Sunday, 27 January 2013

To Rebecca Friedländer in Berlin (Frau von F.) Berlin, December 14, 1807

Read this letter as if it arrived next week. I wrote it yesterday. It's a good one.
    Even though speaking and writing don't help anything, one should not stop speaking and writing! This dismal sentence, of which each half is true only in itself, is only a joke! This morning I wasn't being clear; and you didn't understand me either. What we talked about is too important to me and it reached a point where it must be made clear - all the more since our current half-understanding would have to lead to a wrong-understanding - that I not pursue it with you with all my strength and best insight.
    What we really understand by the word human is that creature which engages in rational associations with its peers, in a relationship with a consciousness that we ourselves are able to shape, and are even compelled to shape continually. Whatever we may be, whatever we may do, we all have the need to be lovable. All of us follow this beautiful, pure, most human, lovable instinct. In the highest sense - but also down to the most disparate - the whole life-web of humans as humans is nothing but this, modified into infinity. In you - as in any delicate, lively soul - this need is also very keen. But what in the world is more lovable - and happier - than a soul open to everything that can happen to human beings! And what else yields a purer frame of mind than this very condition, which through its permanence, through its sheer existence elevates and propagates itself! The entire world gains you and you gain the entire world! Give up the idea - still the mistaken idea of so many good people - that you can comprehend but one object with your whole soul. Impress upon yourself the thought that for one moment the conviction takes root in you of what it is like to be lovable, and you are it! It is not, as you wrote me today, "work" which I demand - something you are incapable of today, something of which one is always incapable - rather I demand one moment of conviction, one moment of healthy attitude.
    More humiliated than I one cannot be, more sorrow one cannot enjoy; a greater misfortune in everything one values most or least one does not experience, any greater loss one does not see; a more painful youth up to the age of eighteen one does not experience, more ill one cannot be, or nearer insanity; and I have loved. But when did the world not speak to me, when didn't everything human affect me, every human interest: suffering and art and jest! The moment pain and a searing longing tear the soul apart can't one, shouldn't one want to unearth the treasures of one's mind? That is when one must feed on one's supply, the supply of treasures, the supply of highest human interests, of human interest. Don't tell me that only natural gifts enable one to do this, and that I, for example, shouldn't compare myself with you. Anyone who can reason as you can about various matters has the power: only your interest lies in the wrong direction.
    An educated human being is not the one whom nature has treated extravagantly; an educated human being is one who uses his talents benevolently, wisely, and appropriately in the highest manner: who wants to do this in earnest; who can gaze steadily where he is lacking and realize what he lacks. To my mind this is a duty and not a gift; and this alone constitutes for me an educated human. That's why I want you to see what you have failed to do. This raises one more to a general level - à généraliser - so that the general does not lead to the specific, but the other way round. This is very lovable; this would make you entirely lovable. This you can achieve; for it comes suddenly through a thought; just as the opposite came to you also through a thought. And I repeat what I have already said: people like us will only get well when they conceive the greatest loathing for being sick; when they are permeated with the idea that to be healthy is highly lovable. You can't imagine how convinced I am: I'd like to give you that conviction in a potion. But it will work, I'm sure! Just be very coquettish!

 - Rahel Varnhagen.

Picture: Pencil drawing of Rahel Varnhagen by Wilhelm Hensel (1822).

No comments:

Post a Comment