Magris finds himself in a marshy field on a hillside above Furtwangen in the Black Forest. On the hill above is the old house whose dripping tap and overflow pipe is said by some to be the true source of the Danube. He thus finds himself contemplating the flimsy narcissism of his chosen profession.
“The soul is a stingy thing, as Kepler chided himself, and takes refuge in the little corners of literature rather than inquiring into the Deity’s design for Creation. Those who entrust their being solely to paper may discover in the end that they are mere silhouettes cut from tissue paper, likenesses that quiver and shrivel in the wind. It is this wind that the traveller longs for – adventure, the gallop to the hilltop. Like Kepler Mathematicus, he wants to fall in with God’s plans and the laws of nature, and not just follow his own idiosyncrasies; and he would also like the short climb to the house to be some glorious advance, like the Tigers of Mompracem scaling the heights under enemy fire, to conquer and to free their native land.
“The wind, however, does not blow in our faces but at our backs. It thrusts us away, far from the house where we were born, and from the Promised Land. And so it is that the traveller plunges deeper into his own allergies, his own imbalances, hoping that through those chinks slashed in the back-cloth of daily living, there might be at least a puff of wind or a draught coming from what is truly life, though concealed by the screen of reality. Literary manoeuvres then become a strategy to protect those badly patched tatters in the stage-curtain of distance, to prevent those minimal chinks from closing up altogether. A writer’s existence, said Monsignor Della Cassa, is a state of war.”
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