wasn’t as if I had tried to avoid it, to get rid of it, on the contrary, I practically . . . how shall I say this? I hunted for it, even if it wasn’t a hunt in the classical sense of the strong pursuing the weak, but more like the very weak hunting for the very powerful.

Yes, the axis of the world, Mr. Director-General, my esteemed audience!


If I now assert that melancholy is the most enigmatic of attractions, drawing us toward the unreachable center of things, then you will have the right to smile, for you have already heard so much contradictory stuff from this lecturer: that melancholy is on the one hand the ultimate obstacle to seeing, and on the other, it is that yearned-for place in the afternoon dusk, and who knows what else, all heaped one on top of another.

I believe by now it should be obvious to you that this lecturer can tell you nothing new about the subject of his lecture.

Indeed, that was the case already at the time when you telephoned me and asked me to give a talk, announcing meaningfully that you would leave the choice of subject up to me, and adding, feel entirely free, whereupon I thought, great, as long as it’s all the same to everyone, I will choose melancholy; but I never gave a thought to how I would acquit myself, because I kept racking my brains: why me, of all people why me?

And anyway, really, how could I say anything new when there is nothing new under the sun?

After all, the melancholy I am talking about—and which, for the sake of order, I will now recapitulate—is familiar to all of us, it can launch an assault upon the life it would wreck from three sources. The first and most inexhaustible source is self-pity, not just the kind about which even the playground aphorism claims “it stinks,” but the kind where you pity yourself without any adequate reason. No one is harming you, you are fine, you sit in silence, alone in a desolate park after the rain, or in a cozy room abroad, before dawn or as darkness falls, and this self-pity ambushes and takes you by the rudest surprise, devouring and inevitable, because this is when you realize, without understanding it, that nothing exists.

A second source is the shift to a minor scale in music. Wherever and whenever I notice this moment, when in some musical composition the major suddenly shifts to minor, say, an A after a C, that music instantly rends my heart, I take it personally, as if it had happened expressly for me, my face becomes distorted by a grimace, as if by a painful pleasure; in a word, I plunge into melancholy and I sit there, listening, thinking, ah, the beauty—when it was only melancholy.

But the most lasting and most profound melancholy springs from love.

However I will say no more on this head now, I don’t think any great surprises would ensue if I expatiated upon that theme.

And so, with your permission, I will now conclude my lecture.


I am done, although I can’t tell if this was what you expected of this evening, or if I still appear to be the person you had in mind. I am afraid that I am not.

Anyway, it hardly matters. We went through with it. I have spoken, you have heard me out, no harm was done.

Gentlemen, my talk is over.

Your Highness! Esteemed guests!

This lecture was about melancholy.



I have been here before.

I recognize the building. Just as last time, this evening there is no one standing at the gate, the chandeliers are still unbearably brilliant, the stairs treacherously slippery.

I recognize a familiar scent here, and once again I have the feeling that just before my arrival an enormous bolt of lightning, herald of a frightful thunderstorm, has struck the place; one can never quite forget this emphatic quality of the atmosphere: acrid, dry, rather sweet, scorching.

And also . . . I remember all of you as well. I have seen your eyes watching me on that earlier occasion, I have seen you in your seats under the searing brilliance of the chandeliers, all of you attentively leaning forward, staring ahead in this vague scent of lightning, as you wait for the lecture to begin.

The same thing happened when I was here for the first time. You all sat here exactly the same way and listened to me, taking it all in from exactly the same distance: deeply engrossed, motionless, with a totally inscrutable intensity. And even though quite some time has passed in the interim, what made our first encounter so peculiar hasn’t changed either, since just as I hadn’t known back then who you gentlemen actually were, neither do I know it now, as I stand for the second time on this podium-like structure, from where, as long as I can’t find out what you want of me, then at least I would like to understand why I agreed to come here once again, I, the clueless guest you have so mysteriously elected to invite.

