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by [Mihai_Eminescu ]

2005-05-26  |     |  Submited by Monica Manolachi

It is undeniable that there are many things that a podgy civil servant from the town hall or a police non-commissioned officer cannot grasp, although generally speaking these are people who understand everything. I have not yet met people more capable than these, at least when we talk about getting rid of pilfering or inspiring wangling butchers with respect. Anyway we believe – and we do not impose it on anyone – that, apart from false scales and filching in the street, there are some other things, surely of secondary importance, such as philosophy, poetry, arts, things that their perspicacity cannot digest, but whose existence cannot be denied.

It seems that the author intends to start from the beginning. Actually, the world as we see it exists only in our mind. Nobody will deny that there is a difference between a gander and a dog. The look of a dog is intelligent, it understands a greater part of this world than a gander; nevertheless these two beings have eyes and brains. The world is not what it is, it is what we see. The gander sees something, the dog sees something else, a civil servant from the town hall or Kant something else. However, what a distinction between the piggy eyes of the civil servant and the profound sight of the wise man from Königsberg!

Which is the truth? Is it what a gander sees very clearly or is it what Kant merely grasped in the darkness of his mind? This is really a strange thing. The first distinguishes very well the corn grains from the yellow earth, swims safely on the water, and measures with his eyes the reachable distances and it fails not to be aroused in front of a virgin goose. The second forgets to eat; wanting to jump over a ditch, he falls in the middle of it and does not even raise his eyes when virgin or non-virgin beauties pass by.

Notwithstanding we suppose that the philosopher is more sensible than a gander and even in his problems we find more truth than in the certainty of the other.

This is a sign that for a great mind everything is problematic, while for 75 drams of brain everything is sure.

We know the Pythagorean geometry rule of the bridge for donkeys. The bridge for donkeys, which you have to pass through in any deep thought, is that we cannot perceive the world itself and that its explanation is the explanation of the reaction of our brain and nothing more. The world in itself remains a problem, within which a weak ray or a thunder clap gets lost. The profound thinker writes it down on paper, and reading it, you find a long resonance being born in the room of your head, which makes you understand that the world and life are really only a dream.

But, as I said, all these are trifles for a civil servant from the town hall. Life, death and birth are significant for him only because there is a tax to collect when people put their names down on marriage certificates, because there is a tax to collect during a burial and because the number of new-born children and the deceased increases. The civil servant from the town hall cannot see in these humans more than taxable individuals and the police non-commissioned officer no more than persons he must supervise in order not to steal from one another and to obey the law.

The next social stratum that follows this one is formed by scholars of words. They always ask quid novisimi? The newest book is the best in their opinion. They read a lot and have many definitions, formulas and words in their minds, whose truth they never doubt, since they have no time to doubt. I call them of words, since their wisdom consists of words, husks of thoughts, which their memory keeps, and since I think a thought is an act and a shudder of nerves. The better and the freer the nerves shudder, the clearer is the thought. This act of repeating exactly somebody else’s thought does not happen in their mind, since the amount of reading and the tiredness of brain do not allow it. What they read passes like dead husks into the barn of memory and comes to light in the same form.

From my point of view, anything that a man thought by himself, without reading it somewhere or hearing from others, contains a seed of truth. That is why I read old books – written not just because people needed to write books, but because they thought of something that was stressing their heart and wanted to tell it to other people – and I find seeds of light in obscure things that remain in my mind.

One day, when I was sitting whistling at an open window, snow and fine weather outside, I saw an old man passing by, wearing a long mantle on his shoulders and a very broad-rimmed hat. I saw him entering “Noah’s Ark”. This ark was a pub where you could drink good Hungarian wine. I had my own table there and in the evening, when I was fed up with reading and writing, I used to take a seat at that little table in the corner of the ark and I imagined that I was a child again, that I was living during the time of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. When I saw the old man, I said: “Damn! I have never seen this one before… let’s see who he is” …I took my hat from the nail, went down the stairs and – to “The Ark”.

Inside… the greyhead – sitting at my table. “The Ark” was a big room, arched and dark, where even by day the lamp burned. The old man was interesting. He was white-haired, clean shaven, with grey, big and piercing eyes, and smelled of tobacco and I have always liked people who smell of tobacco.

