HOSPITAL & HESSE


“We talk too much,” he said with unwonted seriousness. “Clever talk is of no value whatsoever. One merely gets further and further away from oneself and that is a crime. One should be able to crawl right into oneself like a tortoise.”
Hermann Hesse: Demian

On the 19th August 2022 I followed the local doctor’s advice to submit myself to the experience of being in the Queen Elizabeth hospital, King’s Lynn, for investigation of my innards. Things being what they are under Tory rule, I was subject to interminable waiting for things to happen. Carted from one place to another, one functionary to another, being prodded and interrogated, for a couple of days, there was no defined end-point to the waiting for something definite to come about and therefore no way of packaging the hours & minutes from the ‘now’ till ‘whenever’; ‘time’ was not alive; ‘time’ was a no-thing. Tick-tock time was dead. If anything, ‘Alive Time’ (JBPriestley’s concept), which may be just Being Alive, is when you bring moments you know from the past and make them come alive and know that that’s the nature of the present moment. Though this was Dead Time, it’s quite easy to get into Alive Time when you turn your mind to it which I eventually did.

For example, from my hospital notebook, randomly, I travelled to being by Stonehenge in 1947, down the slight grass slope after getting off the excursion bus from Bournemouth up on the road – nothing between grass & road then – the stones, grey, a fairly fine day it was, only the sound of others talking excitedly, the pacing out, centred in the great angle of the past. But was it as much as it is in contemplation? Events change in pondering. No such thing as ‘time’, simple human abstraction. It’s just one damn thing following another and another, without end, till everything goes black when the film switches off. Mr G said ‘time is breath’. Make breath, make time. Stonehenge, centre of the turning world.

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Wheels keep turning in hospital corridors. A bloody woman keeps coughing her innards out in the corner, Such a waste of time. No time – waste of an endlessness, events that build towards a nothingness. People babbling on and a bloody woman coughing all over the place. My Plague Mask on.

Zeroco! What might he have thought of it all – Zero-co-ordinate…? A No-thing at the exact centre of everything.

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Therefore possible to pick everything up when alert. What is it to stay alert? Non-identification, maybe. Separate out from the world & all it contains. Difficult when you visualise, hear things & feel things all the time anyway, then they get all scrambled up with other things, past, present & future. What about ‘pure impressions’? Seeing/hearing & feeling altogether but remaining pure, unadulterated? Nothing past or future, or even present, come to that. Just hereness. Let what you see/hear/feel dissolve so you float free of chair/bum/pen/book/people/floor covering/window/wall/tapping on word processor/sudden welcome gush of air being circulated, all without closing eyes or ears, stuff just being there without designs on you. Floating free. The building falls apart: rooms, contents, rivets, nails & cement all disappearing, falling out, collapsing. Disidentify! Being your very own self, float away & away into the air outside. Up or still here? Singular or plural? Off or on? Dressed or naked? Passing or in a state of cessation?

Busy crossing out the pages of my hospital notebook one after another.

And Zeroco – a nothing point, shapeless, but very receptive. Everything still impinges, as it must if it’s to be picked up… woman coughing, nurse working computer, blotchy (monkey pox?) kid wandering through. No way to package ‘time’ except like this.

At last I’m in a ward, after a whole day’s gone.

hospital window
regarde la lune
slicing a black cloud

Pure impression, the highest form of food, says Mr G. Without pure impressions you die. As soon as I start collecting them I feel more lively, more in life, alive – more in control of life.

curtain moving slightly
in the new dawn breeze
a pigeon swoop

The purity of impressions is gauged by their lack of reference to anything but themselves – neither before nor after, related to neither this nor that, just VHF’d – Very High Frequency (Visual/Hearing/Feeling) observation. The babble of voices without meaning just like the pigeon outside the open window brrr brrr brrr brup without human meaning.

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The pattern of my top legs floating freely now – they become impure impression when I think of how they smoothly helped to run up the muddy beginning of the standard cross country run in Richmond Park in the early 1950’s with such enthusiasm, or climbed the chalk track up the steep drop or scarp of Box Hill so many times. How I wish I could do that now. That’s the impurity of impressions. Two patients start up what I know will be a long conversation; what they say is of no consequence to anybody, least of all to themselves. One turns away, folds his hands over his chest flat out on his bed – signalling the end of pointless chin-wagging. Impure exchange of words.