For now we resume at exactly the same place as the last time. I would never have thought that I would accept your invitation, yet here I am. On the telephone I said, we shall see, please call me some other time, we can discuss the matter then, but of course I was thinking all along, it’s absolutely out of the question, what are these peculiar gentlemen thinking, once was more than enough for me—except this second invitation kept pestering me just as the first one had. You see, once again I kept thinking that surely you must be well aware of what I do, and how little I care for such performances, just as you must be aware that I am far from being an expert on any subject, for there is nothing, nothing whatsoever in my grasp that could be of the slightest interest to others, moreover I swallow the tail-ends of my words, and I talk too fast in a voice that’s too low, almost to the point of rudeness, it’s all babble-babble and mumble-mumble; so what could you want from me, I wondered, full of misgivings. And I had endless questions: What kind of organization was yours that—and I have verified this—doesn’t appear in any registry, not even in a telephone book? And just what was it that led you to decide upon me of all people, what made you once again choose me, of all people? And why all the mystery about your identity? What was the sense of all this secrecy?

I could go on but I won’t, this much should be enough to show that everything remains the same as on the first occasion, when I gave a lecture without knowing to whom, while you heard me out and applauded, and then, without a word, somehow simply dispersed throughout the building, as I stepped outside and set out for home, with a detachment of bodyguards behind me, whom I was utterly unable to dissuade from escorting me home—it was in the interest of my own safety, they claimed—in a manifestly professional manner, they kept ten steps to the rear.

Yes, everything has remained the same, with one exception, namely, this time apparently you are not letting me choose the subject, that is to say, you have asked me to talk about what kind of world I would like to live in.

Ordinarily what people request or ask makes no difference, my responses instinctively and unfailingly correspond to a request or question that was never made. As a rule, almost every time I begin with an apology about this, but this time I soon realized—in fact immediately after hanging up the telephone—that there would be no need to apologize. I realized that contrary to appearances you did not actually mean to restrict the topic, and I understood that by making a request for this subject—unvoiced by me for such a long time and all the more heartrending for not having been voiced for so long—that did not in the least mean that you wanted to tie my hands regarding the choice of topic, but rather that you were in the truest sense giving me a free hand to decide what I wished to talk about, since your asking me what kind of world I would like had in fact meant to convey that all of you gentlemen here were most concerned about the world—if I heard you correctly, what the world ought to be like.

I cannot deny that for several days following our telephone conversation I kept brooding about this astoundingly naive, one might say childishly simple, wording of this request embodying your particular interest: did this mean that you, for reasons unknown to me, imagined yourselves to be in a position where you could decide that, very well, the world was like this, but now it would be like that?

I cannot deny that this possibility had occurred to me, but afterward I quite decisively banished the thought, for in the last analysis I cannot believe that—bearing in mind your austere, unflinching, and almost alarmingly rigorous attention—I now find myself in the company of dreamers, nor do I believe there is the slightest need to elucidate (for you, of all people) how unbearable the idiocy of woolgathering is, given the current state of the world.

Realizing that I was on the wrong track, I dropped the notion, and gave up trying to decipher the actual meaning of your proposed topic; instead—and in no small degree swayed by the waves created inside me by the unresolved actual content of the topic you requested—I asked myself, what if, contrary to my original intentions, I nonetheless still came here once again? and, staring in front of me with the kind of bemused expression fitting the occasion, I thought all right, if I did come here one more time, what topic could I still talk about?

Could it be love? I wondered.

No, then it might as well be death!

At first I was sitting on the bed, near the telephone, then on a chair by the window, mulling it over, still not looking out the window (asking: love?), but then staring straight ahead (asking: death?), still wearing that bemused sort of expression suitable for the occasion.

It would be best—and here I stood up—to talk about revolt, about what makes an existing situation so intolerable.

I sat back down on the bed and thereafter my decision remained unchanged, so that this is what I will talk about tonight.

But before I begin I have a request to make.

When I entered this auditorium I noticed that the gentleman over there . . .locked the door behind me.

I do not like to lecture in a locked auditorium.

So I ask for your understanding . . .

And now, let us begin!

Honorable audience, most esteemed gentlemen! The question is the following: what can be said on the subject of revolt?

To begin with, please listen to a story.


