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Blick ins Chaos
The Brothers Karamazov, or The Decline of Europe
Hermann Hesse

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In the essay The Brothers Karamazov, or The Decline of Europe that appeared in Blick ins Chaos Hesse wrote a few paragraphs each for a number of loosely connected thoughts about the future of Europe. He contrasted European culture with the culture of Asiatic Russia as examplified by the characters in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. The two paragraphs below make up Hesse's concluding thought.

In the last paragraph I have added emphasis to the lines that Eliot quoted in his note to line 366 of The Waste Land but I have also done so to some lines in the first paragraph that strike me as being a statement that Eliot would find to be quite important.

I have said that Dostoevsky is really not a writer, or is one only incidentally. I have called him a prophet. Hard to say what this really means-a prophet! It strikes me as something like this: a prophet is a sick man, just as Dostoevsky vas really a hysteric, almost an epileptic. A prophet is an invalid of the sort who has lost the healthy, sound, beneficent instinct of self-preservation, which is the essence of all middle-class virtues. There must not be many of these men, otherwise the world would go to pieces. This sort of sick man whether he is called Dostoevsky or Karamazov, has that strange, secret, morbid, divine capability, the possible existence of which Asiatics honor in every madman. He is a manic, he is a seer. This means that in him a people, a nation, or a section of the world has developed an organ, an antenna, a rare, especially sensitive, noble, vulnerable organ that others do not have, which in the case of all the rest, for their health and happiness, has remained vestigial. This antenna, this prophetic sense of touch, is not to be coarsely understood as a silly sort of telepathy or magic trick, although the gift can quite well manifest itself in these disconcerting forms. Rather the "invalid" of this sort transposes the events of his own soul into general terms applicable to mankind. Everyone has visions, everyone has imaginings, everyone has dreams. And every vision, every dream, every thought and inspiration a person has, may, on the way from the unconscious to consciousness, permit of a thousand different interpretations, each one of which may be right. The seer and prophet does not interpret his visions personally, the nightmare that presses upon him does not speak to him of personal illness, of his own death, but rather of the larger whole as whose organ, whose antenna, he lives. This whole may be a family, a party, a nation, it can as well be all mankind.

In Dostoevsky's soul what we usually call hysteria, a certain illness and openness to suffering, has served mankind as an organ, an indicator, a barometer. Mankind is on the point of taking notice. Already half of Europe, at least half of eastern Europe, is on the road to chaos; intoxicated with a divine madness it makes its way along the edge of the abyss and sings, sings drunken hymns the way Dmitri Karamazov sang. The citizen laughs indignantly at these songs, the holy man and seer listens to them with tears.

Exploring The Waste Land - [Home] [E-mail] File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002