Words are the worst things for the carting about of impurity because they come loaded with the past, replete with futurity.

I read.

Rosamond Lehmann’s collected words go all over the place. Maybe in The Echoing Grove they achieve a kind of purity by reason of being so detached from temporal ‘reality’ or lucidity – one thing follows on from another, tick tock tick tock, & you never really know where you are, just a series of events with an assumed connection or meaning. The words themselves having a singular purity of significance – delivering pure impressions which you strive to link together or just swear about the difficulty. Found there:-

skeletons & camphor
in locked receptacles
– parrot cage

You hold on tight to who, what, where, why & how you are otherwise there’s no way to package anything now. Self-remembering is all: this is me here & now, being me here & now, wherever here & now might be. Keeping tabs on external stimuli – the pure impressions emanating from external sources. Like this, in relation to the Logical Levels (interlocking circles):-

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smooth mackerel sky
through madly dancing eye atoms
distant voices

The old chap opposite me, 95 with a heart problem. The young woman doctor asks him where he is and what he’s doing here. It suddenly struck me that these were not stupid questions. All the people I’d seen since being here had asked me what I was here for (Mr G: ‘what am I doing here?) – they just wanted to find out if I was compos mentis! The old chap had trouble thinking too much about where he was.

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For the organising image of The Echoing Grove (p238) Rickie explains where he’s at, ‘bracing up for the high dive’ – we haven’t really got inside him till now. Then by page 253 he’s not just a cipher but seems to be a person with a worked out view of himself.

Do we ever get inside anybody? Of course not. Do we ever have a worked out view of ourselves?

A few pages in my Hospital Notebook about Rosamond Lehmann’s brilliant novel. At least Rickie seems to have been at home with himself eventually.

He didn’t want me [says Madeleine]: he wanted me to look after the children and keep away; which is what I did. The thing is, he didn’t want anybody any more. But not out of – apathy. He was one of those people who takes a long time to find himself; but that’s what he was doing – emerging some how. I felt it for quite a long time. It wasn’t just that he was doing a very responsible job superbly – though I dare say that was part of it. No, it was more a feeling he gave me that he was beginning to be – at home with – well, with himself As if he’d made up his own mind about something or the other – about what he thought was important…

Experiencing him being ‘at home’ with himself gave Madeleine’s sister Dinah the feeling that he was just an ‘empty shell’, utterly content within himself.

The hospital notebook resumes with me in myself.

It seems so remote – the house, the garden, the summerhouse, so hardly used in recent years, the rockery which needs clearing out, weeding, Bertie the cat in his hut. So remote that I feel myself slipping into Being-institutionalised-I, always accusing my self of failure to respond to people, to say goodbye to them, to simply be responsive, ingratitude.

For example, not long before she died, my sister bought me a small statue of St Francis. I didn’t know then that he & I and my wife share a birthday. I wonder how she found out about his birthday, 4th October – she didn’t explain the reason for my present otherwise I would have been more than pleased. She must have been so disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm – a disappointment she carried off with her Great Spirit to the little hole in Leatherhead into which her ashes were tipped. I had thanked my mother for bringing me into the world just before she died but I’m not sure she understood what I was talking about; she & I never communicated much, if at all.

I did not say goodbye to James Kirkup who died in 2009. Our correspondence had lapsed in the last three years.

