Read The Eternal Philistine Online
Authors: Odon Von Horvath
Now he was pacing up and down in front of Anna’s bed, taking pride in his dialectics. He loved to hear himself talk and he felt on form so he went at it like a bad op-ed.
At first he explained to her that unapproachable women only existed in fairy tales, sagas, and madhouses. He had, you see, given thought to all of these problems and was “speaking here from my own experience acquired through personal, sexual, and sexual-ethical curiosity.” And this is how he immediately recognized that she (Anna) wasn’t a frigid beauty, but rather a deep, calm water—
“What business is that of yours?” she cut him off in a remarkably matter-of-fact way. She liked to see him getting worked up about her yet again. She even yawned.
“Of course it’s none of my business per se,” answered Kastner, suddenly acting very straightforward. “I only had your future in mind, Fräulein Pollinger!”
Future! And it was staring at her again, sitting at the edge of the bed and knitting stockings. The future was an old, withered little woman that resembled her aunt, only it was much older, dirtier, and shiftier.
“I’m knitting, I’m knitting,” nodded the future, “I’m knitting stockings for Anna!”
And Anna yelled: “Just leave me alone! What do you want from me!?”
“I personally don’t want anything from you!” objected Kastner somberly.
The future gave her a furtive look.
Anna did not have anything else to say; Kastner smiled complacently. That is, it had just occurred to him that he would make a good animal tamer. He fixed his gaze on Anna as if she were at least a seal. He would have loved to force her to balance a ball on her nose. He could already hear the applause and was surprised that he wanted to take a bow.
“What the heck was that!?” He gave himself a jolt and, horror-stricken, fled from the circus, which was suddenly on fire, and barked out: “Fräulein Pollinger, let me get to the point! You see, the way you’re conducting your erotic life can no longer be tolerated. Here you are again, jobless, and yet you’re constantly hanging around elements like that wonderful Herr Kobler—”
“I don’t hang around anybody!” she protested vehemently.
“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” he consoled her. “You don’t have to tell me, Fräulein, that you’re not capable of love! Sure, you could get mixed up with any old Kobler, but when you feel like you might be falling in love with all your heart and soul, what do you do? You back down right away. And of course this is not meant to be an accusation. What with your financial situation you’re of course looking to avoid all superfluous complications. But what I’m accusing you of is simply this: you’re wasting yourself. Nowadays even sensuality has got to be made productive. I’m by no means asking you to prostitute yourself, but I’m begging you, for your own sake, to please be more practical!”
“Practical?” thought Anna. It seemed to her like she had never heard this word before. She really should think about herself more often, she continued thinking cautiously. She had the feeling that she was blind and needed to grope her way forward. She actually did think of herself frequently, she continued, but probably just too slowly. If Kastner had never been right about anything, he was surely right about this. She would have to think everything over carefully. So what’s “everything”?
Ever since there were gods and men—put briefly: since there were rulers and ruled—ever since then the phrase holds true: “In the beginning there was prostitution!”
“Discretion is a point of honor!” she heard Kastner saying. And when she recognized him again, he put on an exceedingly sincere face.
You see, it’s like this: when the rulers recognized that they could murder and plunder in a considerably more amusing manner by cloaking themselves in the idealism of a certain crucified person—that is, ever since this crucified person preached that the souls of women were coequal with those of men, ever since then “discretion is a point of honor” has been the motto in prostitution’s coat of arms.
So who would dare to accuse the rulers of today of divesting not only the work but also the relationship between man and woman of its varnished lies and uplifting self-deception by simply posing the question: “So, then, how much does love cost?” Can you blame them for doing it in the full knowledge of their economic power, and for the sake of more affordable bookkeeping? No, you cannot because they are, you see, exceedingly honest.
“How so?” asked Anna, and gave Kastner a perplexed look.
He paused for effect. Then he said: “I’m offering you an opportunity to move into better circles. Do you know the etcher Achner? We’re very close friends. He’s a highly talented artist and right now he’s looking for a suitable model. You could earn ten marks as easy as nothing and you’d have magnificent opportunities to develop. That is, the elites of society all congregate in his atelier—all people with their own cars. Now those are people! You see, my dear Fräulein Pollinger, it actually pains me to see you squandering nature’s gifts in such an impractical manner!”
