Fire, … it’s good to have room for new things

Even in a large city, the streets after a certain advanced hour of night are relatively still. What one hears and sees are apparitions and sounds to which both our eyes and our ears have long since grown accustomed. There are none of the usual sounds. People are at home, sitting around the cozy family table, or else in bars hunkered over their beers and political discussions, or in the concert hall, reverently listening to the pieces of music being performed, or at the theater, following the suspenseful goings-on upon the brightly lit stage, or else they are standing in pairs, or in groups of three or seven on some melancholy street corner, delving into profundities, or else perhaps aimlessly walking in some direction or other. “Hey there, car!” another cries out, and somewhere there might be a poet buried in his isolated room, drunkards wandering in wretched bliss from one still to another, bawling and harassing the passersby; perhaps a horse pulling a hackney cab is collapsing somewhere, a woman fainting, a scoundrel being apprehended by the always vigilant and safety-restoring police force—and suddenly someone shouts: “Fire!” Quite close by, it seems, a fire has broken out. People were just standing around, indecisive and bored, about to accuse the hour of lacking all interest and in any case starting to feel chilled, and suddenly here’s this great novelty being presented, something unexpected to kindle our enthusiasm. Everyone lurches forward and without realizing it has already begun a conversation with whoever happens to be standing alongside, cheeks are glowing, and now people are even starting to leap and run. They’re suddenly doing something they haven’t tried in a good two years. All at once the world appears changed, expanded, thicker, and more tangible.

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Tell me, do you know how to dream?

I just want to see if one can live and breathe and be in the wilderness too, willing good things and doing them, and sleeping and dreaming at night.

I have seen my brother; we met, what’s more, in the thick of the city crowd. Our meeting turned out to be a very friendly one. It was unforced and affectionate. Johann behaved very nicely, and probably I did, too. We went to a small, reticent restaurant and had a talk there. “Just you go on being yourself, brother,” Johann said to me, “begin from all the way down, that’s fine. If you need help …” I made a gesture of refusal. He went on: “For look, you see, it’s hardly worth it, up there at the top. If you see what I mean. Don’t misunderstand me, brother.” I gave a lively nod, for I knew in advance what he was saying, but I asked him to go on, and he said: “It’s the atmosphere up there. I mean, they’ve all got an air of having done enough, and that stops things, it’s cramping. I hope you don’t quite understand me, for, if you did understand me, brother, you’d be a dreadful person.” We laughed. Oh, to be able to laugh with my brother, I like that. He said: “You are now, so to speak, a zero, my good brother. But when one is young, one should be a zero, for nothing is more ruinous than being a bit important early on, too early on. Certainly: you’re a bit important to yourself. That’s fine. Excellent. But for the world you’re still nothing, and that’s almost just as excellent. I keep hoping you won’t quite understand me, for if you understood me completely …” “I’d be a dreadful person,” I broke in. We laughed again. It was very jolly.

A strange fire began to animate me. My eyes were burning. I like it very much, by the way, when I feel so burned up. My face gets quite red. And then thoughts full of purity and loftiness usually assail me. Johann went on, he said: “Brother, please, don’t always interrupt me. That silly young laughter of yours has a stifling effect on ideas. Listen! Pay close attention now. What I’m telling you may be useful to you one day. Above all: never think of yourself as an outcast. There are no outcasts, brother, for perhaps there’s nothing in this world that’s worth aspiring to. And yet you must aspire, even passionately so. But so as to become not too full of longings: realize that there is nothing, nothing worth aspiring to. Everything is rotten. Do you understand that? Look, I keep hoping that you can’t quite understand all this. It worries me.” I said: “Unfortunately I’m too intelligent to misunderstand you, as you hope I might But don’t worry. Your revelations don’t frighten me at all.” We smiled at one another. Then we ordered some more drinks, and Johann, who, by the way, did look uncommonly elegant, went on talking: “Of course there’s progress on earth, so called, but that’s only one of the many lies which the business people put out, so that they can squeeze money out of the crowd more blatantly and mercilessly. The masses are the slaves of today, and the individual is the slave of the vast mass-ideas. There’s nothing beautiful and excellent left. You must dream up beauty and goodness and justice. Tell me, do you know how to dream?”

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