Saturday, February 15, 2014

On the City, and Freedom, and Light

So there it was, and here I was.  Alone in the last room of the museum, in front of me a floating display of a city caught in mist and light.

It was supposedly Prague, of course: Prague filled with the light at the end of the Burrow you glimpse on occasion in some of Kafka's fiction—the Castle, perhaps, or the world born from Grete Samsa's music in the last section of "The Metamorphosis".  Kafka calls it "the unknown nourishment".  Gregor Samsa looks for it and fails to find it, as does the Hunger Artist:

"Because," said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little…"because I couldn't find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else." These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was continuing to fast. ("The Hunger Artist", tr. Ian Johnston)

That search for the missing place, the forgotten place, or the place that may not exist (or if it does, is remote and bathed in impenetrable light) is a part of the desire and yearning of Kafka's work that drew me from the start—not only because it was so well rendered but also because I shared it, have always shared it.  And in a way, this trip—and for that matter, all my trips and journeys—are toward a place I imagine very much as the museum notes proposed it, rather vaguely and tentatively and perhaps even mundanely, as "free of evil".

"Free of evil," indeed.  If it can't be a place of good, an eternal place (because such places have always been impossible to imagine, at least for me), let it at least carry that much  freedom and release. 

As I had entered the museum, for the first time I had been asked by the clerk if I were eligible for the senior discount.  Of course it was insulting (I am still a few years away), and Rhonda kindly assured me it had to do with my hair, gray since 40.  But for some reason now, it made sense in the presence of that nebulous light, the buildings in the fog, a lone man walking.

We don't have long in any place, people.  Our stay here is a trip, a journey, a holiday. There's a good in that as well as a sadness.  No matter how often epiphany comes, no matter the moments of time outside time, the holidays of soul, we slip back into the mundane and forgetful, where nourishment fades and vanishes into imagined distances. And perhaps knowing that for what it is, settling into it and finding the good there, is one form of difficult nourishment.

I walked back into the city, lightstruck and cold on the west bank of the Vltava, and over the Charles Bridge, where dozens of statues played at immortality, their subjects and inspirations eternally free somewhere.  ©2014 Michael Williams

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