In the summer of Nineteen ninety-two I was at the Zoologischer Garten station, a hub of the Berlin subway system, waiting for a train from the direction of Kreuzberg. The place for the front end of the arriving train, the spot where the arriving train was to pull up to, was—here as at all other such platforms—marked by the placement of a giant mirror installed on an aluminum pole, along with a variety of signal lights: this was the point where each train driver had to pull up with his train, while during a red light no train could move past this point. Thus far and not a jot farther, announced the mirror and the signal light attached below it, establishing the rule of orderly traffic upon a train’s arrival, but this did not mean that the platform itself ended there; no, the platform itself ran past this signal and came to an end about a meter and a half beyond it. Thus a twice forbidden zone existed between the mirror and the actual end of the platform, from where the train and its driver were prohibited in the previously described manner, while the waiting passengers, among whom I too now stood, were doubly excluded in a most absolute sense, for even though the clear-cut and sensible traffic rules did not refer to us, and we were unaffected by the regular alternation of arrivals at the red light and departures upon the green, for us there was a transverse yellow line on the pavement at the foot of the mirror, as well as the prohibitory text in small letters on a sign on the back wall, and finally, as the internal mirroring of this line and this sign, a flawlessly functioning instinct that accepted this prohibition once and for all and thus shut us out twice over at the very least.

This was in August. I was waiting for a train from the direction of Kreuzberg, but the train was a bit late. I was observing the crowd of carefree passengers around me, and at first noticed only a certain tension in these so-called carefree passengers. I recognized the cause when I—probably the last in this tensely carefree crowd to notice—at long last, I too did notice that in the space demarcated by the yellow line, the space prohibited by the sign on the wall, there was somebody now standing in that forbidden zone.

An old clochard stood there on the platform urinating upon the rails, half turning his back to us, and somewhat hunched over, as one pained by this urination and these rails.

The particular instinct that prohibits setting foot in just this area doesn’t only prohibit setting foot in it, but erases it from consciousness as it were—so that now when this consciousness suddenly became aware that an entire zone existed between the mirror and the end of the platform, it immediately announced: if some pedestrian were to claim that such a zone was surely superfluous from the viewpoint of traffic technology and utterly senseless from the viewpoint of traffic safety, it—that is, this consciousness—would protest most resolutely and reply that this was all a mistake; the perpetuation and maintenance of such areas has a significance with most far-reaching consequences. Any forbidden zone of this sort, such as ours here at Zoologischer Garten, not only explicitly communicates its unavoidable randomness, but offers exemplary proof that the regulations of our human world (including the simplest ones) are not just unfathomable but unchallengeable. These regulations, continued our consciousness, even the least significant ones, are impossible to separate from their invisible corpus; laws such as these—even the mildest ones—become visible solely when they are violated, and can be apprehended in operation only through a certain element of scandal, that is, via the introduction of a certain degree of danger; and to introduce danger into the process while they are operating is equivalent to deciding to launch an attack—no matter how mild—against ourselves, meaning the urination had to stop, this awareness commanded, the clochard had to go, the scandal must be nipped in the bud, and the regulation lifted out of the corpus into the light of day—in this case the prohibition to enter an area a meter and a half wide—it must sink back into that corpus, and the whole system must go on functioning truly invisibly, as far as I am concerned, and here the consciousness pointed at itself.

This was, therefore, more or less the substance of the prevailing mood in the ranks of the assembled passengers on this early afternoon in August, and I thought that this would be about all for this early afternoon, that is to say, when the urination stopped this forbidden zone together with the clochard would, as far as our consciousness was concerned, slowly sink back and get lost in the workaday obscurity; except at this moment on the other side, on the platform across from ours, designated for train traffic running in the opposite direction—that is for those members of the public traveling toward Kreuzberg—two policemen suddenly appeared, and with this the entire early afternoon in August, as usually happens the world over whenever the police show up, altered radically, at a single stroke.

