25 September 2015

Vanishing Point (2)

(My translation of the beginning of Peter Weiss's novel Fluchtpunkt continues below.)


I did not come as a fugitive or asylum-seeker.  I came to Stockholm in order to live here as a painter, and at first I had money, which I had laid aside each month when I worked at a factory. There was no lost homeland for me and no thought of a return, since I had never belonged to any country. Because Max did not recognize this freedom, and wanted to see my present situation in relation to the events of the time, I gave him a picture of the background I had broken from.  My father came from a Hungarian village.  His parents, who had traded in grain there, had been faithful Jews, though he himself had converted to Christianity when he moved to Vienna in his early years.  My mother's parents came from Strasbourg and Basel, and one of her ancestors had been a peasant leader who wielded a pitchfork during the Thirty Years War. During the World War my father served with the Austro-Hungarian army.  He was wounded by Russian machine gun fire and was awarded a decoration and the rank of lieutenant. He was proud of these distinctions and displayed them on ceremonial occasions. I passed the first years of my life in the Galician steppe, where my father had been transferred, and among my earliest memories are the soldiers marching through clouds of dust, and the Polish farmer's wives who offered to sell fat, white geese to my mother, and bent their broad faces playfully over the carriage where I lay.  After the war my father received Czechoslovakian citizenship on account of the newly drawn borders.  But he became a resident of Germany, and I passed my youth there.  That I was no German, and was descended on my father's side from Jews, I discovered only just before my emigration.  I had been baptized and had gone through Christian religious instruction and confirmation, indifferent and half dazed as with everything that came to me in my education.  My speech was not associated with any region, since we moved often from town to town.  I was at home around harbors, in fairs and circus tents, where people's minds were open to mutability and wandering, where one's gaze was directed into the vastness of things.  There I left behind the world of Russians and French, English, Americans, Scandinavians, and nothing held me back from being at home in my thoughts.  I was kindred with Gauguin in Tahiti, with van Gogh in Arles, with Myshkin in St. Petersburg, Lieutenant Glahn in the Norwegian forest and Fabrice in the Charterhouse of Parma.  The abrupt designation as foreigner and half-Jew, the ban on participation in the common salutation, made no impression on me, since for me the question of nationality and racial identity were indifferent.  In our family nothing was ever said regarding political issues.  My father was in favor of the existing order; he did not criticize nationalism, and his wartime experiences had made him no opponent of militarization. He had even strongly desired that I do military service, because he saw it as a school that would be able to make me into a man. I did not come into contact with radical circles.  What turmoil I experienced was directed not against the middle classes, but only against the oppression that limited my personal freedom.  I knew nothing of social arguments; in art I found the only weapon with which I was able to make an assault or defend myself. In art there were no borders, no nations. Uli, my school friend, was cosmopolitan like me.  We were fellow expeditioners—in the libraries, the museums, the concert halls.  When I emigrated with my family to England, it was just another move.  I followed along with the household; I would have remained, if my father had not possessed the vision, the resolve and the means to to escape danger at the right time.  Uli, and my other school friends, remained behind.  Uli drowned during the occupation of Denmark.  His corpse washed up on the shore.