Pandemic Conversations 2: Unica Zürn and Miguel de Unamuno


04 May

During the pandemic lockdown I've overheard certain conversations. I've recorded some. Here's the second.

Two strangers meet during their lockdown walk in a park. The daylight is strong, and the breeze clean and wide.They stand in sunshine away from the few other solitary walkers . They linger briefly, exchange their ideas and then walk away. The man looks like Miguel de Unamuno and the woman Unica Zürn. 

Unica Zürn: There cannot ever have been a spring more beautiful than this. I did not know until now that clouds could be like this. I did not know that the sky is the sea and that clouds are the souls of happy ships, sunk long ago. I did not know that the wind could be tender, like hands as they caress - what did I know - until now? 

Miguel de Unamuno: The secret of human life, the universal secret, the root secret from which all other secrets spring, is the longing for more life, the furious and insatiable desire to be everything else without ever ceasing to be ourselves, to take possession of the entire universe without letting the universe take possession of us and absorb us; it is the desire to be someone else without ceasing to be myself, and continue being myself at the same time I am someone else.. 

UZ: To die in a foreign land - I have read this somewhere and had never forgotten. Ah! One evening though! But the birds still sing and the sun doesn't want to go down. I know that only when it is dark I will have the courage to face death.

MU: Warmth, warmth, more warmth! For we are dying of cold and not darkness. It is not the night that kills, but the frost.

UZ: My flat mate. She climbed to the windowsill, clung to the sash beam, and looked at her reflection like a shadow in the mirror one last time. She finds herself cute. A little bit of regret interferes with her determination. "Here it is done," she said quietly, and felt her feet dead before she left the window sill. 

MU: The secret of human life, the universal secret, the root secret from which all other secrets spring, is the longing for more life, the furious and insatiable desire to be everything else without ever ceasing to be ourselves, to take possession of the entire universe without letting the universe take possession of us and absorb us; it is the desire to be someone else without ceasing to be myself, and continue being myself at the same time I am someone else... 

UZ: Relief from hope means complete freedom. 

MU: Life is doubt, and faith without doubt is nothing but death. Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual. 

UZ: In all her games horror and danger dominated. She unreservedly indulged in drama. For her, the monotonous and protected life of the family was boring, and everything was allowed as long as you keep the excitement. She said life, without misfortune, is unbearable. 

MU: Beneath the current of our existence and within it, there is another current flowing in the opposite direction. In this life we go from yesterday to tomorrow, but there we go from tomorrow to yesterday. The web of life is being woven and unraveled at the same time. And from time to time we get breaths and vapors and even mysterious murmurs from that other world, from that interior of our own world. The inner heart of history is a counter-history; it is a process which inverts the course of history. The subterranean river flows from the sea and back to its source.

UZ: But how long must I sing in the darkness until I am at last allowed out into the light of day? 

MU: The vanity of the passing world and love are the two fundamental and heart-penetrating notes of true poetry. And they are two notes of which neither can be sounded without causing the other to vibrate. The feeling of the vanity of the passing world kindles love in us, the only thing that triumphs over the vain and transitory, the only thing that fills life again and eternalizes it. 

UZ: Lovers invent a howling theatrical language through which it becomes possible to express the grief of the whole world, a language understood by no one but the two of them. 

MU: There is no true love save in suffering, and in this world we have to choose either love, which is suffering, or happiness. And love leads us to no other happiness than that of love itself and its tragic consolation of uncertain hope. The moment love becomes happy and satisfied, it no longer desires and it is no longer love. The satisfied, the happy, do not love; they fall asleep in habit, near neighbor to annihilation. To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be. We are the more—that is the more divine—the greater our capacity for suffering, or rather, for anguish. 

UZ: That sounds as if one was mistaken in believing that love protects life. As if it were a lie that love is a blessing. 

MU: The truth is that my mission is to shatter the faith of everyone here, there, and everywhere, faith in affirmation, faith in negation, and faith in abstention in faith, and this for the sake of faith in faith itself; it is to war against all those who submit, whether it be to Catholicism, or to rationalism, or to agnosticism; it is to make everyone live the life of inquietude and passionate desire. 

