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the path of mystery leads inwards

Hilde let the heavy ring binder slide into her lap. Then she let it slide further onto the floor.

It was already lighter in the room than when she had gone to bed. She looked at the clock. It was almost three. She snuggled down under the covers and closed her eyes. As she was falling asleep she wondered why her father had begun to write about Little Red Ridinghood and Winnie-the-Pooh ...

She slept until eleven o'clock the next morning. The tension in her body told her that she had dreamed intensely all night, but she could not remember what she had dreamed. It felt as if she had been in a totally different reality.

She went downstairs and fixed breakfast. Her mother had put on her blue jumpsuit ready to go down to the boathouse and work on the motorboat. Even if it was not afloat, it had to be shipshape when Dad got back from Lebanon.

"Do you want to come down and give me a hand?"

"I have to read a little first. Should I come down with some tea and a mid-morning snack?"

"What mid-morning?"

When Hilde had eaten she went back up to her room, made her bed, and sat herself comfortably with the ring binder resting against her knees.

*    *    *

Sophie slipped through the hedge and stood in the big garden which she had once thought of as her own Garden of Eden . . .

There were branches and leaves strewn everywhere after the storm the night before. It seemed to her that there was some connection between the storm and the fallen branches and her meeting with Little Red Ridinghood and Winnie-the-Pooh.

She went into the house. Her mother had just gotten home and was putting some bottles of soda in the refrigerator. On the table was a delicious-looking chocolate cake.

"Are you expecting visitors?" asked Sophie; she had almost forgotten it was her birthday.

"We're having the real party next Saturday, but I thought we ought to have a little celebration today as well."


"I have invited Joanna and her parents."

"Fine with me."

The visitors arrived shortly before half-past seven. The atmosphere was somewhat formal--Sophie's mother very seldom saw Joanna's parents socially.

It was not long before Sophie and Joanna went upstairs to Sophie's room to write the garden party invitations. Since Alberto Knox was also to be invited, Sophie had the idea of inviting people to a "philosophical garden party." Joanna didn't object. It was Sophie's party after all, and theme parties were "in" at the moment.

Finally they had composed the invitation. It had taken two hours and they couldn't stop laughing.

Dear. . .

You are hereby invited to a philosophical garden party at 3 Clover Close on Saturday June 23 (Midsummer Eve) at 7 p.m. During the evening we shall hopefully solve the mystery of life. Please bring warm sweaters and bright ideas suitable for solving the riddles of philosophy. Because of the danger of woodland fires we unfortunately cannot have a bonfire, but everybody is free to let the flames of their imagination flicker unimpeded. There will be at least one genuine philosopher among the invited guests. For this reason the party is a strictly private arrangement. Members of the press will not be admitted. With regards,Joanna Ingebrigtsen (organizing committee)

and Sophie Amundsen (hostess)

The two girls went downstairs to their parents, who were now talking somewhat more freely. Sophie handed the draft invitation, written with a calligraphic pen, to her mother.

"Could you make eighteen copies, please." It was not the first time she had asked her mother to make photocopies for her at work.

Her mother read the invitation and then handed it to Joanna's father.

"You see what I mean? She is going a little crazy."

"But it looks really exciting," said Joanna's father, handing the sheet on to his wife. "I wouldn't mind coming to that party myself."

Barbie read the invitation, then she said: "Well, I must say! Can we come too, Sophie?"

"Let's say twenty copies, then," said Sophie, taking them at their word.

"You must be nuts!" said Joanna.

Before Sophie went to bed that night she stood for a long time gazing out of the window. She remembered how she had once seen the outline of Alberto's figure in the darkness. It was more than a month ago. Now it was again late at night, but this was a white summer night.

Sophie heard nothing from Alberto until Tuesday morning. He called just after her mother had left for work.

"Sophie Amundsen."

"And Alberto Knox."

"I thought so."

"I'm sorry I didn't call before, but I've been working hard on our plan. I can only be alone and work undisturbed when the major is concentrating wholly and com-pletely on you."

 "That's weird."

"Then I seize the opportunity to conceal myself, you see. The best surveillance system in the world has its limitations when it is only controlled by one single person ... I got your card."

"You mean the invitation?"

"Dare you risk it?"

"Why not?"

"Anything can happen at a party like that."

"Are you coming?"

"Of course I'm coming. But there is another thing. Did you remember that it's the day Hilde's father gets back from Lebanon?"

"No, I didn't, actually."

"It can't possibly be pure coincidence that he lets you arrange a philosophical garden party the same day as he gets home to Bjerkely."