“It pains me,” the dear Fräulein Pollinger heard him say. She smiled. “And so this is how you deceive yourself,” she said softly. And suddenly she felt sorry for Kastner. She even felt sorry for his pivot teeth, the little ones and the big ones alike.
“Right now I’m thinking in a radically selfless manner.” Kastner gave her a nod and acted really moved.
But of course that was radically different. You see, when he heard that Anna had lost her job, he immediately rushed over to that etcher and offered him a reasonably priced model: medium-size, slender, dirty blond, and she would also know how to take a joke. As it happens, the etcher had been searching for just such a model, so he agreed right away. “Well,” said Kastner, “I’ll show up once you’ve etched one out. I’ll bring some sloe gin, you’ve already got the gramophone—”
Anna was silent.
“There was just a World War,” the thought suddenly crossed her mind. “You can’t just pretend there wasn’t—you mustn’t either.”
THINGS WERE STILL NOT ANY CLEARER FOR HER after Kastner left. All right, so she had given him her word of honor that she would go to Achner tomorrow. Ten marks is a lot of dough. And after all, being a model would be something absolutely reputable, it would be a normal profession. But “getting more practical”—that’s a weighty piece of advice. Got to think that over carefully. You see, poor girls can quickly go off the rails, and nobody ever returns from there.
Kastner’s tempting prophecies granteth her not a moment’s rest. But then other notes sounded, and these were sinister chords. She really had to peg herself down in order to start thinking logically. Only gradually did her thoughts begin to assume more definite shapes, getting more and more placid and acting hesitantly.
Now somebody was standing behind her, but she did not turn around. She clearly sensed that it had to be an eerie gentleman. And then suddenly the room was full of such gentlemen. They all moved alike and seemed very familiar to her.
“So how did that go again?” she heard the eerie gentleman ask. His voice sounded awfully soft.
“It was like this,” said one of the gentlemen. “It was at the Oktoberfest, actually right in front of Lionella the Lion Girl’s booth. Anna was wondering whether this freak was also still a virgin when she met her academic.”
“And where’s this academic?” inquired the eerie gentleman.
“The dear doctor is already dead,” answered another gentleman, and gave Anna a friendly nod. “The dear doctor
is in hell,” he continued, “because he had a bad disposition. You see, he stole Anna’s virginity. And that was not an especially heroic deed since she was drunk on beer.”
And then a third gentleman jumped up from his chair and shouted at her: “Come on, Fräulein Pollinger, stop telling such disgraceful lies!”
“Right now you’re acting as though you hadn’t been constantly seeking to finally lose it. So give us an answer already!”
“That’s true enough,” Anna answered shyly, “but I thought it would be different.”
“Regardless!” the third man screeched, and turned to the eerie gentleman: “Somebody has got to tell God that the dear doctor is wrongfully sitting in hell.”
But now a fourth gentleman, a melancholic coffeehouse musician, cut him off. “Fräulein Pollinger is an honest person,” he said, “please, just go ahead and ask Herr Brunner!”
“Over here!” yelled Brunner. He was sitting on the sofa, leaning over the little table. “Dear Anna,” he said solemnly, “I know that I was your one and only love, but I only took you out of pity. You’re not even my type, not at all.” Then he stood up slowly; he was an enormous figure of a man. “Anna,” he continued, this sounding almost tender, “if you haven’t got anything else to worry about, then a one true love like yours is quite rich in variety. But I’m an electrical engineer, and the world is full of envy.”
“Everything is pretty much about money.” Anna smiled. She was hurting all over.
“That’s right!” muttered the gentlemen in the chorus. Some of them were looking at her reproachfully.
“I’ve never accepted any money for it,” she said in her defense.
“Where’s Kobler?” asked the third gentleman ironically.
“Ach, Kobler!” yelled Anna, suddenly losing her temper. “Right now he’s in Barcelona while I’m stuck here, talking to you. He could easily have given me something!”
“Well, finally!” one of the gentlemen called out from the corner, and swiftly stepped forth. He was wearing a tailcoat. “Fräulein, now it’s about time you got practical!” he said. “My limousine is out front! Come along, come along!”
