Journey to the East

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Journey to the East

By Herman Hesse

Chapter Three

SINCE I wrote the foregoing, I have pondered over my project again and again and tried to find a way out of my difficulty. I have not found a solution. I am still confronted by chaos. But I have vowed not to give in, and in the moment of making this vow a happy memory passed through my mind like a ray of sunshine. It was similar, it seemed to me, quite similar to how I felt when we commenced our expedition; then also we undertook something apparently impossible, then also we apparently traveled in the dark, not knowing our direction and not having the slightest prospects. Yet we had within us something stronger than reality or probability, and that was faith in the meaning and necessity of our action. I shuddered at the recollection of this sentiment, and at the moment of this blissful shudder, everything became clear, everything seemed possible again.

Whatever happens, I have decided to exercise my will. Even if I have to re-commence my difficult story ten times, a hundred times, and always arrive at the same cul-de-sac, just the same I will begin again a hundred times. If I cannot assemble the pictures into a significant whole again, I will present each single fragment as faithfully as possible. And as far as it is now still possible, I will be mindful of the first principle of our great period, never to rely on and let myself be disconcerted by reason, always to know that faith is stronger than so-called reality.

In the meantime, I did make a sincere attempt to approach my goal in a practical and sensible manner. I went to see a friend of my youth who lives in this town and is editor of a newspaper. His name is Lukas. He had taken part in the World War and had published a book about it which had a large circulation. Lukas received me in a friendly manner. He was obviously pleased to see a former school-friend again. I had two long conversations with him.

I tried to make him understand my position. I scorned all evasion. I told him frankly that I was a participant in that great enterprise of which he must also have heard, in the so-called "Journey to the East," or the League expedition, or whatever it was then described as by the public. Oh yes, he smiled ironically, he certainly remembered it. In his circle of friends, this singular episode was mostly called, perhaps somewhat disrespectfully, "the Children's Crusade." This movement was not taken quite seriously in his circle. It had indeed been compared with some kind of theosophical movement or brotherhood.

Just the same, they had been very surprised at the periodic successes of the undertaking. They had read with due respect about the courageous journey through Upper Swabia, of the triumph at Bremgarten, of the surrender of the Tessin mountain village, and had at times wondered whether the movement would like to place itself at the service of a republican government. Then, to be sure, the matter apparently petered out. Several of the former leaders left the movement; indeed, in some way they seemed to be ashamed of it and no longer wished to remember it. News about it came through very sparingly and it was always strangely contradictory, and so the whole matter was just placed aside ad acta and forgotten like so many eccentric political, religious or artistic movements of those post-war years. At that time so many prophets sprang up, so many secret societies with Messianic hopes appeared and then disappeared again leaving no trace.

His point of view was clear, it was that of a well-meaning sceptic. All others who had heard its story, but had not themselves taken part in it, probably thought the same about the League and the Journey to the East. It was not for me to convert Lukas, but I gave him some corrected information; for instance, that our League was in no way an off-shoot of the post-war years, but that it had extended throughout the whole of world history, sometimes, to be sure, under the surface, but in an unbroken line, that even certain phases of the World War were nothing else but stages in the history of our League; further, that Zoroaster, Lao Tse, Plato, Xenophon, Pythagoras, Albertus Magnus, Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Novalis and Baudelaire were co-founders and brothers of our League. He smiled exactly in the way that I expected.

"Well," I said, "I have not come here to instruct you, but to learn from you. It is my passionate desire to write, perhaps not a history of the League (even a whole army of well-equipped scholars would not be in a position to do this), but to tell quite simply the story of our journey. But I am quite unsuccessful in even approaching the subject. It is not a question of literary ability; I think I have this. Moreover, I have no ambitions in this respect. No, it is because the reality that I once experienced, together with my comrades, exists no longer, and although its memories are the most precious and vivid ones that I possess, they seem so far away, they are composed of such a different kind of fabric, that it seems as if they originated on other stars in other millennia, or as if they were hallucinations."

"I can understand that!" cried Lukas eagerly. Our conversation was only just beginning to interest him. "How well I understand! That is just how I was affected by my war experiences. I thought I had experienced them clearly and vividly, I was almost bursting with images of them; the roll of film in my head seemed miles long. But when I sat at my writing-desk, on a chair, by a table, the razed villages and woods, the earth tremors caused by heavy bombardment, the conglomeration of filth and greatness, of fear and heroism, of mangled stomachs and heads, of fear of death and grim humor, were all immeasurably remote, only a dream, were not related to anything and could not really be conceived.