I am truly reluctant to derail my audience from the menacing momentum of this narrative, but alas, I feel that it is high time to put on the brakes for a moment, and since it has obviously escaped your attention, to remind you gentlemen of my request regarding the locked exit of this otherwise captivating lecture hall. If the splendid baroque clock behind you shows the accurate time, then I have been standing on this podium sort of thing for about fifteen minutes, and these fifteen minutes for me—for a man who has spent his entire life either in fear of being locked up, or else in fear of not being able to lock himself in—are an eternity. I would not burden you gentlemen with this confession if the matter were otherwise understandable for you, in other words that I for one feel myself shoved straight into hell by the kind of automatic gesture such as this gentleman’s, who showed me in here, and who, after I entered and turned my back, most likely out of absentmindedness turned the key in the lock, and presumably out of further absentmindedness, sank the key into his pocket.

My dear Sir, I think no one will make fun of your absentmindedness nor blame you if you don’t wait until the end of my lecture and get up right now and unlock that door, nor do I think any further words need be wasted regarding this peculiar sensitivity of mine that really has nothing to do with our subject, for I can see from your gesture that you intend to comply with my request and with this said I can return to the Zoologischer Garten and continue where I had left off, that is I can continue with a brief sketch of the layout of this subway stop, which seems to be absolutely necessary so you can follow what actually happened upon the arrival of the police in the subway station on that early August afternoon.

The hub of subway lines at Zoologischer Garten is a system involving several underground levels. Dark and forbidding passages and corridors with stairways lead from one level to another, and the same types of dark and forbidding passages connect on any given level underneath it, the two platforms serving the two opposite directions of train traffic, so that if, let us say, you arrive at Zoologischer Garten from the direction of Ruhleben, but change your mind and decide not to continue on toward Kreuzberg but instead to return to Ruhleben, then you can’t simply up and march straight across to the opposite side on your level, because the two sets of rails upon which traffic passes to and from Kreuzberg are sunk into a trench, a channel not too deep, but with a most strictly dedicated purpose, so that if you change your mind you must descend a set of stairs leading to a dark and sinister passageway under this twin set of rails, and make your way under the trench with its twin set of rails, across to the other side and another set of stairs that lead you up to the platform, which we may call our platform, from where you may return to Ruhleben, if that’s how things played out for you.

It was in a sytem as complex as this that the two transit cops suddenly arrived opposite us, on the other side of the trench housing the twin set of rails.

As a matter of fact only one of them was a full-fledged policeman, while the other one—to judge from his youth and his face flushed to the very tips of his ears as he tried to control an unruly German shepherd that kept snarling at him—must have been some kind of novice policeman; in any case I could not make out their facial features, other than the greasy, shiny, pimply complexion and the regulation thin, merciless lips of both the old and the young one; no facial features therefore, because with facial features of this kind, even if you placed a thousand sheets of drawing paper in front of me, and after each spoiled drawing lashed me with a knout, still not one out of a thousand would turn out to be a true likeness. So only one of the two was the real thing, this was immediately obvious, the one who noticed the clochard urinating on the opposite platform—in the forbidden zone at that—and who sprang into action at once, stepping to the edge of the platform, the point where he was closest to the clochard, and furiously ordered him to stop what he was doing at once, or else—bellowed the policeman—the clochard would regret it.

The shortest distance between the two platforms was of necessity equal to the widths of two trains gliding past each other, meaning this shortest distance between the two men could not have been more than ten meters at most. But this ten meters’ proximity wasn’t enough for the clochard’s fear of the police to override the certainty in his mind that to interrupt this uncomfortable urination would be even more excruciating, so that he—now turning his woeful visage partly in our direction, and as it were letting the officer’s raucously official warning fly past his ears—thereby in the eyes of this policeman committed an act toward him that no one is allowed to commit toward a policeman: the clochard ignored him and kept on urinating.

I tried once before to write down for myself what happened after this, and I must confess that my failure to do so deeply affected me. Today I can see clearly where I made my mistake, but to see the mistake clearly is of course not the same thing as undoing the fact of the mistake. The mistake—the result of placing an emphasis on the wrong things—was a lapse in my own attention that made me miss the mark by seeking to grasp the pivot of the events in the wrong place. But this was not the most distressing aspect, it was not the actual mistake that left such a deep trace in me, but its cause, namely, that my attention had been led astray by empathy, my empathy for the clochard, because I preferred to see the essence of this early afternoon in August exclusively in his flight triggered by the pursuit.

