Natural History

On Peter Handke: Langsame Heimkehr

Karsten Sand Iversen

Karsten Sand Iversen is Denmark's premier translator of literature from various languages, primarily English and German, but also from other Nordic languages.

The movement of a journey, from departure to homecoming, is probably the oldest and truest form of storytelling. The hero sets out in order to meet adventure, to experience and assimilate the world. External elements, riches and reputation, are secondary, however, to what is won in terms of the growth of personality and self knowledge. The real object of the journey is not what is foreign and unknown, which are more means to an end, but the hero himself, his mirroring of the Other. He journeys out to return home — literally to his place on earth and community that is his own; figuratively to himself, as himself: transformed, made real, whole. The journey is a construction, a vehicle for the progress of the tale, while its long, enduring life as epic structure depends on its also embodying one existential fact: the growth of the mind, the realisation of self. In the journey and by means of it, one becomes who one is. Behind these processes of recognition and completion, lie humanity’s elementary meeting with the world and metabolic exchange within it. These are oscillations between subject and object, consciousness and being. And in this sense, the journey's narrative is a philosophical form.

Langsame Heimkehr, is a philosophizing, self-reflective travel-log that moves from a radical disgust with and rejection of the age, of history, of “the century”, towards a growing acceptance of the same and the hope for a redemption of the disappointing world. The drawn out homecoming is suspended — literally, in the airspace high above the homeland, figuratively, in the uncertainty about the nature of the redemption that is attained. Although the story is set in “the present”, Handke’s style is close to his exemplars, Goethe and Adalbert Stifter. A complex syntax stretches the sentences to the breaking point and makes possible a density of images and thoughts that slows down the tempo, stops the steady flow of time, and may be experienced as the drilling of a core through the sediments of time; it is at the same time a reflective, synthesising way of writing, in which the observations, thoughts and actions of the characters are always interpreted in advance, not refracted through the author’s superior prism, but through a number of contiguous, contextual prisms. This story is to an extraordinary degree narrated, without the intention of creating a realistic, psychological trompe l’œil. The space of the text, in Jürgen Wolf’s words, “is poetry’s absolute space”.

The hero, the geologist Sorger, senses adventure and danger ahead when he stands on the threshold of his homecoming. Departure and the journey-out precede the story, but it is apparent that he has left the Europe of his origins, Central Europe, because of a “compulsion to flee”, not by necesssity. The geologist's departure is thus explained negatively, thus amplifying the need for reconciliation and homecoming that is every literary and existential journey’s aim. The motives for Sorger’s departure are said to have been guilt — private, self-inflicted — which regards a family disaster, the loss of a home and the writer's separation from his child, as well as an inherited feeling of complicity in the genocide of his father and of his fatherland (Austria). Sorger strives idealistically for an embracive fulfillment of goodness, peace and beauty (an “impossible” idealistic dream of redemption which seems to be embedded in his name’s personification of Sorge (sorrow, in German), a concept of the Nazism-tainted Heidegger). He identifies himself with his nation's guilt which, though anachronistic, because Sorger is the same age as his author, who was born in December 1942, catching up with him and petrifying him in his return journey’s preparatory phase. He experiences a “night of the century” in which he, on the one hand , peers into the abyss of his unquestionable similarity to his parents, his inescapable inheritance of Blut und Boden conceptions, of Heimat, while at the same time being able to renounce his father by fighting his way out of the petrification he sees, just then, as his eternal fate.

While Sorger, during the day, through his work in exile, can achieve a feeling of unity with the nature he studies, he during the nocturnal, inevitable defenselessness of sleep, sinks inexorably towards a magnetic horizon where something unpredictable will happen. His distance to Europe becomes painfully apparent and he feels forcibly distanced from it. An irresistible force of gravity, a “homecoming compulsion”, emanates from the forsaken and guilt-ridden. The underground quakes, and the day’s work must heal the night’s ruptures. Sorger’s work is related to the solidified forms left behind by ancient earthquakes.

The homeless Sorger has for some years been more or less a permanent resident of the Pacific coast of the North American continent. The houses in the pine forest-covered earthquake region are reminiscent of “hermit’s huts”. And, hermit-like, alone and foreign, is what Sorger is. His home is also a work-space, his university office, a home — life and work have become one, are one. By existential need and of necessity, Sorger transforms his science into a passion, subjectivises geology in order to reach “beyond the landscape”.

