Yesterday, like millions of times before, the trajectory of the moon interrupted that of the sun‘s highbeam in such fashion as to cut short the photons‘ happy jaunt to planet earth. Instead they shone on perfectly white, incredibly still, unsignifying moon rock and moon dust. Shone bright white for no sentient being taking note.
The solar eclipse is not as rare an event as it seems locally. If I stay put here, in Switzerland of banking, milk and superlative social state, I‘d have to attain the ripe old age of 103 years of age to witness the next temporary day-night. Doable but not overly realistic and certainly nothing to sustain my enthusiasm for sucking air. However, if I do as Westerners do and haul gluteus maximus transcontinentally [kicking my aerophobia and environmental considerations to the seven winds], I am assured of one to two eclipses per year.
On this point, our globetrotting ways, the BBC anchor‘s interview with a little lad in Northern England was instructive. She asked the seven year old the how manyeth time he was witnessing the moon blotting out sol, to which he responded with a world- and moon-weary „the second time“. An old hand, tired of this ancient trick; the anchor‘s aspiration came within a few cubic-centimeters of a full-blown gasp, follwing up the initial question with a loss of words.
At any rate, the truth is that there is nothing all too spectacular about this spectacle: the moon glides across the sun‘s shaft [in an entirely non-sexual way], things get a little darker [as in „Oh no, not a rainstorm, please“], a bunch of morons loose their good sight [these regular work-a-jerk sunglasses should perfectly protect me from the blinding UV–rays experts on this particular issue have specifically warned us against 5 trillions times, citing numerous studies that show that normal shades fail to protect one from serious long-term retinal damage], birds keep trilling despite what the tellie-wonks tell us and then, lo and behold, the day continues as per before.
The event is predictable, the event is in a sky available to everybody and the event can be chatted about in ways that are completely separable from both politics and the miseries of the human condition. In many ways this is a collective experience so perfect, so pan–moronic that it cannot but excite 4/5-th‘s of the sentient population.
It turns out it also is a good excuse for consuming day-time alcohol, as many viewers on BBC and The Guardian livefeeds inexplicably went on and on about „having their bubbly at the ready“, „having already popped their bubbly“ or „keeping their bubbly in the cold for a little while longer“. Yes, let‘s raise a glass to the interceding moon „Well done!“ Just the way this unconscious mass of rock had planned it and typed it up, minutely, on its project management tool and then conscientiously realized…step by complex step. No, absolutely, Mr. Moon, two cheers to you! Bravo. As for the day-time alcohol; these Brits appear to have learned nothing from Mad Men: you need no elaborate excuses, you need an elaborate liquor cabinet and a personal office you can lock around lunch hour. The event, dear friends, might just be a non-event.
What it however does do, is spell out cosmic time brutally: 2081 will be the next time an eclipse gives the local pop the heebie–jeebies, a point in time when I‘ll be safely dead, inexist as it were, whereas this inane spectacle will again draw the auto-retina-da-fe crowd like a charm. I dead, you (likely) dead, most of us mostly reduced to our nutrient value, become worms and flowers. While the great moon rolls on, earth slowly slowing its spin inside its trajectory. The steady beat of the moon‘s shadow across the earth, which I will never see again hereabouts, mortal little man that I am. Us poor mortals, surely we must enjoy the eclipses while they last, make our time count, count our time, curse time a cunt.
And then when the sun glides back out from behind the moon [an otherwise resplendently white presence in the welkin, suddenly turned black hole] and blasts life back at us across trillions of kilometers of nothingness, we can easily convince ourselves, with a smile and a half-drained flute of champagne, that, look here now gals&guys, life flows on, the shadow hath passed. Happily realizing that it is still us thinking these very thoughts and not our successors, the eclipse-gazers of 2081.
This here is a small town, not even a city, in a minuscule state, in a tiny country. Even if size doesn‘t matter, allegedly, the smallness can get to you sometimes: isn‘t Pilatus tipping over sideways ready to bonk my mellon? Is the Vierwaldstaettersee going to spill over and wet my rainbowy socks? Can I turn around to listen to you [yeah you, bent to reading, understandably shaking your head at my inanities, stealing glances over at Calvino on the shelf, beckoning you in italianate susurrus] without knocking over Kriens, Ebikon and Buchrain? Duerrenmatt wasn‘t alltogether incorrect: Switzerland feels like a really huge living room. And in a living room, much less in one blue-and-white little dungeon of it, there‘s not space for too much of a crowd [even if that precisely is what everybody appears to be complaining about, that we‘re getting too crowded, that the keel is packed to the gunwales]. Thus the picking of intellectual role-models [hmmm, what a doubtful enterprise…] or at least figures worthy of theoretico-epistemic emulation is dearly slim. Selecting Loetscher, I already do grave damage to the Kantoenligeist, the plucky spirit of each of Switzerlands infinitesimal cantons who prove their independence by surreptitiously spiralling towards the lowest common denominator [e.g. tax breaks for the poor, pitiable affluent, in case you were scratching your head]. KG or not, Loetscher‘s scribbling [Ahhh, The Theater of the Stumbling, The High Ode to Hooch, The Immune One himself …what unforgettable days spent on the letter-strewn beaches of the written page!] is worth anyone breathing‘s attention.