I did not say goodbye to Paula Davis who with her parents just went off to (I think it was) Holland when we were 8 or 9 in maybe 1946. So many other females came & went, unaccountably, unsung. Too centred on self to take them into proper account or else I tried very hard to get through to those who were unget-throughable-to. Elaine was perhaps in the latter category – fancy just being dumped in a category! Maureen seemed determined to bug me, make me jealous of her apparent philandering so it seemed at the time (I chose to be jealous), till she told me one night on Waterloo Station concourse to ‘go to hell!’ Judging by her farewell letter which I never answered, I think she may have regretted that! Elaine remained very remote but I was, in my adolescent manner, ‘devoted’ to Maureen and we had very close experiences, concert-going, visits, cycling together to Worthing once, favourite walks with Scamp, the dog.

through the window
that seagull floating freely
below small clouds

In the Hospital Notebook there are notes from the hours I spent reading The Swan in the Evening – fragments of an inner life, Rosamond Lehmann’s pondering on her self, from the first half of which I derived many ‘found haiku’. Notably none from the second half where she develops her enthusiasm for coming to terms with ‘psychic phenomena’. It struck me that she already had an unconscious Zen approach to start with but lost it when she required ‘mystical life’ in a ‘beyond’ kind of way, instead of being firmly in the NOW which is what really matters.

She does make reference to JGBennett and so will have had some smattering of Fourth Way understanding, being herself firstly in the here & now; but it seems a shame that she becomes intellectually flabby – relating to God & Other Worlds and so on… I have resolved to re-read The Echoing Grove sometime in the light of the first part of The Swan in the Evening. Found there:-

swan-bearing river
nicked by knife-edge
swallow wings

I finished up my hospital experience with re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East which took me back to the idea of ROOM TWENTY which will contain the novel I’ve been working at for some years whose ‘hero’ is this chap Zeroco. I might now try to fashion it to emulate Hesse’ masterpiece in a rough kind of way.

‘HH’ resolves to renounce ‘the world and its superstitions’. So does Zeroco, I suppose. What is my intention now, if not to arrive finally at my ‘home’ and a Great Clarity. ‘Home’ is where things are straight & organised. Perhaps all the ROOM books aim at this – my ‘life’s work’ as my mate Ed said, dying without realising the effect he was having. To be a member of the League and its ‘eternal striving towards the Home of Light…’

“Whatever happens will happen…” says the new old man in the bed opposite, replacing the 95-year-old, who went off to where they could look at his heart more closely. I think of Mr G & the intermingling of life & life.

What are Bundran & I doing on our journey to the east? To his Furslakia. Zeroco has the answer but we had left him at home. Probably with the Answer.

A long time devoted to small details exalts us and increases our strength… [There are hundreds & thousands on their way East] – each had their own dream, wish, secret heart’s desire and yet they all flowed together in the same great stream…

What is my own secret desire?

Too late, of course, but perhaps to found a community of artists, poets, composers doing their own thing but joining forces from time to time in joint ventures. The centre is built of the side of a hill probably looking like Axel Munthe’s place in San Michel. It will play sea-tunes of its own accord, write poems & paint pictures just as might seem appropriate to the time of day or night. It will be a place of infinite reconciliation & good will. There will be a group dedicated to teaching, for free, the sons & daughters of all those who travel to the community from all over the world. The whole enterprise will be self-financing…

Bundran & I found ourselves in The Bower of the Arsacides with Melville looking on; after that we went beyond The Other Side that Richard Jefferies described so well. It was like trawling through all the books we had ever read. Through The Door in the Wall where HGWells wandered. A union of all times & places that ever were of significance.

…the home & youth of the soul, everywhere & nowhere. Elements of time & space were shifted around like theatrical scenery.

In Bremgarden with HH we met Walt Whitman & Socrates, Gurdjieff & JGBennett & Jefferies. We talked in very long lines of poetry with many invented words & phrases and in particular discussed the current ‘sinkrpoosarams’ (belief in any old twaddle) purveyed by the media designed to hoodwink the masses.

Bundran & I – how did we travel? Well by continental hovertrain after much of the world was rubbed out by a huge nuclear war. But then, as eager pedestrians & cyclists, by foot & pedal, sometimes taking advantage of a passing horse & cart. We spurned cars & lorries, trains & buses though we knew, of course, how much more quickly these modern machines would get us anywhere whilst destroying the glories of the passing world, its mountains & forest glades, lakes & valley bottoms…

The rest of the Hospital Notebook has already been tipped into ROOM TWENTY!