Nor will I deny today that, as you may very well gather, the story I am telling here is the story of a pursuit and flight—what else would there be to speak about?—but that first written attempt was strictly confined to merely mentioning the pursuit, before devoting itself to a detailed, thorough analysis of the flight, confined in other words, mostly, if not exclusively, to the flight alone, as if ignoring the fact that preceding and accompanying it there was the pursuit, there were these two pursuers, and this fact, and these pursuers, should have been subject to the most thorough scrutiny. This one-sidedness upset the equilibrium and together with it the truth, so that I will not commit the same mistake now, especially in front of you.

The only thing the written version revealed about the real policeman (and even that in a great hurry, for it wanted to get to the clochard as soon as possible) was that, seeing that his warning had no effect, and noting the unceasing flow of urine upon the rails, he opted for the only possible solution: he zeroed in on the entrance to the stairway leading down to the corridor under the rails that connected the two platforms, and, more or less at a run, followed by the apprentice cop and the snarling German shepherd, off he went toward this stairway. Yes indeed, he zeroed in—I now append to this immediately and with disciplined restraint, granting that while making this absolutely necessary rectification, instead of appending I would like best to scream out, sure, off he went, because he could not vault across that distance of ten meters.

Esteemed audience—and let me say this to you today at last, on this second attempt, with a desperate insistence—it was this distance of ten meters, esteemed gentlemen, that constituted the focal point of those few minutes preceding the arrival of the delayed train from the direction of Kreuzberg that early afternoon—and I beg you to envision this for yourselves as sharply as if a hundred floodlights shone upon those ten meters in the subterranean platform of Zoologischer Garten!

That first version . . . I have it here, just a moment . . .yes, here it is, this written version says, and I quote, “enraged by this abyss separating them, they bolted . . . for the stairway entrance leading down below the rails”—blah-blah-blah-blah, we already know that—“one could see,” the text continues, “from the way they sprinted”—yes, this is it!—“how enraged they were by the possibility that the guilty party might somehow give them the slip while they were down below the rails, racing toward him. On their way to the stair entrance they were on tenterhooks for temporarily having to put greater distance between themselves and what they were dying to reach, and on their way, they kept casting tormented glances at the clochard on the opposite platform, for fear that he might somehow vanish while they crossed over below the tracks. By now, the old clochard had at last taken this in and stopped urinating since he realized”—this is still the first version—“that they would be there in a second to seize him. And so he prepared to run away, aiming for the exit at the center of our platform that led up toward freedom, that was his goal, but as he turned in our direction, to begin this so-called flight, it became instantly obvious to every commuter there that this flight would never happen, because the old clochard’s entire body was quaking so violently that a sudden silence fell over the entire platform. Somehow his leg muscles refused to work, because even with the most tremendous effort, and flailing arms, it took him about half a minute to advance at most a few centimeters, in front of our eyes, as he struggled to totter forward, body quaking, arms sawing the air”—continues the first version—“whereas in the meantime the policeman and his cohort with the snarling German Shepherd were approaching, swift as the wind. I watched the old man, his hopeless struggle to escape, and all the while I sensed the gimlet-eyed cop down below drawing ever closer, as yet unseen, but soon to heave into sight with a smile”—says the manuscript—“radiating satisfaction that all is well with the world, all is in place, and what’s more, everything in this wonderful world is exactly where it should be, for this is how it has been decreed, that the guilty should quake and inch along, whereas the pursuer, swift as the wind in seven-league-boots . . .,” and so on, all of it breathless and hysterical to the end, so that I’ll stop quoting here, this sample was perhaps more than enough.

I don’t know whether you have noticed that this first version simply ignored the essence, this first version quite simply skipped the all-important ten meters, as if it had made no difference how the policeman’s indescribable facial features hardened, then totally darkened, and at last became overcome by rage and the ensuing thirst for revenge, as if all of this had made not the least difference in this godforsaken world for the writer of the earlier text, that earlier me, whereas it was precisely this grim darkening and this thirst for revenge that revealed most clearly what had been transpiring inside the policeman on account of those ten meters.

