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Europe is on the road to bankruptcy

Hilde looked at her watch. It was already past four o\'clock. She laid the ring binder on her desk and ran downstairs to the kitchen. She had to get down to the boathouse before her mother got tired of waiting for her. She glanced at the brass mirror as she passed.

She quickly put the kettle on for tea and fixed some sandwiches.

She had made up her mind to play a few tricks on her father. Hilde was beginning to feel more and more allied with Sophie and Alberto. Her plan would start when he got to Copenhagen.

She went down to the boathouse with a large tray.

"Here\'s our brunch," she said.

Her mother was holding a block wrapped in sandpaper. She pushed a stray lock of hair back from her forehead. There was sand in her hair too.

"Let\'s drop dinner, then."

They sat down outside on the dock and began to eat.

"When\'s Dad arriving?" asked Hilde after a while.

"On Saturday. I thought you knew that."

"But what time? Didn\'t you say he was changing planes in Copenhagen?"

"That\'s right.

Her mother took a bite of her sandwich.

"He gets to Copenhagen at about five. The plane to Kristiansand leaves at a quarter to eight. He\'ll probably land at Kjevik at half-past nine."

"So he has a few hours at Kastrup ..."

"Yes, why?"

"Nothing. I was just wondering."

When Hilde thought a suitable interval had elapsed, she said casually, "Have you heard from Anne and Ole lately?"

"They call from time to time. They are coming home on vacation sometime in July."

"Not before?"

"No, I don\'t think so."

"So they\'ll be in Copenhagen this week... ?"

"Why all these questions, Hilde?"

"No reason. Just small talk."

"You mentioned Copenhagen twice."

"I did?"

"We talked about Dad touching down in ..."

"That\'s probably why I thought of Anne and Ole."

As soon as they finished eating, Hilde collected the mugs and plates on the tray.

"I have to get on with my reading, Mom."

"I guess you must."

Was there a touch of reproach in her voice? They had talked about fixing up the boat together before Dad came home.

"Dad almost made me promise to finish the book before he got home."

"It\'s a little crazy. When he\'s away, he doesn\'t have to order us around back home."

"If you only knew how much he orders people around," said Hilde enigmatically, "and you can\'t imagine how much he enjoys it."

She returned to her room and went on reading.

Suddenly Sophie heard a knock on the door. Alberto looked at her severely.

"We don\'t wish to be disturbed."

The knocking became louder.

"I am going to tell you about a Danish philosopher who was infuriated by Hegel\'s philosophy," said Alberto.

The knocking on the door grew so violent that the whole door shook.

"It\'s the major, of course, sending some phantasm to see whether we swallow the bait," said Alberto. "It costs him no effort at all."

"But if we don\'t open the door and see who it is, it won\'t cost him any effort to tear the whole place down either."

"You might have a point there. We\'d better open the door then."

They went to the door. Since the knocking had been so forceful, Sophie expected to see a very large person. But standing on the front step was a little girl with long fair hair, wearing a blue dress. She had a small bottle in each hand. One bottle was red, the other blue.

"Hi," said Sophie. "Who are you?"

"My name is Alice," said the girl, curtseying shyly.

"I thought so," said Alberto, nodding. "It\'s Alice in Wonderland."

"How did she find her way to us?"

Alice explained: "Wonderland is a completely borderless country. That means that Wonderland is everywhere--rather like the UN. It should be an honorary member of the UN. We should have representatives on all committees, because the UN also arose out of people\'s wonder."

"Hm ... that major!" muttered Alberto.

"And what brings you here?" asked Sophie.

"I am to give Sophie these little philosophy bottles."

She handed the bottles to Sophie. There was red liquid in one and blue in the other. The label on the red bottle read DRINK ME, and on the blue one the label read DRINK ME too.

The next second a white rabbit came hurrying past the cabin. It walked upright on two legs and was dressed in a waistcoat and jacket. Just in front of the cabin it took a pocket watch out of its waistcoat pocket and said:

"Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!"

Then it ran on. Alice began to run after it. Just before she ran into the woods, she curtsied and said, "Now it\'s starting again."

 "Say hello to Dinah and the Queen," Sophie called after her.

Alberto and Sophie remained standing on the front step, examining the bottles.

"DRINK ME and DRINK ME too," read Sophie. "I don\'t know if I dare. They might be poisonous."

Alberto merely shrugged his shoulders.

"They come from the major, and everything that comes from the major is purely in the mind. So it\'s only pretend-juice."

Sophie took the cap off the red bottle and put it cautiously to her lips. The juice had a strangely sweet taste, but that wasn\'t all. As she drank, something started to happen to her surroundings.

It felt as if the lake and the woods and the cabin all merged into one. Soon it seemed that everything she saw was one person, and that person was Sophie herself. She glanced up at Alberto, but he too seemed to be part of Sophie\'s soul.

"Curiouser and curiouser," she said. "Everything looks like it did before, but now it\'s all one thing. I feel as if everything is one thought."

Alberto nodded--but it seemed to Sophie that it was she nodding to herself.

"It is Pantheism or Idealism," he said. "It is the Romantics\' world spirit. They experienced everything as one big \'ego.\' It is also Hegel--who was critical of the individual, and who saw everything as the expression of the one and only world reason."