"I didn't think about it, as I said."

"I'm sure he did. But all right, we'll talk about that later. Can you come to the major's cabin this morning?"

"I'm supposed to weed the flower beds."

"Let's say two o'clock, then. Can you make that?"

"I'll be there."

Alberto Knox was sitting on the step again when Sophie arrived.

"Have a seat," he said, getting straight down to work.

"Previously we spoke of the Renaissance, the Baroque period, and the Enlightenment. Today we are going to talk about Romanticism, which could be described as Europe's last great cultural epoch. We are approaching the end of a long story, my child."

"Did Romanticism last that long?"

"It began toward the end of the eighteenth century and lasted till the middle of the nineteenth. But after 1850 one can no longer speak of whole 'epochs' which comprise poetry, philosophy, art, science, and music."

"Was Romanticism one of those epochs?"

"It has been said that Romanticism was Europe's last common approach to life. It started in Germany, arising as a reaction to the Enlightenment's unequivocal emphasis on reason. After Kant and his cool intellectualism, it was as if German youth heaved a sigh of relief."

"What did they replace it with?"

"The new catchwords were 'feeling,"imagination,"experience,' and 'yearning.' Some of the Enlightenment thinkers had drawn attention to the importance of feel-ing--not least Rousseau--but at that time it was a criticism of the bias toward reason. What had been an undercurrent now became the mainstream of German culture."

"So Kant's popularity didn't last very long?"

"Well, it did and it didn't. Many of the Romantics saw themselves as Kant's successors, since Kant had established that there was a limit to what we can know of 'das Ding an sich.' On the other hand, he had underlined the importance of the ego's contribution to knowledge, or cognition. The individual was now completely free to interpret life in his own way. The Romantics exploited this in an almost unrestrained 'ego-worship,' which led to the exaltation of artistic genius."

"Were there a lot of these geniuses?"

"Beethoven was one. His music expresses his own feelings and yearnings. Beethoven was in a sense a 'free' artist--unlike the Baroque masters such as Bach and Handel, who composed their works to the glory of God, mostly in strict musical forms."

"I only know the Moonlight Sonata and the Fifth Symphony."

"But you know how romantic the Moonlight Sonata is, and you can hear how dramatically Beethoven expresses himself in the Fifth Symphony."

"You said the Renaissance humanists were individualists too."

"Yes. There were many similarities between the Renaissance and Romanticism. A typical one was the importance of art to human cognition. Kant made a considerable contribution here as well. In his aesthetics he investigated what happens when we are overwhelmed by beauty--in a work of art, for instance. When we abandon ourselves to a work of art with no other intention than the aesthetic experience itself, we are brought closer to an experience of 'das Ding an sich.' "

 "So the artist can provide something philosophers can't express?"

"That was the view of the Romantics. According to Kant, the artist plays freely on his faculty of cognition. The German poet Schiller developed Kant's thought further. He wrote that the activity of the artist is like playing, and man is only free when he plays, because then he makes up his own rules. The Romantics believed that only art could bring us closer to 'the inexpressible.' Some went as far as to compare the artist to God."

"Because the artist creates his own reality the way God created the world."

"It was said that the artist had a 'universe-creating imagination.' In his transports of artistic rapture he could sense the dissolving of the boundary between dream and reality.

"Novalis, one of the young geniuses, said that 'the world becomes a dream, and the dream becomes reality.' He wrote a novel called Heinrich von Ofterdingen set in Medieval times. It was unfinished when he died in 1801, but it was nevertheless a very significant novel. It tells of the young Heinrich who is searching for the 'blue flower' that he once saw in a dream and has yearned for ever since. The English Romantic poet Coleridge expressed the same idea; saying something like this:

What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?"

"How pretty!"

"This yearning for something distant and unattainable was characteristic of the Romantics. They longed for bygone eras, such as the Middle Ages, which now became enthusiastically reappraised after the Enlightenment's negative evaluation. And they longed for distant cultures like the Orient with its mysticism. Or else they would feel drawn to Night, to Twilight, to old ruins and the supernatural. They were preoccupied with what we usually refer to as the dark side of life, or the murky, uncanny, and mystical."

"It sounds to me like an exciting period. Who were these Romantics?"

"Romanticism was in the main an urban phenomenon. In the first half of the last century there was, in fact, a flourishing metropolitan culture in many parts of Europe, not least in Germany. The typical Romantics were young men, often university students, although they did not always take their studies very seriously. They had a decidedly anti-middle class approach to life and could refer to the police or their landladies as philistines, for example, or simply as the enemy."

"I would never have dared rent a room to a Romantic!"