This policeman, in his own eyes, was a creature of limited powers, in fullest measure authorized by society’s presumable contempt for clochards to turn this limited power into an unlimited power in order to smite and crush especially such clochards, such ragged old pariahs as the one here at Zoologischer Garten, instantly and with the most resolute force, when such a pariah, illustrating by his mere presence in a prohibited space the rationale behind society’s contempt, then practically threw himself through sheer negligence at the feet of the resolute enforcer of the law. The policeman’s facial expression could be read to say that while these clochards generally spent the whole day avoiding forbidden spots (zones fraught with danger for them), that for these people there were only trails surrounded by such spots, such danger zones, as they staggered all over the place, meandering like civilians lost in a minefield, wandering among landmines, trying to scrape by, but they were unable to do that, because from time to time—presumably out of weariness, ridiculously exhausted—they strayed by mistake and managed to step on just such a landmine, and the mine exploded, and then these wasted good-for-nothings found themselves face to face with someone who promptly called them to account, and collared them, one who struck a blow at pariah-hood, just as this policeman was doing now—well, one could read all this and more in that indescribable face, when this full-fledged policeman, noticing what was happening on the opposite side, rushed to where the shortest possible distance separated him from the clochard and ordered him to stop urinating.

All of the foregoing could very well be an everyday occurrence, I know, but before you get too drowsy, and think, so what, a clochard taking a leak and a cop collaring him, before you say that to yourself, I would ask you to please consider that in this story, the one I am telling here, the policeman was unable to collar the clochard. There they stood, facing each other, the distance across, as you know, was no more than ten meters, and at ten meters each could see the slightest swerve in the other’s eye, without being able to touch that person, well, there they stood facing each other, the complete pariah and the complete policeman, and this complete policeman turned into a helpless policeman, and the complete pariah turned into a disobedient pariah, and that was how they stood there facing each other on one of the underground levels of Zoologischer Garten.

In the eyes of a policeman, a helpless policeman is even more insufferable than a drunken pariah, so it is small wonder that this policeman, seeing this noncompliance on the opposite side, grasped his truncheon, then realizing it was useless to swing it—there was the distance, those ten meters—well then, his facial features really hardened, those brows definitely darkened. Unlimited power meant that this unlimited power had to produce an immediate and absolute effect, as long as that pariah was supposed to be thus deprived of the minimum of protection, rights, or recourse guaranteed by society. But this unlimited power suddenly lost all of its effectiveness, the clochard simply ignored the cop and kept on urinating, with a pained grimace, meanwhile to be sure turning this woebegone face slightly in our direction, whereas he, the policeman, merely marked time there on this humiliating stage while being ignored, and was forced to take notice of how all his unlimited power could turn into plain helplessness; moreover, since after all, he was unfortunately not permitted to fire his revolver at the man, you could see that he felt himself positively disarmed, and this condition of being disarmed—his darkened brow indicated—was especially intolerable for a policeman with a sidearm in his holster.

A policeman usually divides the world into good and evil, and I could see in this policeman’s eyes that he thought no differently. There could be no doubt as to where he placed himself, and even less doubt about where he placed the old clochard, and so from his own point of view here was an instance where the good would set out to wreak vengeance upon evil. I do not want to become entangled in this issue of good and evil, and I evoke it from the policeman’s eyes only because it is precisely such a policeman-like simplemindedness that sheds the brightest light now, and at the time it had cast an even brighter light, on that truly unbridgeable gap of ten meters separating the two of them, and the remarkable thing was not—as the first written version attempted to convey by inciting emotions—the manner and mode in which the pursuit and flight took place (that all happened, by the way, more or less as the rough and ready wording of the first version described it), but that in spite of the pursuit, and in spite of the flight, the policeman did not succeed in bridging that gap of ten meters, those ten meters persevered, or rather: in vain did the policeman at last collar the clochard about the same time as the arriving train roared into the station, in my eyes those ten meters had proved to be insurmountable, because what my eyes had seen in this pursuit and this flight, to employ the simplicity of police language, was that good can never catch up with evil, because with the gap between good and evil there is no hope whatsoever.