UZ: What my flat mate sees on the ledge: Large shapes — like wings — float up to her, opening and closing — gently at first — until they slowly fill the room and she has the impression that she is in the presence of apparitions which are not at all related to this world. None of her acquaintances has ever mentioned similar apparitions to her. These beings — she can not describe them in any other way, reveal that they have the clear and frightening intention of encircling her. They exude a feeling of dissipation, of annihilation, and her forgotten childhood fear of the horrible and inexplicable returns to her. Whenever these birdless, greyish-black wings fly up too close to her, she raises her hand in a sudden anxiety and fends them off. They retreat for a moment into the background of the dark room, then approach once again, and slowly she gets used to this strange presence until she notices that the wings are insubstantial and can fly straight through her upright body, as if she herself had become bodiless. This both entrances and appalls her. Looking at them carefully, these creatures have in fact nothing terrifying about them — they lack eyes and faces, and they radiate an enormous dignity, an uncanny seriousness, something very noble. 

MU: Her body ... her body ... yes, her body is magnificent, splendid, divine; but it is that her body is soul, pure soul, all of it life, all of it meaning, all of it idea! Through women you will see the entire universe. One night there lowered into my mind one of those dark, sad, and mournful dreams which I cannot banish from my thoughts.. I dreamed that I was married, that I had a child, that this child died, and that over its body…I said to my wife: “Behold our love! Shortly it will decay: this is the way everything ends. 

UZ: She wants to look beautiful after she is dead. She wants people to admire her. Never has there been a more beautiful dead child. 

MU: In touching your own nothingness, in not feeling your permanent base, in not reaching your own infinity, still less your own eternity, you will have a whole-hearted pity for yourself, and you will burn with a sorrowful love for yourself--a love that will consume your so-called self-love, which is merely a species of sensual self-delectation, the self-enjoyment, as it were, of the flesh of your soul. 

UZ: From my earliest childhood, the first woman’s eyes I encountered conveyed the same uncontrollable anguish spiders cause me…This is why I very soon divided myself into two halves. Someone travelled inside me, crossing from one side to the other. I have become his home. Outside, in the black landscape with the bellowing cow, someone is maintaining that they exist. From his gaze the circle closes around me. Traversed by him inwardly, encircled by him from without — that is my new situation. And I like it. 

MU: The supreme beauty is that of tragedy. The consciousness that everything passes away, that we ourselves pass away, and that everything that is ours and everything that environs us passes away, fills us with anguish, and this anguish itself reveals to us the consolation of that which does not pass away, of the eternal, of the beautiful. 

UZ: If woman is to put into form the ‘ule’ [Greek: matter] that she is, she must not cut herself off from it nor leave it to maternity, but succeed in creating with that primary material that she is […] Otherwise, she risks using or reusing what man has already put into forms, especially about her, risks remaking what has already been made, and losing herself in that labyrinth. 

MU: Charity forgets, forgiveness is forgetfulness. Woe to that person without forgetting! It is the most diabolical revenge ... The criminal must be forgiven his crime, the virtuous his virtue, the proud his arrogance, the humble his humility. We must forgive everyone for being born. 

UZ: Since yesterday I know why I am making a book: in order to remain ill for longer than is correct. I can slip in a fresh page every day…My better half, which is clever and wise, wants me to remain ill for sometime, for it knows that one can gain from an illness such as mine. My worse half wants me to return to my few duties, yes, feels that it is time for me to show some consideration for my surroundings, which, incidentally, are not large…Perhaps I should now quickly smuggle another couple of empty pages into this book? Forgetting one’s duties has for me the taste of sweet cream. 

MU: Days come and days go and love remains. Inside, deep inside, in the bowels of things, the current of this world rubs against each other with the opposite current of the other, and from this rubbing and rubbing comes the saddest and sweetest of pains: that of living. 

UZ: I always need a companion to tell me what to do…They just have to say “now you do this, now you do that. 

MU: We men do nothing but lie and make ourselves important. Speech was invented for the purpose of magnifying all of our sensations and impressions — perhaps so that we could believe in them. 

UZ: Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.

They walk away in opposite directions whilst the sun continues to shine. If they are worried it is about returning home and the door closing behind them for another day.