Saturday, December 15, 2012

Creating the character excerpt from...
The Guiltless
by Hermann Broch

On the assumption that ideas reflecting the universality of the median may prove universally fruitful, let the hero be localized in the middle class of a medium-sized provincial town, perhaps the former capital of one of the lesser German principalities--time 1913--, in the person of a high school teacher.  It may further be assumed that if this man taught mathematics and physics he had been brought to this occupation by a small talent for exact disciplines; he had no doubt applied himself to his studies with laudable devotion, reddened ears, and a certain joyful trepidation, though it must be owned that he neither contemplated the higher principles nor aspired to the higher tasks of the discipline in question, but firmly believed that from the standpoint both of career and of intellectual achievement his teacher's certificate was the highest goal to which he could attain.  For a character constructed of middling qualities does not waste much thought about the spuriousness of things and of knowledge; they merely strike him as weird; he knows only operational problems, problems of classification and combination, never those of existence, and regardless of whether forms of life or algebraic formulas are involved, the one thing that really matters to him is that they should "come out even"; for him mathematics consists of "assignments" to be done by him or his students, and he looks upon his daily schedule and his financial worries as assignments of precisely the same order: even the so-called enjoyment of life is to him an assignment, a state of affairs prescribed partly by tradition and partly by his colleagues.  Wholly determined by the things of a flat outside world in which petty-bourgeois house furnishings and Maxwell's Law are scattered about as harmonious equals, a man of this stamp works in the laboratory and in school, gives private lessons, rides in the streetcar, drinks beer on occasional evenings, goes to the brothel afterward, goes to the doctor's, and sits at his mother's table at vacation time; black-rimmed fingernails grace his hands, reddish-blond hair his head, of disgust he knows little, but linoleum strikes him as a suitable floor covering.

Can such a minimum of personality, such a non-self, be made into an object of human interest?  Might one not just as well develop the history of some dead thing, of a shovel, for instance?

No comments: