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Fragment #16 / The Letter of Lord Chandos (1902) – Hugo Von Hofmannsthal

In brief, this is my case: I have completely lost the ability to think or speak coherently about anything at all.


First I gradually lost the ability, when discussing relatively elevated or general topics, to utter words normally used by everyone with unhesitating fluency. I felt an inexplicable uneasiness in even pronouncing the words “spirit,” “soul” or “body.” I found myself profoundly unable to produce an opinion on affairs of court, events in Parliament, what have you. And not out of any kind of scruples-you know my candor, which borders on thoughtlessness. Rather, the abstract words which the tongue must enlist as a matter of course in order to bring out an opinion disintegrated in my mouth like rotten mushrooms.



But this affliction gradually broadened, like spreading rust. Even in simple, informal conversation, all the opinions which are ordinarily offered casually and with the sureness of a sleepwalker became so fraught with difficulties that I had to stop participating in these conversations at all. It filled me with inexplicable fury (I concealed it just barely and with effort to hear such things as: This matter turned out well or badly for this person or that; Sheriff N. is a bad person, Clergyman T. is good; we ought to feel sorry for Farmer M., his sons are throwing their money away; someone else is to be envied because his daughters arc thrifty; one family is coming up in the world, another is on the way down. All of this seemed to me as unprovable, as false, as full of holes as could be. My mind forced me to see everything· that came up in these conversations as terrifyingly close to me. Once I saw through a magnifying glass that an area of skin on my little finger looked like an open field with furrows and hollows. That was how it was for me now with people and their affairs. I could no longer grasp them with the simplifying gaze of habit. Everything came to the pieces broke into more pieces, and nothing could be encompassed by one idea. Isolated words swam about me; they turned into eyes that stared at me and into which I had to stare back, dizzying whirlpools which spun around and around and led into the void.