Monday, September 8, 2014

Until My Eyes Are Closed by Manes Sperber

And when, in the detention camp I was listening to the young “Galerist,” refugee (parroting my speeches), I felt exposed to my own mockery. Instead of weaving on the “loom of time,” I had become one of the innumerable voluble kibitzers who were, in the taverns and family circle, wining battles fought by others. I resolved to consider from then on how my actions, my writing, and my speaking might appear in caricature. I did not stop analyzing the events and discussing their consequences, but I listened to myself he way a caricaturist observes the face of a pompous speaker before he unmasks it by drawing it.

But if anyone ever distracted me from politics, it was some of my “epistolary clients”. What they had to reveal to me about their and their families lives so that I might write exactly what they wished to express included hardly anything that I did not already know about their miserable everyday life, a life filled not only with need worry, and fear but also with many great and small hopes, joyous surprises and fulfilled expectations. And yet I learned far more about them than they learned about me –but what was that? I learned that one must never stray to far or too long from concrete things, from details that succeed one another, intermingle, and in the end simply determine the substance and for of one’s daily existence. More clearly than before I discovered that under all living conditions a principle of order develops, a system of outer and inner certainties. In none of the organizations to which I had ever belonged had I really met the common people but here, in this motley crew of volunteers, I met for the first time since leaving the shtetl, though this time as an adult who knew what misery and worry about one’s daily bread are.

When I bent forward in absolute quiet, it sometimes seemed to me as though I heard a voice in addition to my own – no, not the voice of the “common” man but one that probably as not changed in a thousand years, the weak voice of a heavily breathing person who walks with too heavy a load on his back, walks and walks and never arrives.

When I was a child, I used to listen in the pauses between religious services to the students of the Talmud as they read the text, its translation, and the commentary sotto voce in singsong fashion. They sat in the dark corners of the prayer room in front of desks that held tomes dimly lit by a candle. The melodies of these recitations were not substantially different from one another, but in me they aroused a strangely relaxed feeling of patient expectancy. On many occasions Aramaic sentences were repeated, and in between there was a recurrent question in Yiddish: “Un tomer farkert?”[And perhaps the other way around?] This is what the student asked when, after a great deal of deliberation, he had reached a conclusion. However, this satisfied him for only a moment, and he immediately began to consider whether an entirely different conclusion, even
 a diametrically opposed one, might not just be valid, or perhaps the only valid conclusion…
as I listen to another person in a serious discussion or speak myself, the question “Un tomer farkert?” often comes up. Thus the source of my occasionally impatient tolerance might be this childhood experience, for as a deeply impressed child I. repeatedly admired those young men who, having reached their goal, looked back and asked themselves whether they had not missed the right path and their goal.

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