About the Author
Peter Filkins is an acclaimed translator and the recipient of a Berlin Prize fellowship in 2005 from the American Academy in Berlin, among other honors. He teaches writing and literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Driven forth, certainly, yet without understanding, man is sub- jected to a fate that at one point appears to consist of misery, at another of happiness, then perhaps something else; but in the end everything is drowned in a boundlessness that tolerates no limit, against which, as many have said, any assertion is a rarity, an island in a measureless ocean. Therefore there is no cause for grief. Also, it’s best not to seek out too many opinions, because, by linking delusions and fears to which we are addicted, strong views keep you constantly drawn to what does not exist, or even if it did, would seem prohibited. So you find yourself inclined to agree with this or that notion, the emptiness of a sensible or blindly followed bit of wisdom, until you finally become aware of how unfathomable any view is, and that one is wise to quietly refrain from getting too involved with the struggles to salvage anything from the rubbish heap, life’s course demanding this of us already.
Thus some measure of peace is attained. It’s a peace found in endless flight, but nonetheless genuine peace. It is to be sure not an escape from yourself, no matter how much it may seem so, but rather the flight that consists of a ceaseless progression along the winding paths of a solitary realm, and because you abide in this realm you can call it peace, for upon time’s stage everything remains fixed in the present. You’re still a part of this. You travel many roads, and in many towns you appear with your relatives and friends; you stand, you walk, you fall and die. You don’t believe you’re still on the stage, even when you acknowledge you were once on it. But you’re wrong, for they took you away and set you back onstage amid the fleeting journey. You didn’t escape, even when you seemed suddenly sunk, figuratively and literally.
Yet what happens onstage? Many analogies are sought that often capture something essential, but none serves us better than the metaphor of the journey, which we can think of as flight. But what entity is it amid all these travels that recalls its own essence? It’s memory itself, which sets out on the journey and is also dragged along through constant wandering. This entity, however, cannot leave its present location; that’s why it acts in the present and finds space enough to unfold upon a single stage, which allows nothing else to appear but this entity capable of remembering itself, and so the image of the journey as flight arrives at a sense of peace, the entity that experiences it having been born in memory itself.
We are often reproached for the passivity of our beginning, of how reluctant we were to bring matters out into the open. But we cannot blame ourselves for our own expulsion, for that would imply that we wanted to give up. Thus we begin our search for a resting place ever anew; driven perhaps by an insatiability that in the end defines us, we are the heralds of life. The previously drawn analogy between the journey and peace becomes nothing but an analogy unto itself the moment we apply it in practical terms, becoming invalid in the world at large, because now everything appears to be in motion and indeed transforms itself entirely through motion. With good reason, one could speak of a passion or obsession that would sweep others along with us insofar as we are able to capture the living breath of our experience in motion. For indeed, we are our own creation; whether we are denied or accepted at our final end, when one must answer for oneself, much more depends, namely the flourishing of a world that, out of its deepest despair and highest aspirations, is called upon to form its own, in a certain sense, eternal countenance amid the destruction of our only meaningful and yet impalpable achievement, one accomplished in and for itself without the participation and help of the world at large.
Thus peace is let go and is gone, though not entirely; its reflection is and remains discernible for anyone who remains aware, amid the fear and horror of each single moment, when all dignity and secrecy are threatened, that an indestructible kernel persists beneath all the terror of this theater of horrors, a core, one which should never be idealized, since its existence is known only to the searching heart. The unmistakable persistence of this core as the last stop on this journey is at the same time your first and deepest memory, yet that is exactly what we are compelled to remember, the core being so omnipresent that it can be described as neither far nor near. Indeed, that is why it becomes obvious that in the flux of our lives memory always remains, and that, much like a memory, we—and thus an entire world—lack a stable, unchanging place in which to live. Thus we remain in flight, there is no rest for us but the interior that we remember; we are travelers on a journey that not a single one of us chose or planned. This we cannot change, the journey has begun, and now it follows its own path; as it progresses, it does not ask for our approval, it does not care if we love it or hate it, yet it stands in our way as soon as we ourselves resist the way.
Perhaps some still expect to hear where we are headed, or that at least some sense of it will be given. Be patient!—for the aim here to try to depict this rather than describe it is the best response. Those who have their doubts can be assured that the destination will not be forgotten, since worries about the prospect of our final destination drive us all; that’s why we will always make sure to keep the destination in mind, even if reports from the rubbish heap often seem to believe us.
One thing must be made clear, if we assert that we have suffered, suffered a great deal; by that we cannot and do not wish to set ourselves off from the world, which in itself experiences nothing but suffering, yet in our indefatigable readiness to embrace this suffering, we do not allow ourselves to sink further into the horror through which we cannot help but walk. No, we are not lost, even when we assert our loss, in fact the many losses that we—alone for the most part and with our humble powers—cannot make up for. But we have set ourselves on the stage. There, as elsewhere, we wish to appear alone, although we are not forsaken. We are never forsaken.
And so we wish to walk on or not walk at all—for whether or not we walk on or make any progress is certainly not up to us nor anyone else. And so allow us to exist; whether it be in the perpetual motion that brings peace, whether it be in memory that ventures toward peace, either ahead of it or behind, whether it be in flight, one speaks of the fleeting nature of appearances, so let us exist in appearances and remain constantly in motion. Indeed, since our eyes are open, and suffering is not all we experience, but also life, allow us to grant this ever-changing existence so full of memory its only proper name—the journey.