In the first part of the story, “The Forms of the Past”, Sorger undertakes fieldwork in northern Alaska, exactly 180 symbolic degrees from his European home, together with his colleague Lauffer (a play on the German word Laufer, he who runs). Indeed, the names play on the introversion of care and worry, and a more robust, extrovert movement. He can’t get any further away without getting closer to his home. The outermost north and west comprise both a border and a turning point. Beyond the colony, the great river flows through the desolate wilderness, a nameless and placeless world, which for those who, unlike Sorger, don’t believe in “the power of forms” signifies downfall and perdition.

The outpost, the name of which is, tellingly, a simple indication of distance, “Eightmile Town”, eight miles from the Arctic Circle, is mainly inhabited by natives, who have halfway preserved their original nature-bound culture and halfway adopted western civilisation’s sometimes doubtful blessings. The tribal character is gone and the township doesn’t seem to be an organic whole, neither to itself nor to the place. It is haphazzardly scattered across an otherwise untouched surface of the wilderness. Roads without names pass houses without numbers. Paths lead nowhere. Houses seem to have no connection to one another. The parts don’t seem to combine into a whole. It is as though the wilderness imposes itself or breaks up, or that the power of civilisation is insufficient when confronted with raw nature. Only when seen from a plane does this unconnected aggregation appear as order and form.

The wilderness is a world that precedes humans, and apart from a few scattered natives, it is a world devoid of humans. Things are given names as needed, which is to say subjected to civilisation and man-made order. Sorger stands face to face with a purely natural world, empty of meaning; space and time, to the extent that these categories are meaningful there, are formed by the seasons, the millennia. Although Sorger is convinced of the legitimacy, the value of his science, he is challenged by a recognisable problem of perception: How can concepts which have emerged from human history comprehend Earth’s radically different, ahistorical history? Sorger’s greatest problem is how to include the element of time when he studies nature’s “Ur-forms”, and he senses the opportunity to replace the conceptual “Schwindel” (swindle) of science with his own “Schwindel” (dizziness — and swindle?) Dissatisfied with the descriptive dictates of science, which force alien, previously formed meanings onto wordless, passive material, Sorger speculates about his own solution. For when he tries to imagine the relationship between a landscape’s manifold forms, their age and creation, he begins to fantasise and knows then that he, without being a philosopher, philosophises quite naturally. Lauffer likewise wrestles with notions which are neither science nor the philosophy of science. They seek to overcome the dualism subject-object, I-world, outside of the empirical and logical field of perception — in the regions of the imagination.

Sorger brings with him a reservoir of “spaces”, places he empathises with and can constantly seek out. As a hermit he has developed a need to always know exactly where he is, a “religious — or hysterical? — place-seeking” intended to compensate for the loss of his closest fellow humans, home — in the broadest sense. Only a continued, intense empathising with places of the moment can maintain a vital connection to the remembered space and create wholeness in Sorger’s fractured being. Sometimes however, he betrays his belief in the power of forms, and is tempted by an urge towards despair and eternal oblivion, a mystical devotion to an unconscious being within nothingness, which is to say formlessness, as when he one evening is drawn towards a glowing expanse of sky and earth in one great undifferentiated absence of perspective. But the flight into nothing is counteracted at times by “raging self-conquest”, an attempt to reconcile things. This happens when Sorger forces himself to take seriously nature’s most minute forms: the groove in a stone, the changing nuances of the mud, the sand around a plant. With the absolute seriousness of a child, he must penetrate the naive intimacy of immediacy, and in deep concretisation overcome the feeling of misplaced guilt. By winning for himself a sense of belonging in the temporary home of a space, he saves himself from losing sight of himself and his human, social skills. In fact, it is even said that the intimate occupation with the earth’s forms has saved his soul from the “Great Formlessness” that is ruled purely by humours and moods. Form annuls the tyranny of randomness which is related to war and chaos. After wrestling with the landscape, he sometimes succeeds, “in blissful exhaustion”, in bringing both newly conquered and older spaces under a “dome” that encompasses heaven and earth, a holiness which is also open to “the others”. This reconciliation with the world occurs in a religiously-coloured universalisation of the emotion of the moment as omni-present; the deceased loved ones (Sorger is “the survivor”) breathe with him, and even the most remote object of his love is present in a neighbouring space. In this imaginary presence, all compulsions of flight and homecoming are suspended. No forced partaking in the lives of the permanent residents is necessary. This holiness is a brief realm of peace, a home for a soul with no place in this world. When Handke, as quoted above, is open to the idea that Sorger’s place-seeking might slip into the hysterical, he is presumably aiming for a conception such as that in which metaphysics approaches pure solipsism.