Having re-read The Journey to the East, on leaving hospital I determined on a Hesse Binge. Siddharta, Knulp & Klingsor’s Last Summer already imbibed by the 10th September, late reading on a summer lawn.

Then I found the short story Klein and Wagner in Klingsor’s Last Summer which ran nicely in parallel to much that my Hospital Notes contained!

Klein, meaning ‘small’ and therefore insignificant, travelling by train to the South on a false passport with forged papers, has escaped from his previous life & family having embezzled his employer. He is ‘safely across the border’ (he had crossed the Alps) but ‘far from being able to think what he pleased. He had no authority over his thoughts…’ He feel ‘how madly tiresome it is to be a criminal’; the revolver in his pocket is for committing suicide – or else he might throw himself under a train.

He spends some time in recollecting the past, attempting to put his life together again. Something like the bright images of youth recur from time to time in the narrative to offer fleeting moments of hope.

Somewhere far back, invisible now beyond the dust, he knew that the bright hills and rustling green tree-tops of youth had vanished. Yes, he had once been young, and no commonplace youth; he had dreamed great dreams, had asked much of life and of himself. But since then there had been nothing but dust and burdens, the long road, heat and weary legs, and a slumberous, ageing nostalgia lurking in his parching heart. That had been his life. That had been his life.

Throughout the short story, having ‘travelled out of his life and into a fairy tale’, Klein constantly moves between ‘anxious timidity’ and intoxication, between forgetfulness and new emotions, enchantment and extreme pain.

Arriving at his unnamed destination, he sees his face in a mirror – not himself but a mask ‘and yet permeated by a strange inner glow… the sad anxious face of Klein the criminal…’

Never had he been exposed so utterly to alien surroundings, been so naked beneath the sharp, inexorable sunlight of fate. He had always been busy with something, with something other than himself; he had always had things to do and to be worried about, money, promotion, the peace of the household, school matters, and children’s illnesses. The imposing, sacred duties of the citizen, the husband, the father had always loomed over him. He had lived in their shade and shelter, made sacrifices to them, derived the justification and meaning of his life from them. Now he was suddenly suspended naked in space, confronting sun and moon alone, and he felt that the air was icy and rarefied.

Like Klein, I have been here.

In the middle of the night, Klein thought of the teacher named Wagner who murdered his whole family then, by association, of the composer Richard Wagner.

All sorts of notions came into his mind. He thought of Lohengrin, and then of his somewhat ambiguous feelings about the composer Richard Wagner. At the age of twenty he had been wild about him. Later he had grown wary, and in time had accumulated a number of reservations and doubts on the subject. He had done a great deal of criticizing of Wagner, and perhaps these criticisms were directed less towards Richard Wagner than to his own former love for the composer’s music? Ha, had he caught himself again? Had he uncovered another fraud, a small lie, a minor crime? Oh yes, one thing after another was coming to light. In the irreproachable life of Friedrich Klein, husband and civil servant, things had not at all been so irreproachable, not at all so clear. There was a skeleton hidden in every closet. Yes, of course, that was the case with Wagner too. Friedrich Klein had taken a very strong line against the composer Richard Wagner. Why? Because Friedrich Klein could not forgive himself for having raved about this same Wagner as a young man. In Wagner he was persecuting his own youthful enthusiasm, his own youth, his own love. Why? Because youth and artistic enthusiasm and Wagner and all the rest reminded him painfully of things he had lost…

Klein keeps on losing the thread of things. It’s all a mystery made of bits of memory, floating images that jangle with one another meaninglessly. ‘Community had always been all round him and had penetrated deep into him, and even in solitude, in suffering and in resignation, he had always belonged to a group, a protective association, the world of decent, righteous and respectable people. But now he was tasting loneliness… inside himself? Nothing but disorder and dissension…’

Then there’s a yellow-haired girl…

You carried everything that mattered inside yourself; nobody could help you from outside. Not to be at war with yourself, to live with yourself in affection and trust – that was the thing. Then you could do anything. Then you could not only walk a tightrope but fly.

You might even get some kind of relationship with Teresina, the yellow-haired girl. She wants to know who he is.