"Should I drink from the other bottle too?"

"It says so on the label."

Sophie took the cap off the blue bottle and took a large gulp. This juice tasted fresher and sharper than the other. Again everything around her changed suddenly.

Instantly the effects of the red bottle disappeared and everything slid back to its normal place. Alberto was Alberto, the trees were back in the woods and the water looked like a lake again.

But it only lasted for a second, because things went on sliding away from each other. The woods were no longer woods and every little tree now seemed like a world in itself. The tiniest twig was like a fairy-tale world about which a thousand stories could be told.

The little lake suddenly became a boundless ocean-- not in depth or breadth, but in its glittering detail and the intricate patterns of its waves. Sophie felt she might spend a lifetime staring at this water and to her dying day it would still remain an unfathomable mystery.

She looked up at the crown of a tree. Three little sparrows were engrossed in a curious game. Was it hide-and-seek? Sophie had known in a way that there were birds in this tree, even after she had drunk from the red bottle, but she had not really seen them properly. The red juice had erased all contrasts and all individual differences.

Sophie jumped down from the large flat stone step they were standing on and bent over to look at the grass. There she discovered another new world--like a deep-sea diver opening his eyes under water for the first time. In amongst the twigs and straws of grass, the moss was teeming with tiny details. Sophie watched a spider make its way over the moss, surefooted and purposeful, a red plant louse running up and down a blade of grass, and a whole army of ants laboring in a united effort in the grass. But each tiny ant moved its legs in its own particular manner.

The most curious of all was the sight that met her eyes when she stood up again and looked at Alberto, still standing on the front step of the cabin. In Alberto she now saw a wondrous person--he was like a being from another planet, or an enchanted figure out of a fairy tale. At the same time she experienced herself in a completely new way as a unique individual. She was more than just a human being, a fifteen-year-old girl. She was Sophie Amundsen, and only she was that.

"What do you see?" asked Alberto.

"I see that you\'re a strange bird."

"You think so?"

"I don\'t think I\'ll ever get to understand what it\'s like being another person. No two people in the whole world are alike."

"And the woods?"

"They don\'t seem the same any more. They\'re like a whole universe of wondrous tales."

 "It is as I suspected. The blue bottle is individualism. It is, for example, S0ren Kierkegaard\'s reaction to the idealism of the Romantics. But it also encompasses another Dane who lived at the same time as Kierkegaard, the famous fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. He had the same sharp eye for nature\'s incredible richness of detail. A philosopher who saw the same thing more than a century earlier was the German Leibniz. He reacted against the idealistic philosophy of Spinoza just as Kierkegaard reacted against Hegel."

"I hear you, but you sound so funny that I feel like laughing."

"That\'s understandable, just take another sip from the red bottle. Come on, let\'s sit here on the step. We\'ll talk a bit about Kierkegaard before we stop for today."

Sophie sat on the step beside Alberto. She drank a little from the red bottle and things began to merge together again. They actually merged rather too much; once more she got the feeling that no differences mattered at all. But she only had to touch the blue bottle to her lips again, and the world about her looked more or less as it did when Alice arrived with the two bottles.

"But which is true?" she now asked. "Is it the red or the blue bottle that gives the true picture?"

"Both the red and the blue, Sophie. We cannot say the Romantics were wrong in holding that there is only one reality. But maybe they were a little bit narrow in their outlook."

"What about the blue bottle?"

"I think Kierkegaard must have taken a few hefty swigs from that one. He certainly had a sharp eye for the significance of the individual. We are more than \'children of our time.\' And moreover, every single one of us is a unique individual who only lives once."

"And Hegel had not made much of that?"

"No, he was more interested in the broad scope of history. This was just what made Kierkegaard so indignant. He thought that both the idealism of the Romantics and Hegel\'s \'historicism\' had obscured the individual\'s responsibility for his own life. Therefore to Kierkegaard, Hegel and the Romantics were tarred with the same brush."

 "I can see why he was so mad."

"S0ren Kierkegaard was born in 1813 and was subjected to a very severe upbringing by his father. His religious melancholia was a legacy from this father."

"That sounds ominous."

"It was because of this melancholia that he felt obliged to break off his engagement, something the Copenhagen bourgeoisie did not look kindly on. So from early on he became an outcast and an object of scorn. However, he gradually learned to give as good as he got, and he became increasingly what Ibsen later on described as \'an enemy of the people.\' "

"All because of a broken engagement?"

"No, not only because of that. Toward the end of his life, especially, he became aggressively critical of society. \'The whole of Europe is on the road to bankruptcy,\' he said. He believed he was living in an age utterly devoid of passion and commitment. He was particularly incensed by the vapidness of the established Danish Lutheran Church. He was merciless in his criticism of what you might call \'Sunday Christianity.\' "

"Nowadays we talk of \'confirmation Christianity.\' Most kids only get confirmed because of all the presents they get."

"Yes, you\'ve got the point. To Kierkegaard, Christianity was both so overwhelming and so irrational that it had to be an either/or. It was not good being \'rather\' or \'to some extent\' religious. Because either Jesus rose on Easter Day--or he did not. And if he really did rise from the dead, if he really died for our sake--then this is so overwhelming that it must permeate our enti............
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