Sorger is conscious of the fact that he makes religion of his science, a religiosity without god or almighty redeemer. He speaks instead of a form of meditation, a practicing of familiarity with the world: to call forth through empathy a feeling of complicity with “the object”. In moments of contemplation he has a brief insight into what is good and beautiful, and this knowledge may be made eternal with the help of forms. Handke understands form as a restless unity of idea and object, and if one indulges in the shaping of form, one attains oneself in the image of the form. This is the religion or mysticism which Sorger cultivates in his forming of nature’s Ur-forms. The rhythms of transformation are so slow they cannot be sensed by the time-bound, historical human and thus appear as eternal. Sorger’s religious approach to science is a subjective destruction of the categorical differentiation between consciousness and being. After the months spent in Alaska, he is able to feel, elatedly, that he has made the place’s natural world “his highly personal space”. The Ur-forms, more precisely, prehistoric forms, are not only the object of a geologist’s factual measuring and observation but also, and more important, the medium for an existential attempt at healing as well as a breakthrough on the boundary between language and silence.

Sorger’s research has never been of direct use to specific individuals or even to society. He hasn’t taken part in a oil drilling operation. Nor has he predicted earthquakes. His work in Alaska is no doubt connected to his position at the American university, but is justified neither practically nor scientifically. Its existence seems justified solely in itself and in himself. His understanding of himself has never been that of the scientist. He sees himself, at the most, as a “conscientious presenter of landscapes”. The mapping of geological forms is pure research, free of external interests, and its self-justification has crucial similarities to aesthetic labour. Sorger, the imaginative, naturally philosophising, practitioner of religion, uses artistic methods in his inner journey’s aim of reconciliation. And like an artist, he works on the edge of what is named, on the border of a place without words.

Sorger doesn’t photograph the landscape for scientific purposes but, anachronistically, prefers to draw it. Only then does it become comprehensible and present to him in all its ever-surprising, manifold forms. That which at first glance (which, precisely, is the photograph’s) seemed uniform and barren reveals, in the corporeal labour of drawing, a wealth of variation. Instead of speedy, mechanical reproduction resulting in objective representation, he chooses a more deliberate, slower, kind of seeing, a factual seeing whereby consciousness, via the hand, converts into marks. This provides physical evidence of spirit's or the mind's meeting with the material, since he foregoes the “stenographic” conventions of his science, as well, and draws naturalistically. The recreating of nature’s forms as marks on paper is the meditation in which subject and object unite in an indissoluble complementarity of relations. Only when this is brought to its conclusion can Sorger, with a clean conscience, say to himself that he has been in the given (and taken) place. Been, in a fervent sense, animated and animating. It is a question of a being raised above the linear flowing of time, of a “vertical existence” in pure spatiality, in Albert Dam’s words.

If the suspension of time succeeds (the story’s great image of this is the river in Alaska that does indeed flow, but is shaped, with its bends that transverse the east-west direction, like a broad, stagnant lake, like time frozen in space), the forms exude a supportive and calming effect, and Sorger can collect himself for a brief moment and make himself invulnerable. To remain in an imaginary, fictive space is to find a temporary and fragile home, a reconciliation. This magic is that of the artist as he constructs the order and unity of his work; it is also that of the person who makes use of art, as he allows himself to be surrounded and shaped by the work’s form.

There is a stretch of landscape that Sorger draws daily. In the foreground is a fissure created by an earthquake (near the house by the Pacific coast he draws the overgrown fissure left by a catastrophic earthquake). In the background, are the remains of a loess terrace. And in the middle ground, there is a smooth expanse of steppe, without any particular surface forms. In the beginning, he draws the middle stretch solely out of “an urge to fill in the space”; it is of no interest to him , though it exists as the natural right of all things. Over time however, this nondescript element takes form. It responds to the labour of drawing, exposing it, lifts it out of its anonymity and makes it capable of being described. Consciousness’s urgent processing fills in the empty surface, grants it meaning, differentiates it and opens it up to language so that it becomes habitable. To use a concept from sociology, this inclusion in the human sphere could be called acculturation. The process also revitalizes Lessing’s idea, in his essay on the Laocoon, that an image, in contrast to a text, is seen at a single glance. Optically, simultaneous sensation is possible, but images too must be taken in, decoded, read. And thus time is allowed to creep in.

