Wednesday, June 25, 2008


"He looked around, contemplating his environment. All these circular lines, intersecting lines, straight lines, curves and wreaths of which a domestic interior is composed and that had piled up around him were neither nature nor inner necessity but bristled, to the last detail, with baroque overabundance. The current and heartbeat that constantly flows through all things in our surroundings had stopped for a moment. 'I'm only fortuitous,' Necessity leered. 'Observed without prejudice, my face doesn't look much different from a leper's,' Beauty confessed. Actually, it did not take much to produce this effect: a varnish had come off, a power of suggestion had lost its hold, a chain of habit, expectation, and tension had snapped; a fluid, mysterious equilibrium between feeling and world was upset for the space of a second. Everything we feel and do is somehow oriented 'lifeward,' and the least deviation away from this direction toward something beyond is difficult or alarming. This is true even of the simple act of walking: one lifts one's center of gravity, pushes it forward, and lets it drop again -- and the slightest change, the merest hint of shrinking from this letting-oneself-drop-into-the-future, or even of stopping to wonder at it -- and one can no longer stand upright! Stopping to think is dangerous. It occurred to Ulrich that every decisive point in his life had left behind a similar feeling."--Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, Chapter 34

Perhaps it's because my back is bothering me again that this passage seems unusually evocative: that bit about taking walking for granted and not easily standing upright certainly resonates more than it might otherwise. But I also think it's because I've been away, and the passage seems to point at the problem with "vacations": they are opportunities for "dangerous" thinking. One gets to withdraw from one's normal environment, from one's day-to-day activities, and so can contemplate how -- in Musil's terms -- they are "neither nature nor inner necessity," but are, in fact, habit, or "the job," or what-have-you (home?). The pause of "time off" frees one from the routine version of "letting-oneself-drop-into-the-future," and one might conceivably contemplate a different future to drop into, one which, if also neither nature or inner necessity, is at least "some kind of change."

I wish I was
On some Australian mountain range
I got no reason to be there
But I imagine it would be some kind of change
--Bob Dylan, "Outlaw Blues" (1965)

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