I said good-evening and sat down across from him, because it was my right to take a place at my table. His heart skipped, but he did not say anything. He started drumming his long, thin fingers on the table and was whistling through his teeth… Something was improper… but I kept silent, since, no matter how indelicately he behaved, the aria was extremely beautiful… it was as shrill as the buzz of bees, but it seemed that a violin virtuoso as tall as a palm was playing his hazel-husk-like violin so shrilly and beautifully in his mouth that you took to him on the spot… then he paused and started to drum his long fingers again like a big spider playing tremblante.

“Forgive me, sir, I said buttoning the front of my jacket, but I think that I have heard this aria before that you have just whistled…and I would like to ask…”

“You heard this aria in your head”, he said, “when you were cleaning Beethoven’s boots.”

“Forgive me, sir, but I did not have the honour of knowing Beethoven.”

“How do you know if you knew him or not? I say you knew him… I say you cleaned his boots and that’s that.”

“Damn! This greyhead is crazy,” I thought.

“Damn! This greyhead is crazy,” he said blinking and imitating my voice exactly. And then he said: “Waiter! Five-year-old Hungarian wine, well-corked… Quickly. Well, my boy, he followed, isn’t that the first thought that came to your mind: Damn! This greyhead is crazy? You see, that’s what I wanted to know… The man is like a violin… If you press your finger on one part of a string, it sounds in one way, in another part it sounds different, but one violin is similar to another. Today I am ready to philosophize and I’m glad I found you, my boy, because you seem to be an inoffensive contemplative man and contemplation is the mother of wisdom.”

I was gaping at him. The old man was looking at me and started to laugh.

“Tell me, boy – if you know – tell me an impossible thing and an impossible idea.”

“An impossible thing is me having cleaned the boots of Beethoven, who died so many years ago, and an impossible idea is that something exists and does not exist at the same time.”

The waiter brought the wine; the old man poured a glass for me, a glass for him, and drank it all.

“Listen to me, boy, you are not stupid, he said. Have you ever heard about Archeus?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You haven’t. Well, Archeus is the only reality in the world, all others are trifles – Archeus is everything.”

"Pah! Damn you, uncle, with your Archeus… I see you want to pull my leg. Who’s your Archeus?"

"Hush! Hush up, my boy… Everything has its time. In a moment I’ll tell you who Archeus is, but first drink your glass of wine and listen to what I say now. Impossible thoughts do not exist, since, as soon as a thought exists, it is not impossible anymore and if it were impossible, it would not exist. What is impossible? I am going to show you a bunch of problems. The conditions for any possibility are in our heads. Here are strange laws that nature should obey. Here is time with its mathematical rules; here is space with its geometrical rules; here is causality with its absolute necessity, and if you erase them… and a deep sleep erases them for a few hours… what sense can we make out for this interval of erasure? None. Nevertheless, there are moments in our lives when all these three elements of our mind, these three drawers, where we put a whole life, vanish for a moment… of course, only as a flash, vanish partly or totally and you stand in front of a miracle and ask yourself… a man who thought that everything he sees is exactly how it is… and wonders what it means. When you see a strange physiognomy, of course you ask yourself: how does this damn man think? Moreover, the lack of one of the five senses, even coming later, radically modifies the world of thought."

“How is it possible? Beethoven composed music after he had lost his sense of hearing.”

“I knew you’ll object this. Yes, Beethoven composed Fidelio, long after he forgot the nature of human voice… he wrote down music for voices as he thought that it should have been and now you see in front of your eyes a work of art that seems to elude your understanding… as if you watch it with reversed binoculars … and you’ll see something strange far, far away, in the depth of a human mind, something that seems ungraspable, until you find out that it is the imagination of a deaf man about the human voice, whose normal nature he had lost or had only a weak reminiscence of. Furthermore, imagine that everyone has in their ears only a reminiscence of memory, like that of Beethoven… then all the work comes closer, as if you’d watch it with normally positioned binoculars… and it comes so close that the whole stage develops in your head and you hear the opera crying out in your empty skull, with rifles, prisons, actors and all actresses. How is it like a head of a man who has an opera or a drama in it, with its interesting people, with the light of the lamps, with the painted linen, with everything in his head?... A whole theater where only his soul coiled up in a corner of the hall is the whole audience.”

“Well. Why shouldn’t we consider that a normal human being is created especially to grasp the truth?”