“I’m the man you see before you, that is all. I have no name and no title and no occupation either. I’ve had to give all that up. It’s this way: after a long, decent, hard-working life I fell out of the nest one day. It wasn’t long ago. And now I must die or learn to fly. The world no longer concerns me; I’m all alone now.”

To prolong the interrogation was impossible for Klein. Putting things into words gives them a completely spurious permanence off which you begin to try to live. False imagination. Words have the appearance & bearing of certainty, a precise description of the things you’re trying to say; they always float away like clouds in a summer sky. They set themselves up as antagonists against the words of another – the one who similarly constructs apparent certainty out of the entirely nebulous – that way comes the certainty of lack of understanding.

With the beginnings of uneasiness he continued: “When we talk about such things, the simplest matters immediately become complicated and incomprehensible. We should not talk about them at all. People only do that, talk about such things, when they don’t want to understand one another… You want to entertain yourself with this subject. You have experienced something and now want to talk about it. But it’s no use. Talking is the surest way to misunderstand everything, to make everything shallow and dreary. You don’t want to understand me, or yourself either. You want only to be left alone, not to be troubled by the warning you’ve received. You want to dismiss me and the warning by finding the label you can fit to me. You’ve tried it with the idea of a criminal and a madman. You want to know my name and status. But all that only leads away from understanding. It’s all a deception, my dear young lady; it’s a bad substitute for understanding; it’s an escape from wanting to understand, from being forced to understand.”

Words between people lead only to a maze of loss of understanding, creating webs of unreality; things not relating to things as they are but to things of false imagination. You get lost in the maze of relationship. Klein points out that when he and Teresina ‘took each other’s hands all was well…’

“But now – now we are talking and thinking and explaining and everything has become odd and incomprehensible, everything that was so simple before. And yet it would be very easy for you to understand me just as well as I understand you.”

She asks if he thinks he understands her.

“Yes, of course. I don’t know how you live. But you live as I too have done and as everybody does, mostly in darkness and self-oblivion, pursuing some purpose, some duty, some plan. Almost everybody does that; the whole world is sick, of doing it and is doomed because of it. But sometimes, when dancing, for example, you lose touch with your plan or duty and suddenly you find yourself living another way entirely. You feel all at once as if you were alone in the world, or as if you might be dead tomorrow, and then everything you really are comes out. When you dance, you even infect others with that feeling. That is your secret.”

He had experienced the miracle that life becomes more meaningful precisely when we lose our grasp of all meanings. But again and again had come the painful doubt – whether these experiences were really significant, whether they were no more than minor ripples on the surface of his fatigued and sick mind, basically whims, petty nervous stirrings. Now, last night and today, he had seen that his experience was real. It had radiated out of him and changed him, had drawn another person to him. His solitude was shattered; he was. in love again; there was someone whom he could serve, someone to whom he wanted to give pleasure. He could smile again, laugh again.

All these feelings passed through Klein like a wave, swashing through his being, impossible to grasp securely. But it’s true that ‘life becomes more meaningful precisely when we lose our grasp of all meanings…’ Simply letting things go, working through the swim of things, without grasping for certainty, paradoxically gives certainty. Who can tell the dancer from the dance?

Once more, from all the forgotten shafts of his life, released memories rushed forth. They came without number: conversations, the period of his engagement, clothes he had worn as a child, vacation mornings during his student days. The memories arranged themselves in circles around certain fixed points: the image of his wife, his mother, Wagner the murderer, Teresina. Passages from classical writers occurred to him, and Latin proverbs that had once moved him in his schooldays, and foolish, sentimental lines from folk songs. The shadow of his father stood behind him. Once again he lived through the time of his mother-in-law’s death. Everything that had ever passed into him through eyes or ears, through people or books, all the delight and the anguish that had been buried within him, seemed to be present again, all at the same time, all stirred together and whirling chaotically but meaningfully. It was all there, all significant; nothing had been lost.