This was what had moved me so, and not the clochard inching and quaking, the policeman flying in seven-league boots swift as the wind.

Gentlemen, you have probably guessed by now why I brought up this story.


You might say now, fine, fine, but let’s hope this man isn’t saying here that the smell of urine should waft everywhere, and we ought to plant a kiss on the lawbreaker’s forehead?

Before speaking about essential matters I usually wait and procrastinate as long as possible, but at this time I consider the following announcement so important that any further delay is out of the question; I beg you to understand, the policeman was ready to kill that clochard because of that distance of ten meters, and I dragged up this story to make it clear, standing in front of you here: evil exists, and the good, sad to say, can never catch up with it.

Then I boarded one of the trains at Zoologischer Garten, the light under the mirror turned green, and we glided past that zone measuring a meter and a half where by now of course there was no one. I was thinking that the world was intolerable, and felt like leaping out onto the dark rails, but of course did not do so, instead I mulled over when the last time was that I had spoken the words “good” and “evil.”

Was it in childhood? Or when I was in high school?

Anyway, it was a long time ago, I concluded then, hurtling along from Zoologischer Garten in the direction of Ruhleben, and now I would like to request you gentlemen not to believe, not even for a moment, that by alluding to this “evil” dragged up from the murky depths I am referring, say, to the clochard and the policeman! I hope you will understand that back there we were talking about the drama of good and evil, and about how, sad to say, there was no communication between the two, and how a single decisive detail in the world is, sad to say, enough to make the whole world intolerable.

On the train ride toward Ruhleben I recalled that quaking body, those flailing arms, and I mused about that clochard and the other pariahs—when would they revolt, and what that revolt would be like. No doubt most violent and dreadful, I shuddered, they would take turns massacring each other, but then I stopped and said to myself, no, no, the revolt I had in mind would be something else, an all-out revolt.

Revolt is always all-out, I thought, suddenly sobering up, and I looked on tensely as one lit-up station after another flew past, and saw the clochard in front of me again, and understood that for him not only that meter and a half between mirror and platform’s end was forbidden, his forbidden zone included the whole platform, stairs, streets, buildings, what was above the ground and underneath, everything.

By then I was watching with alarm those lit-up stations gliding by as I realized, stunned, that a point existed from where it was forever forbidden to enter this city, this country, this whole continent—and I gaped outward, at Bismarckstrasse, Theodor-Heuss-Platz, and finally Ruhleben.

Esteemed convocation: yes, evil exists.


Look at me, I am tired.

How are we doing with that door?

Forty-two minutes I have been talking and that door is still locked.

I should look again, you’re saying, because it is open now? Very well, but what about this security detail? Again? To escort me? Where?

I just want to go home.

Hospitality? What kind of hospitality?

The lecture is over.

This time I spoke about revolt.



I am here for the last time.

For the final time I am standing in front of you to give a lecture.

And I will ask no questions. I understand that I am supposed to give a lecture. I won’t ask what its purpose is. I don’t want to know.

The only reason I won’t remain completely silent is that given my situation I am forced to speak, which you may take to mean that I shall speak like one who remains silent. This talk, consequently, will not metamorphose into inquisitiveness—that is, I will not start making inquiries to find out about your ultimate identity nor about the somewhat ominous ambiguity of your intentions regarding what is to be done with me. I will keep my word, so that those worried-looking gentlemen in charge of security who conducted me up here from the sub-basement and to whom I gave my word that I wouldn’t ask—nor would I expect to receive an answer to—any questions, yes, you gentlemen may rest at ease and exhale a sigh of relief right here at the start: I will not inquire—not even up here in this splendid auditorium, under the possibly sheltering auspice of your most unusual public presence—I will not ask what your intentions have been over the past weeks regarding me, you see this . . .how shall I put it . . . lecturer is totally ridiculous as a public speaker because he’s totally absorbed in exploring the dance steps of saying goodbye to the world, and he is incapable of anything else; no, I will not badger you about why you happened to select and invite me here, only to frog-march me, after my second lecture, into a sub-basement suite and deprive me of my freedom; just as, finally, you may be absolutely certain: I will not try to pry into what the point is of a so-called farewell speech, when one is taking leave as I am, that is: when the departing one doesn’t need an audience, nor does this audience need the departing one, for by now they have nothing further to share.