Sorger plans to write down these experiences in a paper, “On Space”, in which he will have to exceed geology’s accepted methods, while at the same time they structure his imagination. Sorger sees the creation of space as a human need, perhaps a retention of nature’s soul against science’s understanding of abstract measuring and description. As part of composing the paper, he plans to visit old European places that are related to or consist of remembered space, “childhood geography” as he calls it. He speaks about the project as a useless game or play- acting, but dreams of it “as though everything depended on it”. And in literature, as we know, “as though” is the author’s signal to the reader to read “actually”.

The founding of the middle ground’s space with the aid of the specification of the marks, creates openings and unities in Sorger’s mind and breaks down the barriers of alienation. The unimportant stretch now appears to be “a humane valley in a possible eternal peace”, peopled by Native Americans, who are no longer seen as a hostile race and semi-civilised people in a non-place. Here, in a coherent village society, everything is suddenly to be found. His own existence becomes self-evident. He can imagine staying there forever, even being of use, being part of a something meaningful. His half-hearted erotic relationship with a nameless(!) native woman takes on enormous fullness when, one night, they grow into “the world for each other”. Sorger’s newly won rich space forms the first “possibility for staying”, something that even his homeland didn’t offer him. The intoxication of utopia culminates in a wholly thought unity with the world, in which the century's as well as the human timescale are suspended and replaced by nature’s timescale, the cyclical season free of and beyond History. In this vision, Sorger reaches the border of pure idealism which he is unable to transcend.

The culmination of all this occurs immediately before his departure from Alaska, when Sorger rediscovers his sense of passing time, “which he so placidly had forgotten in the previous days’ weightless existence”. The seductive image space of the middle ground has robbed him of a sense of self as form. Now he awakens to a new consciousness and can with certainty establish that to be "nothing' is not what he seeks. The journey into the slow time of the Ur-forms, which is space, reaches its conclusion. While Sorger bids the place farewell, it combines into a whole within him. This is now the only place in the world “worthy of giving a name”, but which, precisely, has no proper name, and is surrounded by a circular road he sees now as... closed. But his own vision of a life within the confines of that circle can now be dismissed as “going round in circles, mind games”. He realises that he can’t physically step into his self-made image. The Native Americans by the river, “the great water family”, speak, and Sorger hears the incomprehensible sounds as his parents’ remote dialect — which could very well be from Handke’s own Slovenian-speaking mountain valley in Kärnten. On the one hand, the valley of peace on earth has been found, which is to say, thought into existence, in this Ultima Thule. On the other hand, a small enclave of Central Europe speaks through it. The space of childhood, of origin, is embedded in the fictive space and determines the journey’s direction.

Standing on the banks of the river, Sorger takes leave of the Great Water and sees, at that moment, a network of cracks in the dried mud, almost regular polygons. This image of rupture and separation now functions to draw together all the cells in his body. “I am the one who decides”, he says as though a demiurge, and is filled with anticipation of harmony and a new self-awareness. The ecstasies of empathy that made him unbalanced, and the quasi-religious devotion to the Ur-forms must make way for the insight that his own story hasn’t been concluded and can thus remain in his imagined security. The dimension of time is once more awakened in him and carries him out of the space that is free of history. The dream of a reconciled life in peace and goodness does not leave him, but cannot be realised in a nameless world.

The evening before his departure, brought about, in practical terms, by a forthcoming sabbatical year, but which is also a logical consequence of (cause of?) his newly raised consciousness, Sorger senses danger and adventure, as though he had just removed himself from his loved ones with no chance of turning back. And in a certain sense he has turned back: he departs from the spaces and images he has plotted just as he once left those he loves in Europe, both living and dead. He is therefore alone, perhaps for all time, among the extremes in his life and, gripped by the journey’s intoxicating freedom, he shouts for joy: “Nobody knows where I am!” Full of expectation about the future, he takes the postal flight which is, however, forced to turn back because of a snowstorm. Even this short absence reveals how impossible it is to return. The spell the place had cast is broken, Sorger sees only a threadbare fabrication in which he had dreamed his cold Arcadia; he feels stupid and deceived. The disillusion is complete when a drunkard smashes his suitcase and puts him into a fit of rage and hatred towards everyone. Sorger experiences this violent act as contempt for his person, for his photographs, drawings, and notes for the paper on space, for accumulated experience and memory. Wishing only for peace and reconciliation within himself and in the world, he feels deeply affected in the way he thinks about himself, and so fragile is his newly won form and direction that the banal event threatens to make him fall apart. An evening in “impeccable friendliness” with Lauffer offers him restitution, however. The next day, he is able, with a new suitcase , to fly from the nameless world back to a world that is obsessed with names.