When I go on a fanciful journey into the past, pondering them, all my great jumble of images simply coalesces off its own bat, fuses together, to make a kind of absolutely certain reality that cannot be unpicked – ought not to be unpicked but just left to float about, in a kind of cloud-like certainty. Everything is arranged around a non-existent point, my ‘self’, a nothingness which thereby obtains a notional useful somethingness. Foreign land. Meta-I.

Sleeping in the forest, Klein had a dream of which only fragments remained. There was ‘a door that looked like the entrance to a theatre’ with a poster on which there was the one word, either ‘Lohengrin’ or ‘Wagner’. Inside were women who threatened him in various ways.

What an idea, to represent his relationship with Wagner in this way. The spirit of the dream was coarse, but brilliant. It hit the nail on the head. The theatre called ‘Wagner’ – was that not himself, was it not an invitation to enter into his own interior being, into the foreign land of his true self? For Wagner was himself – Wagner was the murderer and the hunted man within him, but Wagner was also the composer, the artist, the genius, the seducer, lover of life and the senses, luxury – Wagner was the collective name for everything repressed, buried, scanted in the life of Friedrich Klein, the former civil servant. And Lohengrin – was not he himself Lohengrin, the errant knight with the mysterious goal who had to hide his name ? The rest was not clear: the woman with the horrible mask of a face and the other woman with the claws. Stabbing her belly with the knife also reminded him of something, and he hoped he would still be able to find what it was – the mood of murder and deadly peril was oddly and harshly mingled with that of theatres, masks, and carnival.

Klein’s Multiple-I’s…

We are led to imagine that Teresina will solve all Klein’s confusions and ambiguities. Apart from dancing, her main pre-occupation is with gambling, something Klein could not understand, but went with her by boat to a casino to find out what it was like. One part of him (one ‘I’) couldn’t believe in it all, another ‘I’ had serious designs on her. How pretty she was! But he’s constantly questioning what it is to understand another person.

You knew so desperately little about other people. You had learned a hundred dates of ridiculous battles and the names of ridiculous old kings in school; you daily read articles about taxes or about the Balkans; but you knew nothing of people. If a bell failed to ring, if a stove smoked, if a wheel on a machine stuck, you knew at once where to look and did so with alacrity; you found the defect and knew how to cure it. But the thing within you, the secret mainspring that alone gave meaning to life, the thing within us that alone is living, alone is capable of feeling pleasure and pain, of craving happiness and experiencing it – that was unknown. You knew nothing about that, nothing at all, and if the mainspring failed there was no cure. Wasn’t it insane?

While he drank and laughed with Teresina, such questions rose and fell in other regions of his mind, now closer to consciousness, now farther away. Everything was doubtful, everything steeped in uncertainties. If only he knew one thing; whether this uncertainty, this distress, this despair in the midst of joy, this compulsion to think and compulsion to question, was present in others also, or whether it was reserved for him alone, for Klein the eccentric? …For him, behind every feeling and thought was the sense of the open door leading into nothingness.

Klein experiences the confusion that comes of not realising that we consist of many ‘I’s, many contradictory (antagonistic, even) bits of self that require a meta-position to come to terms with; to be able to stand outside the confusion is to have developed being in Meta-I otherwise the mind continues to invent contradictions, and indulge in the naming of things:-

…it called some things beautiful, some ugly, some good, some bad. One part of life was called love, another murder. How young, foolish, comical this mind was. One of its inventions was time. A subtle invention, a refined instrument for torturing the self even more keenly and making the world multiplex and difficult. For then man was separated from all he craved only by time, by time alone, this crazy invention! It was one of the props, one of the crutches that you had to let go, that one above all, if you wanted to be free.

2 thoughts on “HOSPITAL & HESSE

  1. Few people, if any, could transform the drudgery of a hospital stay into the exalted literary journey of reminiscence and aspiration as you have done here, Colin! I look forward to your promised novel about Zeroco, and the Great Clarity it will feature. Do stay well, my good friend! As always, onward!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Colin – thank you for sharing your thinking on the Enneagram, the Fourth Way, and, more broadly, your perspective on what makes a good life! I “rediscovered” you this morning, having wandered across your writings many years ago, only to read your latest blog post about your time in the hospital.
    I hope that you make a speedy recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

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