You know that despite this, I finally wrote my war-book and that it is now read and discussed a great deal. But do you know, I do not think that ten books like it, each one ten times better and more vivid than mine, could convey any real picture of the war to the most serious reader, if he had not himself experienced the war. And there were not so many who had. Even those who participated in it did not for a long time experience it. And if many really did so — they forgot about it again. Next to the hunger to experience a thing, men have perhaps no stronger hunger than to forget."

He was silent and looked perplexed and lost in thought. His words had confirmed my own experiences and thoughts.

After a time I asked him warily, "Then how was it possible for you to write the book?"

He thought for a moment, brought back from his reflections. "It was only possible for me to do it," he said, "because it was necessary. I either had to write the book or be reduced to despair; it was the only means of saving me from nothingness, chaos and suicide. The book was written under this pressure and brought me the expected cure, simply because it was written, irrespective of whether it was good or bad. That was the only thing that counted. And while writing it, there was no need for me to think at all of any other reader but myself, or at the most, here and there another close war-comrade, and I certainly never thought then about the survivors, but always about those who fell in the war. While writing it, I was as if delirious or crazy, surrounded by three or four people with mutilated bodies — that is how the book was produced."

And suddenly he said — it was the end of our first conversation: "Forgive me, I cannot say any more about it, not a single word more. I cannot, I will not. Good-bye."

He pushed me out.

At our second meeting he was again calm and collected, had the same ironical smile and yet seemed to treat my problem seriously and to understand it fully. He made a few suggestions which seemed, however, of little use to me. At the end of the second and last conversation, he said to me almost casually:

"Listen, you continually come back to the episode with the servant Leo. I do not like it; it seems to be an obstacle in your way. Free yourself, throw Leo overboard; he seems to be becoming a fixed idea."

I wanted to reply that one could not write any books without fixed ideas. Instead he startled me with the quite unexpected question: "Was he really called Leo?"

There was perspiration on my brow.

"Yes," I said, "of course he was called Leo."

"Was that his Christian name?"

I stammered.

"No, his Christian name was — was — I don't know it any more. I have forgotten it. Leo was his surname. That was what everyone called him."

While I was still speaking, Lukas had seized a thick book from his writing-desk and was turning over the leaves. With amazing speed he found and put his finger on a place on an open page in the book. It was a directory, and where his finger lay stood the name Leo.

"Look," he laughed, "we already have a Leo. Andreas Leo, 69a Seilergraben. It is an unusual name; perhaps this man knows something about your Leo. Go and see him; perhaps he can tell you what you want to know. I can't say. Forgive me, my time is limited. I am very pleased to have seen you."

I reeled with stupefaction and excitement as I closed his door behind me. He was right. I could get nothing more from him.

On the very same day I went to Seilergraben, looked for the house and inquired about Mr. Andreas Leo. He lived in a room on the third floor. He was sometimes at home on Sundays and in the evenings; during the day he went to work. I inquired about his occupation. He did this, that and the other, they said; he could do manicures, chiropody and massage; he also made ointments and herbal cures. In bad times, when there was little to do, he sometimes also occupied himself by training and trimming dogs. I went away and decided it was better not to visit this man, or, at any rate, not to tell him of my intentions. Nevertheless, I was very curious to see him. I therefore watched the house during the next few days during my frequent walks, and I shall also go there today, for up till now I have not been successful in meeting Andreas Leo face to face.

Oh, the whole business is driving me to despair, and yet it makes me happy, or rather excited and eager. It gives importance to myself and my life again, and that had been very much lacking.

It is possible that the practitioners and psychologists who attribute all human action to egoistic desires are right; I cannot indeed see that a man who serves a cause all his life, who neglects his pleasures and well-being, and sacrifices himself for anything at all, really acts in the same way as a man who traffics in slaves or deals in munitions and squanders the proceeds on a life of pleasure.

But, no doubt, I should immediately get the worst of it and be beaten in an argument with such a psychologist, for psychologists are, of course, people who always win. As far as I am concerned, they may be right. Then everything else that I have considered good and fine, and for which I have made sacrifices, has only been my egoistic desires. Indeed, every day I see my egoism more clearly in my plan to write some kind of history of the Journey to the East. At the beginning, it seemed to me that I was undertaking a laborious task in the name of a noble cause, but I see more and more that in the description of my journey I am only aiming at the same thing as Mr. Lukas with his war-book; namely, at saving my life by giving it meaning again.

If I could only see the way! If I could only make one step forward.

"Throw Leo overboard, free yourself from Leo!" Lukas said to me. I could just as much throw my head or my stomach overboard to get rid of them!

Dear God, help me a little.

 

 

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