Sorger’s return to the historically rich western world in the story’s second part, “The Prohibition of Space”, is marked by two profound crises: the earthquake mentioned in “the night of the century”, which is to say the Nazi Twilight of the Gods which is followed by healing, space and the edifying labour of drawing in the area where an earthquake fissure is covered by overgrowth to become a peaceful park; and the decisive prohibition of space, the invasion of time. In mitigating contrast to this stand his relations with the Central European family next door whose humble, bourgeois life of peace and tolerance, goodness and love, “a possible life of innocence”, occupies him while he concludes his affairs before the journey to Europe. This family circle has established itself in a sort of “valley of peace”. The woman in particular exerts an attraction on Sorger. When she sees him one evening from a bus window without recognizing him, without reading his signs, it triggers the sudden, though unsurprising, insight that he is a counterfeiter. His space doesn’t have a true existence (cf. dizziness/swindle in the transcendent recognition of the Ur-forms) and he thinks it is all over for him now. His future plans of taking refuge in spaces are destroyed, unsparingly revealed as an untenable fiction. The free “Nobody knows where I am” becomes the forsaken “There is no one for me any more. Everyone has someone else.” Also the woman’s qualities were, presumably, imagined by Sorger since recognition never materialised.

In this moment of insight and despair, the husband living next door drives past, easily recognising Sorger, even giving him a lift. In the home of his neighbor, Sorger now steps across a threshold into “the game of the world”, again. He repeats, several times with emphasis, “This is me”. He has to reassure himself that he is who he thinks he is, that he recognises himself. He cannot be alone for one moment. He realises, without saying it directly, that a person is only a person in society when he is with others. At a single stroke, he loses his great space of pure fantasy and now docilely immerses himself in minutia and what is close at hand. The warm bosom of the family engulfs him as a concrete and possible form of the utopia of peace for which he so fervently longs. The warm, limited bourgeois idyll functions for Sorger, at least for the time being, as a realisation of a life that is reconciled.

Within this moment of total loss, when all spaces break apart, Sorger's spontaneous thought is that he would like to return home; not only to his own country, but to the very house he was born in. At the same time, he would be happy to remain a foreigner, close to a neighbouring couple like that of his hosts. He doesn’t want to be left out, doesn't want to fall apart. He wants to enter living, actual spaces, achieve some form of intimacy (use the intimate form of you, thou) and responsibility. His goal is to “be himself in a better way”, be consummated in goodness and purity and return home to his ideal self.

While Sorger has sought the natural world, on the edge of civilisation, he now sees a redemption in culture and can lay claim to “the world” and “his century”, which have previously been sources of hate and guilt. Opening up to the reality of western civilisation, with all its barbarity, represents a breakthrough. Sorger can once again feel longing and, without anxiety, think of the child he has in Europe. He turns around 180 degrees, turns his condition at the beginning of the narrative right around. What had been abandoned and repressed comes alive once more as a future possibility. The chapter of Sorger’s life before the journey eastwards to the centre of the west results, with a quotation from a distant predecessor, a Roman naturalist from the time when science still stood in close relation to poetry, reassured about the eternity of the material “while the rest dissolves”. Sorger confirms that the phase of airy space has been replaced by the precedence of the material. The prohibition of space is definitely put into effect.

The journey home, in the section “The Law”, is introduced with a feeling of lightness, of something newly beginning. The aeroplane moves with time (while Sorger in Alaska moved out of time) and he flies in his inner life too. A stopover in “Mile High City” becomes an unplanned stay; Sorger wants to visit an old school friend, but the friend has just passed away. This confirms Sorger in his desire to never again come too late. In the plane to New York, he decides to meet “his people” soon. When he, in his thoughts, looks up his siblings who were separated at the death of their parents, he has to acknowledge (not an enmity that can be reconciled) a passive indifference that doesn’t even warrant reconciliation. They simply await one another’s death. And when Sorger later calls Europe from New York, “one” doesn’t ask whether he is soon coming home. He experiences that he simply isn’t needed. On the other hand he needs, precisely, to complete his journey.