“Why? It is because this normal human being is not always the same – there will always be small differences. When these differences are great, we have another world. Let me continue. I do not know if someone has ever imagined being elastic… that he can grow, expand and shrink himself… If nobody wakes this man up, he would live a whole life in a real and touchable world, since during sleep touching is the same as during wakefulness… in other words, in sleep we do not lack this surest control of reality… And if this man shrinks to a potato that shouts at people in the street to be careful not to step on him or if he gets thinner like a pole with an English beard and topper or if he gets fatter like a Bavarian publican…if he passes through one thousand figures and if he sleeps all of his life, he would never doubt that this is his nature, that he could never exist otherwise and that everything must be as it is... If he wakes up just before dying, he would believe, on the contrary, that he fell asleep and is dreaming. A world like everything but the world is possible if it is not interrupted by another order of things. There are many weeds that create another world by changing the visual organ just a little. A drink made out of mushrooms increases the proportions of things. A straw seems as big as a joist and the man, having in mind the memory of the figure from before drinking, jumps over the straw in the street. Fields of wheat turn into golden woods, people become giants and maybe the old story telling that long ago the earth was populated with giants depends on the construction of the eyes and not on their objective volume or, more exactly, on the way our eyes reflect the human beings. What is the criterion of reality? Let us not talk about eyes anymore… Who does not know how real and true known faces, gardens, houses and streets are in a dream? The ear hears pleasant music and the mind remembers having heard this music before… A friend comes up… he grew old… he has a few white hairs… the mind compares him with the memory that we have of him, and the difference between our imagination about how he was and his real image snatches our regret: 'What a change in this man!'…In the state of madness all ideas have a terrible reality… The man is tortured, is put on the cross, and is beaten while nobody touches him. The cruelest physical pain breaks his heart and marks his face with wrinkles… on the contrary, the real pains as we know them find him indifferent… We do not have a criterion… We do not know if we know anything… We believe it since others believe it, because it is a predominant norm, and this is not because the world is as we imagine it, but because a man resembles another more or less… You may say that some strange man is not right when he says something. How do you know that? You know it because others tell the same thing, that he is not right. What gives you this right? His look has the same value as our look… His point of view is isolated, while our points of view meet others of the same type. Who is the dreamer? Well, who? We or he? That is the question… Maybe we do nothing more than dream in one way and he in another way…”

“Well … we see the world.”

“He also sees it.”

“We touch it.”

“He touches it, too. Why is our mode the true one and his false? Why is it not vice versa? Are we mad or is he mad? … This is the question. And if we think only how different the look of the people living in other centuries was, that what seems strange to us was natural for them, that anything that we do not understand has only one form, which was very well understood by someone living in the past, then what is the criterion of a healthy mind? It is a mind, which today approves what it disapproved yesterday, which disapproves what it approved. It is a mind that feeds itself with paradoxes century after century…”

“With paradoxes?”

“Yes! Tell someone who has just come out from the shell of nature that the sun is immobile and the earth is spinning… he will find it irrational, paradoxical, against a healthy mind… tell him that the stars are other worlds like ours… he would find it paradoxical.”

“Nonetheless this is the truth.”

“The truth? As you like it… When they disappear, the theories of movement become slowly untouchable, if we suppose what is imposed… that space is infinite!... Where is movement when space is infinite? The earth is a piece… O.K.… There is the same space up and down, since it is unlimited… In other words, what distance has it covered, if it does not cover anything, since it is always in the same place, in the same center, in infinity, and it does not matter if it stays or if it moves… What is the criterion of its spinning? What about our senses, about this visionary sensorium, when its movement cannot be grasped without considering our being? The earth travels as we travel in our dreams. We go far away and we are still in the same place… the distances backwards and ahead do not increase nor decrease, since they are infinite.”

“What about time?”

“Oh, this damned time that is sometimes long, sometimes short, still the same, as the button of a watch shows… When somebody waits for his lover at the little gate of a fence… and she does not come… and waits… and she does not come… what is time? An eternity. And when somebody reads a beautiful book… thousands of images develop in front of his eyes… What is time? A minute. Who has never had a whole novel in his mind, for whose normal reality a whole life or a whole youth would be needed?... Dreaming he could have the whole life of a man in one single night. Why of one man? Why not of everyone who is passing by? In what interval? In seven or eight hours. But what else is a tragedy or a comedy? And if this work of art is really interesting, you do not realize how much time has passed. If we consider the criterion of normality, we eliminated all the exclusivism of a conventional possibility and replaced it with another as right as the first one. Then we will not say that only this is possible and only in this way, but we say it is as much as our mind can conceive… but damn it if it could not be different in a thousand ways…”

“What a strange idea of life!”

