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454 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1933
Ulrich of course saw the preposterous arrogance of assuming that everything had in effect come to nothing. And yet it was nothing. Immeasurable as existence; confusion as meaning. At least, judging by the results, it was no more than the stuff of which the soul of the present is made, which is not much. While Ulrich was thinking this he was nevertheless savoring the “not much,” as if it were the last meal at the table of life his outlook would permit him to have.This second volume focuses on Ulrich’s sister, Agathe, who was raised largely separated from her brother. The two have reconnected following their father’s death at the end of the first volume. Often in these pages, I found long internal discussions incorporating concepts of reality and morality, to consider, then reconsider, then further reappraise every conceivable decision. Even the near-incestuous relationship that develops between Ulrich and Agathe amounts to nothing, and not for want of imagination. Consider being the therapist who had these characters as patients.
‘Wherever we may roam, there’s no place like home,’ Bonadea said, with her characteristic taste for platitudes and quotations. For it came about that Diotima, in the role of guardian angel, soon took on Bonadea as a pupil in these matters, in accordance with the pedagogical principle that one learns best by teaching. This enabled Diotima to go on extracting, from the still undirected and unclear impressions she gained from her new reading, points she could really believe in—guided as she was by the happy secret of ‘intuition,’ that you are sure to hit the bull’s-eye if you talk about anything long enough. At the same time it worked to Bonadea’s advantage that she could bring to the dialogue that response without which the student remains barren soil for even the best teacher: her rich practical experience, doled out with restraint, had served the theoretician Diotima as an anxiously studied source of information ever since she had set out to put her marriage in order with the aid of textbooks.All will agree that the best place to turn when the chips are down in a relationship is a textbook. What wonderful writing from this exceptional author. For the record, my favorite character was General Stumm von Bordwehr who understood his station as a careerist devoted to inaction, having no apparent interest in killing or being killed. What really drew my interest, however, was the General’s habit of having his orderly carry his briefcase about bulked with two loaves of regulation army bread, new Model 1914, offering the suggestion of important plans and undertakings to his audience; this provided the dual advantage of a snack at opportune moments, best accompanied with some schnapps, a reflection of the General’s practical survival skills, both military and dietary.