Sorger finds a fellow passenger on the plane who, like him, a Central European (everywhere on his stations Sorger only meets Central Europeans, no randomly irrelevant people, as though they somehow point the way home), is “verfügbar”, available. Sorger has in other words retained, saved his social skills which are elsewhere called “eligibility”, which the spaces were to have ensured. The unknown person, with the name Esch, familiar to some from Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers, seeks redemption of the problem Sorger is in the process of overcoming: the impossibility of returning to Europe. Sorger is at home in New York, “the city of cities”, or the most advanced expression of western civilisation. At the hotel, he doesn’t need to “work his way in” in order to feel comfortable, and when he steps out of a lift he sees himself as “one of the lift party”. The world is now, so to speak, his natural element, and time takes on a new character, it no longer means desolation and downfall but unification, safety, peace and quiet. Briefly it even appears as a “benign God”, who must be presumed to have a redemptive power.

Sorger is in search of a law, if not a general then a personal one, and it comes to him in one of those moments of clarity that indicate a change in his life. He sits at a coffee bar and feels like a resident, a native of the city, so natural is his presence, so securely is the actual space rooted in time. It is filled with everything human and becomes homey. Any feeling of alienation is remote in this basically anonymous and foreign place. The place is animated by an ideal unity: “A common drawing of breath enveloped those present”. This moment then becomes legislative. Sorger renounces his guilt and commits himself to intervention, to taking part. Instead of fleeing into nature’s Ur-forms, here he accepts the world and acknowledges that history isn’t just a succession of evils one has to suffer through impotently, but also a peace-creating form (which is to say, a form at all), because he can now exorcise the past’s spectres of guilt. “I declare myself responsible for my past, long for eternal reason and never want to be alone anymore”. The real, he concludes, is the peaceful.

When Sorger goes to bed that evening, he doesn’t sink towards a threatening horizon. He feels seen and good, hears the words “I love you” and senses an answering you ( the German intimate du form). Europe lies beneath him like a “naturally echoing labyrinth”, and he sees his life described in a “Great Handwriting”. An enigmatic sentence emerges luminously: “He was in fact himself as well as the mirror. Nothingness and gravity touched one another”. German keeps the nominative, “he was he”. The statement is a self-reflection, and he was mirrored where nothingness and gravity met (dignity, weightiness, but also the force of gravity that binds to the earth?). Similarly, Sorger experiences, in dreams, that everything he had wished were organic in him was organic, everything inorganic, inorganic. Whereas his dreams in Alaska filled his mind with stones, here a reconciled order is established. In reunification with the world he left behind, Sorger becomes who he is. When he later goes to church he receives the host as “the adult”, the transformation of the image into body, blessing. The redeemed homecoming is furthermore symbolically predicted when he witnesses a “south Slavic’ (read Slovenian) street parade.

But the reawakened power of longing that will unite the individual and the universe, Sorger’s metaphysical striving for the ideal, is followed by a flash of lightning, a sudden insight, and it is as if he, from his universal pretensions, is forced back into himself. In his urge to heal the world, Sorger suddenly sees a fundamental absence, neither founded in him personally nor in the historical epoch he now irrevocably embraces. In spite of all passionate striving, he experiences a deficit. He achieves “much too little”.

For a brief moment, he has imagined humanity’s apotheosis in harmony and peace. He believed in mercy and once felt his eyelids to be salved “by the eternal wild need for redemption”. This need, he now understands, can never be realistically satisfied. It must remain a dream. He is obliged to come to terms with the realm of what is possible as well as acknowledging the limitations of the world. When he finally flies towards Europe it is, therefore, his first real journey. It is real, one must understand, precisely because it cannot end in universal redemption and eternal peace but must make do with something much more worldly. On the last leg “I, Sorger”, the self-assured New Yorker, travels as No Man. The homecoming occurs in namelessness, he no longer knows who he is. The loss of the claim to the universal has erased his identity and name, and which redemption can then take place? In this narrative, the plane never actually lands, even though it does breach the clouds in its rapid descend towards the earth. The question is whether precisely “no one” is the only possible redemption for Sorger, the man who isn’t needed. Doesn’t he land having grown wiser? To be no one is to be everyone. To be no one is to have a clean slate? To be reborn as Everyman.

The narrative concludes with a quotation from a poem: “Face that drifts away! The stones at my feet bring you closer: / Immersing myself in them / I burden us with them.” The geologist returns home to the stones at his feet, the pavement’s, the paving’s, the field’s? And he looks precisely there for the “face that drifts away”, the yearned-for redeemer. Eternity is in the material, in the world, everything else dissolves. Form endures.

© Karsten Sand Iversen. Translation: Christopher Sand-Iversen and the editors.