“Imagine an old manuscript, with greasy pages, in the corner of a drawer… a comedy, for instance. A theater director finds it by chance, reads and reads… snaps his fingers… 'Look here! This is quite good!…' And you find all of a sudden that there is a vivid image of life on the stage… The public is laughing, the actors twist their faces, everything is like before… like one hundred years ago… Then you would say either that the public and the theater are two hundred years old or that the play is new. Where is time? When you reverse the binoculars, things seem to be abnormally far away… A man born with binoculars on his nose would run all of his life to get his nose and this would be normal… Where is space? That is why when we hear the trumpet of the great truths that present themselves with so much self-consciousness, let us laugh and say: Words! Words! Words! Let us listen to the stories, since they at least make us live the lives of others, let us intermingle our dreams and thoughts with theirs… Archeus lives in them… Maybe this is the most beautiful part of our lives. The world rocks us with stories and lulls us with stories. We get up and die with them… Have you ever heard the story of King Tlà?”

“Never… But I would first like to know who Archeus is.”

“Humph! Damn it, how can I tell you, if you haven’t get it up to now? My boy! Even if someone wants to change his own individuality, he wants to remain himself, that is the same… person. I have known people who wanted to be more beautiful (how many women!), more dutiful (how many statesmen!), more brilliant (how many writers!); I know some who had wishes of Caesar, who were piling up glorious dreams of the whole world… but they wanted to be themselves. What and who is this he or me, who wants to remain the same no matter how many changes take place? All this might be the mystery, the secret of life. He would not want anything that he has. Another body, another mind, another physiognomy, other eyes, to be somebody else… but to be himself. He would like to take thousand of faces like a chameleon… but to remain the same. Leaving aside the wish of this rememory, everyone fulfills his desire… since it is the same for someone who is not interested in the memory of identity, if he is the king or not. He is the king, if he does not pretend to be the king himself… This is another body, another mind, another position, but it is not you. Well, have you understood what Archeus is?”

“Well, no. Less than any other time.”

“It is not easy to be understood – since it is eternal. And eternal is what is always present… in this moment. It is not what it was, since these states were. It is not what will be, since those states will be. What is. Only if time stops, we could see clearly what is eternal… It would be necessary a new moratorium between life and death, because the world is no more than a permanent payment to life, an eternal cashing for death. And this is the mother of time. Without her, the amount of what really exists could be seen all over, we would know what is timeless.”

“How do I use your presentation, when I still do not know what Archeus is?”

“Humph! You are slow-witted. When you see that there is no relationship between the insignificant size of the human body and the power or the immensity of will (think of Napoleon), that the man is usually only a weak occasion for terrible passions, when you think that the bearer of these passions may become a hull, as a bowl broken by wine, when you see that the same life principle sprouts in thousands and thousands of flowers, most of which whither on the way and only some remain, and even these have the same fate, then you see that the being in man is immortal.
It is one and the same punctus saliens, which exists in thousands of people, stripped of time and space, complete and undivided, which moves the hulls, drives them on one another, leaves them, and produces others anew, while the flesh of its creations seems like a matter, like an Ashaver of forms, which makes a journey that seems eternal.”

“And it is indeed eternal.”

"The spirit of the universe tries every man, strains itself again, and appears as a new ray from the same water, a kind of a new assault to the sky. But it lasts in the way, of course very differently, here as a king, there as beggar. What can a deathwatch do with a hull, if it is stuck in the wood of life? The assault is the youth, while lasting in the way, deception, the fall of the experienced animal, all these belong to old age and death. Men are problems that the spirit of the universe proposes; their lives are attempts to solve them. Is not the long pain, the eternal rush for something unknown similar to the avidity to find answers for curious questions?”

“I think that where there is a problem, we find also its answer.”

“Yes, Kant. But most people remain merely questions, sometimes funny, sometimes stupid, other times ungraspable, sometimes vain. When I see a human nose, I am always tempted to ask what this nose wants on earth.

Translation Monica Manolachi
May 2005

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