Who else is there? I twist to the left feeling Emmenbruecke dodge my elbow to the South. Was that the Neustadt squiggling under my foot? Pilatus looms & teeters; I pull up my shoulders in promontorial defence and gaze out across the Midlands, farm-flexed rolling greenery to sight‘s end and beyond. From where our country churns out milk, cheese and ethically murky slabs of beef/pork/chicken. Chocolate too, who could forget. My eyes water at the mental scent of cheese, the imagined taste of it, almost shedding tears to flood the town below.
So big, so small, my town, yay tall. Goddamn itch! I scratch my shoulders and damn near tear up the Quartier de Kriens.
Who am I looking for? Which helvetic giant? I can see him, though he isn‘t there anymore, hailing from the same half-arsed hamlet halfway to Germania as my ancestors, Reiden. Even only the shadow of his absent head would blot out our entire new-fangled metropolitan area [Hello Littau & best of luck to Luzern-Sued!]: it is Hans Kueng, one of those enormous public intellectuals who steadfastly uses his mind and seems committed to the Worldspirit, or rather, the Weltethos. A thinker so prolific, complex and ultra-read that reading any one of his numerous books seems like big enough a task of role-model mimicry. What or who is H. Kueng? Lest you already know, ein Denker von Weltformat, as we teutonic-tongued folks would say. His words even glow with the halo of having been excommunicated from the Catholic church: what higher badge of honor could a serious philosopher aspire to? But no, this is not who my gaze searches out. Twin fires burn in the cave of my head, dousing the Luzerner Hinterland in an infernal glow.
All folded up as if crushed by Rigi or Mt. Pilate, as if my brother himself had mistaken me for a large, strange sheet of paper, I blushingly admit to having spent most of my time in the company of Loetscher and none, an embarassing bloated zero, with said Kueng. Whaddreyagonnado?
Stiller. My name is not. Ha.
Ahhh, the smallness of this place even for us mortals. I feel pinched between Bundes– and Paulusplatz. And that disagreeable feeling in my crotch? Is it not the Wasserturm after all? I doubt any of us could stumble and fall without flattening the entire city. I mean town.
How maddeningly cramped then it must be for our greats!? Giants walk this living room, some of them flaunting Lucerne pedigree. [My girlfriend having opened the window to the cool rain-breeze, a sneeze escapes me. It rains over Neustadt. The stunted dimensions of my habitat are never far from my mind. If I blow my nose, will there be a hailstorm in Ebikon? I carefully type on, not moving my elbows too much so as to keep all our neighborhoods well-aligned as they are.]
Who then? Which colossus of the sitting room was I thinking of? Another Hans, Hans Erni! Finally departed at the methuselaic age of a mortality-whopping 106; having worked furiously away at his art until the last bright pale days. Sparkling with wit and insight in an interview just one month past and consequently making me feel prematurely morbid at a jejune 36. To stand as a beacon of life, of human creativity at six years past the century, what a singular achievement! Aye, Switzerland, the planet really, lost one of its greats.
And now the vultures descend, suddenly every two-cent newspaper and magazine has been aware of the man‘s greatness all along, when there was precisely one, TA, doing the interview at his 106th.
It takes a powerful historical imagination to dream up the man‘s life. He was a tender eight years of age, just entering primary school and obviously unable to grasp the bloodshed all around beyond the borders. Always beyond the borders, Switzerland being so uncannily versed at keeping brutality outside its borders even as Europe, time and again, sunk into murderous mayhem. All the while little Hans was probably focussed on getting the proportions on one of his earliest horses right, befuddled by how these huge bodies manage to hurtle away on such skinny stilts. Or maybe not: his family was swaddled in poverty, his machinist father crisscrossing Lake Lucerne in the hot engine room.
Then, when the second round of bloody folly kicked off Hans was already in his ripe thirties and again, pencil or paint-brush in hand, was able to watch the color red soak the continent from blue shore to white-brown heartland. Or perhaps he was in Spain, along the edge of danger, galivanting about with Picasso. Which is to say he was hobnobing with the modernist, creative elite of the age; even if he didn‘t manage or aspire to become one of their luminaries. Am I aiming for an executive biography here? Can one imagine a life not one‘s own? The man traversed the 20th century with paint and pencil and kept his head on, more than that kept a clear idea of what might be life‘s prize:
Q: Heisst das, der Mensch ist für sich und sein Leben verantwortlich? Da ist nicht ein Gott oder eine höhere Macht? – A: Ich möchte nicht von Gott oder einer höheren Macht reden. Ich glaube, die höchste Macht ist um uns und in uns, die müssen Sie nicht irgendwo draussen suchen. Wenn wir sie nicht mittragen, ist der Teufel los.
Q: Ist es für Sie das Wichtigste, positiv durchs Leben zu gehen? – A: Das Positive zu suchen, ist das Allerwichtigste! Wer nur das Negative sieht, wird ein krankhafter Pessimist. Das Positive zu sehen, heisst, die ständige Änderung der Realität anzustreben. Das ist der Kern des Lebens.
And with this clearness of vision he also understood that smallness can never be an impediment. Thus the NewsObserver quotes him: “I am convinced that it is possible to express something even on the smallest space — supposing that you have something to say.”
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