It is one of those early rainy mornings that I love as much as the warm sunny mornings which also awaken my heart. I just returned from a rather long stroll through he gardens and to the other side of the lake. Along the way I encountered many of our wonderful guest. I am very proud of what we have accomplished here in this paradise of inspiration and creativity and grateful to the Providers for making my dream a reality. I realize my work here is drawing to an end and soon it will be time for me to venture off into another dream.
Although we are isolated from the events of the world, we do on occasion receive word from the outside. Word of the pandemic the planet is currently experiencing is a painful reminder of how vulnerable we are as a civilization. All of life is connected and the planet will strive at all cost to maintain a balance within nature and humankind. When humans pollute the air and waterways so vital to the life of the planet, nature responds in the only way she can with a virus forcing humankind to return order to an out of order life. As a direct result of humans around the world being in force isolation, the air is cleaner, life is abundantly returning to the oceans and rivers and animals are reclaiming parts of the environment denied them for so long by man made roads and buildings. Although it might resemble chaos, order and balance are slowly retuning.
Most of my guests here have lived through disasters both natural and man made and they know that life survives but often the cost to life itself is very high. We have learned that nature will always seek to bring balance to itself and the planet via fire, floods or viruses resistant to man’s chemical agents.
While I am sitting in the lobby of the Great Hall permitting the warm fire to dry my clothes, I see my dear friend Albert Camus across the way. He holds up a pot of coffee and a bottle of brandy asking in silence if I would like to share it with him. I nod yes and he walks toward me across the polished wood floor boards.
“I was just about to leave a note in your box to arrange a chat and here you are. How are you my friend?”
“I am well. Thank you Albert.” Albert has never been one to beat around the bush. I know he wishes to speak to the current world situation so I give him an open invitation. “What are your thoughts concerning life and the world’s situation today?”
“That is exactly what I wish to speak with you about.” He sets down the tray with the coffee pot, two cups and the bottle of brandy. He pours a generous amount of brandy into each cup and tops it off with coffee and hands one of the cups to me. “I was just thinking Socrates. Life is short, and it is sinful to waste one’s time. They say I’m active. But being active is still wasting one’s time, if in doing one loses oneself. Today is a resting time, and my heart goes off in search of itself. If an anguish still clutches me, it’s when I feel this impalpable moment slip through my fingers like quicksilver… At the moment, my whole kingdom is of this world. This sun and these shadows, this warmth and this cold rising from the depths of the air: why wonder if something is dying or if men suffer, since everything is written on this window where the sun sheds its plenty as a greeting to my pity? I can say and in a moment I shall say that what counts is to be human and simple. No, what counts is to be true, and then everything fits in, humanity and simplicity. When am I truer than when I am the world? My cup brims over before I have time to desire. Eternity is there and I was hoping for it. What I wish for now is no longer happiness but simply awareness. Why does humankind make life so complicated Socrates?”
Usually when Albert and I have these conversations it is he who offers the solutions to my questions. Now he is asking me the question. “I think mankind has lost his way. Today’s world lacks leadership and direction,” I respond.
I can tell Albert is thinking. He takes a large swig of his coffee and swallows. “To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy. Everything else … is child’s play; we must first of all answer the question. Man must decide if he wants to survive.”
“But how can mankind make such a critical decision when he has lost all concept of who he is and his place in the world,” I ask?
“This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.” He pauses to review in his mind what he just said and adds, “It is not so easy to become what one is, to rediscover one’s deepest measure.”
“True.” I say, “But what is the measure of man?”
Albert responds quickly. “Our task as humans is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to people poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks we take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”
“But is that not the point we are in discussion about. How much time do we have and how does humanity reach the necessary level of understanding?” I ask.
“In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity. We must achieve this or perish. To do so, certain conditions must be fulfilled: men must be frank (falsehood confuses things), free (communication is impossible with slaves). Finally, they must feel a certain justice around them.” He replies.
“Ah, there lies the rub. The world is not a just world as you said earlier. Slavery still exists in many forms and equality is no more than a concept.” I respond. “Maybe as artists we need to take a more authoritative role in humanity’s development. We have been silent for a long time.”
Albert takes another sip of his coffee. “An Oriental wise man always used to ask the divinity in his prayers to be so kind as to spare him from living in an interesting era. As we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us and we are living in an interesting era. In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it. The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked. If they become modest and keep silent, they are vociferously blamed for their silence. In the midst of such din the writer/artist cannot hope to remain aloof in order to pursue the reflections and images that are dear to him. Until the present moment, remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When someone did not approve, he could always keep silent or talk of something else. Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications. The moment that abstaining from choice is itself looked upon as a choice and punished or praised as such, the artist is willy-nilly impressed into service. “Impressed” seems to me a more accurate term in this connection than “committed.” Instead of signing up, indeed, for voluntary service, the artist does his compulsory service. What choice does he have Socrates?”
“Yes and that service is so needed in the world today. The artist must make a stand.” I say.
“Humanity must learn that in the depths of winter, there lies within the heart of every human on the planet an invincible summer… What doesn’t kill him makes him stronger.”
“Amen Albert. Amen. I think I am going to need a refill if we are going to continue.”
“Two more Camus specials coming right up.”
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Book II Chapter Sixteen — Hermann Hesse will be published on Sunday, June 07, 2020.