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HERMINE, MARIA, PABLO

Harry walks the streets, afraid to go home. He is determined to commit suicide but is terrified of dying. Chilled and exhausted, he finds himself at the Black Eagle, the tavern and dance hall that the peddler at the funeral recommended. There Harry meets a bar girl who invites him to sit down, and a new adventure begins.

The bar girl is no ordinary prostitute. When Harry tells her about his dinner at the professor's house, she doesn't hesitate to rebuke Harry for having acted childishly. As the lively conversation continues, she exhibits an insight into Harry that seems almost clairvoyant. She takes him in charge, ordering wine and food for him and commanding him to eat and drink, teasing him because he knows Latin and Greek but never learned to dance. She coaxes him into telling her his name (but she won't tell him hers), that he is divorced but has a sweetheart although not nearby, and why he is afraid to go home. When she goes off to dance, promising to come back, she orders him to take a nap. Obediently, he falls asleep.

He dreams of being a reporter waiting for an interview with Goethe. He is bothered by a scorpion climbing up his leg, and shakes it off but doesn't dare search for it. He is confused about whether he is waiting for some other Romantic poet, but Goethe at last appears, pompous and ministerial. Haller as reporter begins his interview by accusing Goethe of insincerity. Goethe understood the hopeless struggle of human beings to achieve the eternal of the spirit and the lost innocence of nature while locked into the mortality of a lifetime. At the same time, Goethe in his long life pretended to have discovered the eternal but only mummified it, and to have spiritualized nature but only hid it with a pretty mask.


Goethe replies by referring to Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute, Harry's favorite. But, says Harry, Mozart did not pretend to be so important-he simply sang his divine music and died. (Mozart died at the age of 35.) Goethe amiably apologizes for having lived to be eighty-two. He admits that he feared death, longed to live to one hundred, and that to the end of his life he had a child's curiosity and love of play.

At that the old man straightens and becomes rosy and youthful, and the star of some honorary order on his breast blossoms into wildflowers. He whispers into Harry's ear that Harry must not take old dead people so seriously: "We immortals like joking," he says. Seriousness is an accident of time, and in eternity there is no time. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke, says the old man, and he breaks into a merry dance. So Goethe learned to dance, Harry thinks in his dream.

Harry asks about Molly, a heroine of the Romantic era, and Goethe offers him a tiny effigy of a woman's leg, which turns into the scorpion. With this he teases Harry, meanwhile changing back into an old man, a thousand years old, laughing soundlessly at Harry. Harry wakes up.

NOTE: DREAMS

Dreams are important in the novel, as they are in psychoanalytic theory, which regards them as expressions of the unconscious, often confusingly masked. In this dream Harry attacks Goethe with the philosophical dilemma that is always on his mind: the struggle between flesh and spirit, mortality and eternity, and how to make life bearable. But in his dream he also finds a recommendation that he is too serious, recalling the advice of the Treatise on humor, and he discovers that Goethe could dance, recalling the bar girl's astonishment that Harry never had learned how. Matthisson and Burger, whom Harry thinks of in his dream, are two Romantic poets, contemporaries of Goethe. The scorpion with a sting in its tail is one of many crawling creatures that are interpreted in psychoanalytic theory as symbols of sex in dreams and that can simultaneously repel and attract the dreamer.

On waking, since he is still afraid to go home, Harry takes his new friend's advice and sleeps that night at the tavern. He awakes restored and goes home, where his landlady invites him to tea. He relaxes in her respectable, motherly company, and converses humorously on the decline of civilization, a subject about which he would ordinarily be bitter. Harry seems to be taking the advice of the Treatise (and of Goethe in his dream), and is using humor to make life bearable.

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