Claudio Magris, in his book "Danube", goes out in search of the source of Europe's major artery - very much the Danube, though the Swiss, Germans and Dutch would claim the Rhine - and finds it in a tributary in western Germany; he then follows the tributary back to its source and discovers a spring that spills into a meadow; finally he follows the spring to its source and finds... only a tap, with a pipe drilled into geology. No source at all. No ultimate source anyway - and even the tap may be just a literary metaphor.
And in the same way, when the scientists at last complete their voyages in space, millennia from now, I suspect that they will find the absolute beginning was just a whimper, or at the most a very small bang, issuing from the nostrils of whoever, or whatever, by that epoch, they have decided to rename the great trinity of father-God, mother-Psyche and the human Babel-song of E that doesn't quite, or only relatively in some corners of the cosmos, equal MC squared.
At his best, Magris is the precursor of Sebald: a historian who exploits history for the purposes of philosophy and literature; a voyager whose outward journeys are intended to reveal the inner landscape; a novelist who never ceases to be a poet manqué working in the wrong, but still the more comfortable form, of prose. As all great literature is always great despite and not because of its plot and characters, so the writing of meaningful history rests in tone and ambiance and rhythm, in its drawing of paradoxes or its challenging of conventional conclusions, in its drawing the reader into a mirror-realm where the real subject of the book becomes the reader's own perspective of his life; every great book is thus the book of the reader's soul, transformed into allegory through the process of starting out as the book of the writer's soul: a different sort of tap, drilled into a different sort of geology. And this too may be a large bang or a mere whimper.
Elsewhere in "Danube", Magris points out that a desire to change the world is as contextual as any other human phenomenon. Had he been born into it, he observes, rather than creating it himself - had he, that is to say, been a plebeian and not a patrician of the new world order - Stalin would have detested and resisted what was taking place in Communist Russia, just as Hitler would have hated and rebelled against the atmosphere in Nazi Germany (Leonard Cohen says exactly the same thing, in exactly the same words, in the 1966 CBC documentary "Ladies and Gentlemen, Leonard Cohen" - I cannot help but wonder which of the two was quoting the other, though it may simply be coincidence).
I also cannot resist noting yet another of the wonders of Wikipedia. Unless it has been corrected by the time you read this, you will be able to read there that Magris was "Born April 10, 1939 (age 75)", in Trieste, in the "Kingdom of Italy". And they expect their readers to make a financial contribution to their ineptitude!
Originally this page was uploaded as March 1st, for reasons inside the text that I then realised I had left out, and so came back, as one does, to make the correction; but now, as you can see, I have taken it down from that date and re-posted it on this one, therefore no longer needing the correction, but definitely needing to pay due tribute and homage to the great WikiBot which has taken over the Means of Distribution of all Human Knowledge. My note above says "age 75", because I wrote it in 2014. Today, November 4th 2017, I have checked, and the Bot has auto-updated the error - no human involvement you see, no one checking, no one verifying, no one validating, no one correcting. And for those who don't believe me, a screenshot of my Googlesearch is below:
O why could he not have been born on April 1 instead of 10, and this could all turn out to be just another bad, sad, joke...
(The map at the top of the page, showing the course of the Danube, is also from Wikipedia. I haven't checked, but don't blame me if it turns out to be the Rhine)
Joseph Pulitzer, Hungarian journalist and publisher, the man who gave his name to all those American prizes, born today in 1847 (see June 4)
Buchenwald liberated, today in 1945
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