THE ETCHER ACHNER HAD HIS ATELIER DIAGONALLY opposite. He was a complicated character and what some would call, in the bourgeois sense of the word, an original.
When he opened the door for Anna, he had on a pullover and sailing shoes. The sun was blazing in through the high windowpane. It smelled of English cigarettes. On the little stove stood two bent spoons, a dirty razor, and Vincent van Gogh’s letters bound in half-linen. On the bed lay a gramophone, and Buddha was enthroned upon a case that had been painted to look mysterious.
That’s a family altar, said the etcher. His god, you see, hadn’t been crucified, but rather gazed incessantly at his navel. You see, he personally was a Buddhist. He personally would meditate regularly, carrying out the prescribed prayers and gestures at the stipulated time. And if he were allowed to follow his instincts, he would paint Madonna with six arms, a hundred and twenty toes, eighteen breasts, and six eyes. You see, he personally detested philistines because they weren’t capable of appreciating true art.
But sometimes he would dream of his mother, a rotund woman with nice, big eyes and greasy hair. At home everything had been so nice: the cooking was good and the meals were relished. And nowadays it seemed to him as though his parents also believed in the Christ Child and Santa Claus. And sometimes he had to wonder whether he, too, would have been better off being a philistine with a child and a rotund wife.
This thought threatened to kill him, especially when he was sitting alone in the atelier. Then he would speak out loud to himself simply so as not to have to think about anything. Or he would let the gramophone sound out, recite Rainer Maria Rilke, and sometimes even write himself notices on those pieces of paper with the heading:
IN CASE NOT HOME
SPACE FOR MESSAGES
He hated silence.
Something about his being was reminiscent of his late uncle Eugen Meinzinger. Eugen had collected laces, had long narrow ears, and would often sit for hours on end in children’s playgrounds. He died way back in 1908 after horrible death throes. For ten hours he kept rattling, ranting, and bellowing over and over again: “Lie! Lie! I don’t know any little Mizzy, I never carry candy with me, I never pushed any little Mizzy into the canal, Mizzy drowned by herself, on her own! On her own! I only patted her little-bitty calves, the back of her little-bitty knees! My dear sirs, I never carry candy with me!” And then he flailed about and wailed: “Satan’s sitting on the divan! There’s another Satan on the divan!” Then he whimpered that a tram with wheels like
razors was running him over. His last words were: “Speaking with the driver is strictly forbidden!”
AND ANNA GAZED AT BUDDHA’S NAVEL, THINKING it was nothing but a potbelly. Then she walked behind the dressing screen.
“Just go ahead and get undressed. Everybody bathes in Sweden without a leotard,” the Buddhist encouraged her.
She found it, however, quite redundant that he felt he had to make the undressing business easier with such comments. As of last spring she no longer had anything against people looking at her. Kastner once forced upon her a pamphlet on the spirit of antiquity, and it said that shame was merely a shameless invention of Christianity.
The Buddhist paced back and forth. “We all bring sacrifices to the altar of art,” he mentioned casually. And this resulted in Anna getting annoyed once again about this art business because, for example: pictures in museums have got it so darn good! They live elegantly, don’t freeze, don’t have to eat or work, they just hang there on the wall and people gaze at them in amazement like they had accomplished God knows what!
“I’m just happy that you’re not a professional model!” she perceived the Buddhist’s voice again. “You see, I hate schematizing—I’m a staunch individualist. The masses aren’t behind me. I, too, belong to that ‘invisible lodge’ of genuine minds that have raised themselves above their times and about whom the
Münchner Neueste Nachrichten
fabulous article in yesterday’s paper!” This is how he condemned the idea of collectivism while Anna got undressed.
But it was the Glyptothek museum that annoyed her most of all. Here people would ogle old rubble, and they did it so reverently, as though they were standing in front of the display case at a delicatessen.
She had been to the Glyptothek once. It had been pouring rain and she happened to be walking across Königsplatz. Inside there was somebody with a uniform cap leading a group from one hall to the next. While standing in front of one of the figures, he said that it was the goddess of love. The goddess of love had neither arms nor legs, and even the head was missing. She could not help but smile. Somebody from the group smiled too, then he broke off and approached her. He said that ancient Greek art couldn’t be imitated. Then he asked her if she wanted to go and see a movie with him later that afternoon.