"The first generation of Romantics were young in about 1 800, and we could actually call the Romantic Movement Europe's first student uprising. The Romantics were not unlike the hippies a hundred and fifty years later."

"You mean flower power and long hair, strumming their guitars and lying around?"

"Yes. It was once said that 'idleness is the ideal of genius, and indolence the virtue of the Romantic.' It was the duty of the Romantic to experience life--or to dream himself away from it. Day-to-day business could be taken care of by the philistines."

"Byron was a Romantic poet, wasn't he?"

"Yes, both Byron and Shelley were Romantic poets of the so-called Satanic school. Byron, moreover, provided the Romantic Age with its idol, the Byronic hero--the alien, moody, rebellious spirit--in life as well as in art. Byron himself could be both willful and passionate, and being also handsome, he was besieged by women of fashion. Public gossip attributed the romantic adventures of his verses to his own life, but although he had numerous liaisons, true love remained as illusive and as unattainable for him as Novalis's blue flower. Novalis became engaged to a fourteen-year-old girl. She died four days after her fifteenth birthday, but Novalis remained devoted to her for the rest of his short life."

"Did you say she died four days after her fifteenth birthday?"

 "Yes . . ."

"I am fifteen years and four days old today."

"So you are."

"What was her name?"

"Her name was Sophie."


"Yes, it was. . ."

"You scare me. Could it be a coincidence?"

"I couldn't say, Sophie. But her name was Sophie."

"Go on!"

"Novalis himself died when he was only twenty-nine. He was one of the 'yun9 dead.' Many of the Romantics died young, usually of tuberculosis. Some committed suicide . . ."


"Those who lived to be old usually stopped being Romantics at about the age of thirty. Some of them went on to become thoroughly middle-class and conservative."

"They went over to the enemy, then."

"Maybe. But we were talking about romantic love. The theme of unrequited love was introduced as early as 1774 by Goethe in his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. The book ends with young Werther shooting himself when he can't have the woman he loves . . ."

"Was it necessary to go that far?"

"The suicide rate rose after the publication of the novel, and for a time the book was banned in Denmark and Norway. So being a Romantic was not without danger. Strong emotions were involved."

"When you say 'Romantic/ I think of those great big landscape paintings, with dark forests and wild, rugged nature ... preferably in swirling mists."

"Yes, one of the features of Romanticism was this yearning for nature and nature's mysteries. And as I said, it was not the kind of thing that arises in rural areas. You may recall Rousseau, who initiated the slogan 'back to nature.' The Romantics gave this slogan popular currency. Romanticism represents not least a reaction to the Enlightenment's mechanistic universe. It was said that Romanticism implied a renaissance of the old cosmic consciousness."

"Explain that, please."

 "It means viewing nature as a whole; the Romantics were tracing their roots not only back to Spinoza, but also to Plotinus and Renaissance philosophers like Jakob Bohme and Giordano Bruno. What all these thinkers had in common was that they experienced a divine 'ego' in nature."

"They were Pantheists then . . ."

"Both Descartes and Hume had drawn a sharp line between the ego and 'extended' reality. Kant had also left behind him a sharp distinction between the cognitive 'I' and nature 'in itself.' Now it was said that nature is nothing but one big 'I.' The Romantics also used the expressions 'world soul' or 'world spirit.' "

"I see."

"The leading Romantic philosopher was Schelling, who lived from 1775 to 1854. He wanted to unite mind and matter. All of nature--both the human soul and physical reality--is the expression of one Absolute, or world spirit, he believed."

"Yes, just like Spinoza."

"Nature is visible spirit, spirit is invisible nature, said Schelling, since one senses a 'structuring spirit' everywhere in nature. He also said that matter is slumbering intelligence."

"You'll have to explain that a bit more clearly."

"Schelling saw a 'world spirit' in nature, but he saw the same 'world spirit' in the human mind. The natural and the spiritual are actually expressions of the same thing."

"Yes, why not?"

"World spirit can thus be sought both in nature and in one's own mind. Novalis could therefore say 'the path of mystery leads inwards.' He was saying that man bears the whole universe within himself and comes closest to the mystery of the world by stepping inside himself."

"That's a very lovely thought."

"For many Romantics, philosophy, nature study, and poetry formed a synthesis. Sitting in your attic dashing off inspired verses and investigating the life of plants or the composition of rocks were only two sides of the same coin because nature is not a dead mechanism, it is one living world spirit."

"Another word and I think I'll become a Romantic."

"The Norwegian-born naturalist Henrik Steffens--whom Wergeland called '............
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