For in my case, no doubt, my leavetaking is actual and definitive; and this lecture of mine will be a true valedictory. The first statement is explained by an inner impulse (enough said about that for now); and the latter is explained by your third invitation, or shall I say your nonappealable summons, as will be immediately seen from the following brief—although for some of you perhaps not superfluous—outline of events.

You see, today at daybreak—which by the way was the seventh of my detention here—I was woken by the house telephone ringing at my bedside. A voice of sparse, measured elegance informed me that this evening I was to appear once again in front of you. Thanks to our memorable encounters, said the voice, we were able to get to know your views on melancholy and revolt. This time we would like to hear what you have to say about possessions, and here the voice grew softer, and added that I—this “I” referred not to him but to me—had earlier hinted more than once that my inner state could be likened best to that of someone taking leave, and therefore he, the voice, would now like to reassure me not to worry: the people sitting in the audience this evening are also nothing but leave-takers, and since this evening it would be leave-takers on both sides, I would be fully justified to consider my lecture as a valediction. Then something was said about a great expectation, but the sentence broke off halfway, the voice left off, the line was disconnected.

Esteemed gentlemen!

Until this morning the house telephone had been inclined to function exclusively in one direction only, when I asked for food or drink from the “service” staff that showed up only on these occasions. Never the other way, that is, during seven days no one had anything to communicate to me regarding my situation or yours. So thanks to this one-way traffic only now am I able to inform you: I have no interest in what you want from me, I’m not interested in your intentions, nor what you are saying farewell to, for in all likelihood not only does an unbridgeable gap exist between our respective interpretations of a valediction, but the content of our valedictions is far from identical. I would emphatically like to make you understand that after the monotonous senselessness of my subterranean sojourn, I am giving this lecture, apart from my own amusement, not because of some baseless, putative shared trait, but solely because by complying with your request, I wish to be granted, in addition to my two daily walks (morning and afternoon), a third and a fourth walk, an early morning, and a so-called evening one.

You see I desperately need air, my body, ever since a sudden illness a few years ago, cannot do without fresh air, so that airing, especially frequent airing in my case is, as they say, most desirable. Therefore I will offer you a lecture in exchange for fresh air, and since I take your nods to indicate there are no serious obstacles to the implementation of these two additional walks, the only thing left for me now is to clarify what kind of lecture we are talking about here.

By now you ought to be used to my never promising anything, in fact each time I have done my best to cool down the ardor of your expectations. This time, too, I must do the same, nay, this time I promise even less than before.

One week ago the same gentlemen who brought me here tonight escorted me from here down to the sub-basement through an emergency exit (you may recall there was a spot of trouble with the doors), and these gentlemen, who back then, a week ago, told me not to ask any questions and not to worry, if at first glance this looked like confinement—actually I would enjoy the most auspicious hospitality during my stay here—these same gentlemen, while escorting me now from the sub-basement, kept saying the same as before, that I should still refrain from asking any questions, not to worry, just calmly concentrate my attention on the subject of mutual concern to us, after all we—and here the gentlemen pointed at themselves—are here so you can accomplish this without any hindrance. These aberrant interpretations of hospitality and captivity clearly illuminate how profoundly mistaken these gentlemen were on the way from the sub-basement to the lecture hall, and how radically we differ in our assessments of the situation, and how utterly different our interests are under the apparently dying flickers of the constellation of our “subject of mutual concern.” If I conclude correctly from the extreme little I can surmise regarding this castle and your circle, you are most concerned about the predictability of the world, in other words, your own security. All of that, however, is merely of tangential interest to me; on the contrary, what